By guest author: Hamsika Chandrasekar
I read Bina’s Notes on “Product Development for the Other 90%” and felt a spark of interest when I came across her description of Embrace, a social enterprise that has developed an innovative, low-cost infant warmer to help keep low-birth-weight and premature infants warm. Thanks to the combined support of the MIT Public Service Center, Baker Foundation, and Kelly-Douglas Fund, I was able to spend the last month in India, working to launch Embrace’s infant warmer at the Shamlaji Tribal Hospital in Gujarat.
This hospital is located in the small village of Shamlaji, about two hours outside Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city. It is managed by a husband and wife doctor team, Drs. Haren Joshi and Pratima Tolat, who ensure that the free treatment provided at Shamlaji Tribal Hospital is of high quality. Working with Embrace, I selected Shamlaji Tribal Hospital for my service project due to its focus on rural healthcare and its high numbers of low birth weight infants. When I arrived at the hospital, I found two packages, both marked ‘most urgent,’ waiting for me in the hospital office. I opened one quickly and happily held up its contents: the Embrace infant warmer. Looking back now, I still remember that sense of excitement and purpose I felt when I unwrapped the device. I couldn’t believe that after all the emails, the training sessions, the conference calls, and the planning, I was finally at Shamlaji Tribal Hospital, working with an organization I had heard about through a TedTalk and immediately loved.
I spent nearly three weeks in Gujarat, conversing with the doctors and nurses and showing them how to operate the infant warmer.
During my time there, nine infants benefited from the Embrace product, absorbing the warmer’s heat and gaining weight during their hospital stay. Together, the nurses and I monitored these babies and collected data on each infant. I was happy to see that the nurses quickly became comfortable with the Embrace product, taking it out whenever a newborn weighed between 1.5 kg and 2.5 kg, the recommended weight range for product use.
The biggest challenge for me was the language barrier: I spoke no Gujarati and very little Hindi, the two most prominent languages in the region. I worked with the hospital staff via an interpreter, pausing at the end of each sentence and allowing her to translate what I had said. With her help, I also explored some of the other healthcare needs in the area, meeting with the head of Shamlaji Village and traveling out to the Himmatnagar Civil Hospital, to which many patients from Shamlaji Tribal Hospital are referred.
For me, this project served not only as an opportunity to perform hands-on service work but also as a reminder of the realities in impoverished regions and the challenges involved in the improvement of rural healthcare. For every baby born in Shamlaji Tribal Hospital, many more are born at home, never receiving proper care and often dying due to preventable reasons. Parents, desperate to have kids that survive past infancy, pay little attention to established family planning methods. Poor education makes it difficult for villagers to comprehend the dangers associated with at-home deliveries and improper antenatal care. Throughout my time in Gujarat, I was reminded of how much more I – and for that matter, anyone in the world – could do to help.
Hamsika Chandrasekar is currently a junior at MIT and a previous PSC expedition grant recipient. She is double majoring in Computational Biology (Course 6-7) and Neuroscience (Course 9), hopes to enroll in medical school following her undergraduate years, and ultimately wants to pursue a career in global health.