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ICT research to boost India socio-economic dev't

Posted: 18 Jan 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:India emerging market  VLSI conference  ICT  communications 

TB medication delivery
Around 25 per cent of world TB cases are found in India. The delivery of the drugs dosage (four drugs), thrice a week over a period of six to eight months, proves to be the biggest challenge. The success of this program in rural areas depends on interaction of the health worker with the patient, adherence of the patient to take the drug and monitoring of the patient.

In collaboration with Operation ASHA, based in New Delhi, as well as Innovators In Health, they developed a biometric terminal for TB clinics. It consists of a low-cost netbook, a fingerprint reader and a low-cost mobile for data upload. The patients would scan their fingerprint on each visit to the clinic and were then administered the dosage. The data of the visit logs are then uploaded via SMS at the end of the day and monitored by the supervisors at the central offices.

The anticipated benefits are that missed does can be immediately monitored. The workers can be given incentives with accountability to the donors. The cost is estimated at less than Rs.100 per patient.

Health monitoring over cell phone
The original plan devised a cyclic transmission of information via the mobile phone. The patient in remote area would be visited by a health worker who will note down his symptoms. The same will be transmitted by the mobile phone with the help of menu based interface application to a nurse. The nurse would analyse the data and identify the problem and in turn inform the physician. The physician would then send advice to the patient and schedule field visits if necessary.

However, inspite of intensive training and retraining, the menu-based interface posed a challenge to the health workers. Hence the mobile phones were replaced by live operators. This again proved cost-effective due to the low cost of labour for call centres in India. The challenge in this model is when there are multiple calls at the same time; in a small program with just one operator, the operator may need to return calls later.

Abstraction layers in microfluidic chips (Click on image to enlarge.)

Microfluidic project
The idea is to develop the software underpinnings to enable versatile lab-on-a-chip diagnostic systems. A microfluidic chip is a single small plastic device which tries to integrate all the features of a biological laboratory onto a portable platform. It has input and output for different type of fluids, sensors for pH, glucose etc, change in temperature, actuators for mixing fluids, and other technology that is needed for a successful lab technique.

Microfluidic chips can play a huge role in rural diagnostics. Some detectors that have been developed for rural platforms detect enteric diseases, malaria and even look at identifying specific gene sequences. 3D chips is an area which is currently been explored.

Thies said that earlier in this decade, the density of the devices doubled every 4.5 months putting the Moore's law to shame. As the devices grow in complexity, it becomes very difficult for biologists to map a new experiment or diagnostic protocol to the hardware. Hence, microfluidics in medicine will involve a person with a doctoral degree in medicine as well as in mechanical engineering, he said. To resolve this issue, they have developed abstraction layers that allow a division of labour in working towards programmable microfluidic chips. At the bottom-most layer, a library of fluidic hardware primitives can be assembled into general-purpose chips using computer-aided design tools. To program the chips, a high-level programming language (comparable to C) and an instruction set architecture (comparable to x86) enables portability across different chips. They have developed a language called BioCoder which enables biologists to describe the steps of a protocol. In addition to being suitable for automation on microfluidic chips, the language can also output a human-readable sequence of instructions to improve the reproducibility of experiments in the laboratory.

There exists an opportunity both in the low tech and high tech, which can be adapted to the emerging markets. While the long-term view would be working on the high tech for more beneficial outcome, there are also rich research opportunities in adapting existing technologies to suite the unique needs and constraints of developing economies.

- EE Times-India

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