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Tag: global health

A change called NeHA

This article was originally published in the Indian Express.

This is in follow up to the recently held Radcliffe Advanced Seminar, “Exchanging Health Information.”


By Satchit Balsari, Fellow at the FXB Center for Human Rights and Tarun KhannaJorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School; Director, South Asia Institute

Ten years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine a world where tapping a piece of glass in the palm of your hand would allow you to watch a movie, order food, hail a cab, or transfer money without leaving your couch. Through companies like Ola, Flipkart and Chaipoint, Indian entrepreneurs have moulded Silicon Valley’s best ideas to successfully meet local needs. Yet, a decade after the ways in which we search, navigate, buy, communicate and entertain ourselves have radically changed, health-services in India remain largely unaffected by the power of the internet. We archive doctor’s prescriptions, labs and X-ray results the same way we did decades ago. Polythene bags with scraps of paper, EKG strips, and scans are carefully stored in our homes and diligently carried from one doctor to the next, from one hospital to the other — and this is the best-case scenario. To date, the vast majority of Indians has no organised medical records, whether paper or electronic.

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Social networks and polio prevention

Thanks to the Government of Odisha's commitment and support from the UK, mums-to-be and new mums can now get advice and support from day one in every village. Support now starts well before a baby's due date, and continues until their first birthday. Community health worker, Rebati, gives babies like Adilya, polio and other life saving vaccinations for at least the first year of their lives. Britain is working with the Government of Odisha, one of India's poorest states, and UNICEF to save the lives of thousands of mums and babies., Babies born in the poorer states of India – a country where more people live in poverty than the whole of Africa – now have a better chance of surviving than ever before. Thanks to the Government of Odisha's commitment and support from the UK, mums-to-be and new mums can get advice and support from day one in every village. Vital ante and post-natal care that helps mums bring their babies into the world safe and well. See how community health workers, nurses, soap opera stars and granny self help groups are together helping save the lives of thousands of babies in our gallery. UPDATE, June 2012: In 2011-12, 150,000 children like Baby Sethy have been delivered safely in India with the help of skilled birth attendants thanks to support from Britain. And across the world's poorest countries, UK aid has made sure half a million mums had the help of skilled doctors and nurses to have their babies in the last two years. ------------------------------ The Government of Odisha is working with the UK Government to improve health services, support community health workers and increase take up from families in every village - helping to save the lives of thousands of mums and babies. Britain is supporting the governments of three of India's poorer states (Odisha, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh) and UNICEF to bring healthcare to everyone, especially the poorest and most disadvantaged. All pictures © Pippa Ranger / Department for International Development For more information, visit

In a new paper published with the World Health Organization, JP Onnela, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and his colleagues took a close look at Malegaon, India to examine patterns that emerge in social networks and communities that refuse polio vaccines. They found that households with strong social networks are more likely to be hesitant about vaccines that could prevent the disease.

“The most surprising aspect of the study was the finding regarding the extent to which vaccine-refusing households are surrounded by either vaccine-reluctant or vaccine-refusing households,” Onnela says. “In short, vaccine-refusing households had 189% more social ties to other vaccine-refusing households than vaccine-accepting households did. This is relatively large effect. We concluded in the paper that the investigated social networks contain clusters or ‘pockets’ of vaccine-refusing households.”

What does this mean for polio prevention in South Asia? Onnela believes the findings can help improve communication strategies to improve vaccine acceptance and community perceptions of immunization programs for polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases. “Taking into account people’s social network position can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of public health messaging and interventions,” he says.

The co-authors of the paper include Bruce Landon, Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Anna-Lea Kahn, World Health Organization, Danish Ahmed, National Polio Surveillance Project, WHO, India, Harish Verma, World Health Organization, A. James O’Malley, Department of Biomedical Data Science, Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Sunil Bahl, National Polio Surveillance Project, WHO, India,  Roland W. Sutter, World Health Organization, and Nicholas A. Christakis, Yale Institute for Network Science.


Click here to read the paper.



Impacting health in South Asia

DSC_0887The 2nd Annual South Asian Healthcare Leadership Forum took place on December 4th- 5th, 2015, at Gordon Hall at Harvard Medical School. With an emphasis on building leadership skills, fostering a sense of community, and mobilizing resources toward distinct initiatives, SAHLF 2015, cosposnored by the Harvard South Asia Institute, featured a diverse and highly accomplished group of attendees. There were over 70 participants, including CEOs, venture capitalists, clinicians, academics and policymakers.

The conference began with keynote speeches from Dr. Ram Raju, CEO of New York City Hospitals, and Dr. Rainu Kaushal, Department Chair of Health Policy and Research at Weill Cornell Medical College, on lessons of leadership from their personal experiences. Dr. Ashish Jha then shifted the conversation toward global impact in South Asia, imparting advice from his role as Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. This set the stage for the presentation from the Paul Farmer Global Surgery Research Fellows, Dr. Nakul Raykar and Dr. Swagoto Mukhopadhyay. The presentation focused on their work in India to date, and looked forward to future directions and their conference in New Delhi (March, 2016).

SAHLF’s goal is to bring together and organize the growing South Asian health care leadership community, and develop a collective agenda for what the community can execute together. They believe the inter-generational connections and strong community fostered by SAHLF 2015 will be beneficial for future global impact efforts in South Asia.

Kumbh Mela book and exhibition launch in Delhi

Kumbh Mela launch, Delhi

Rahul Mehrotra, right, shows the exhibit to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, center

On Monday, August 17, the Harvard South Asia Institute launched the Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book and exhibition in Delhi, India. Shri Akhilesh Yadav, Honorable Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, was on hand to launch the book with Harvard faculty, to a crowd of over 250 people at the Oberoi Hotel.

Over fifty Harvard professors, students, administrative staff, and medical practitioners made the pilgrimage to Allahabad, India, to the Kumbh Mela site in 2013, to analyze issues that emerge in any large-scale human gathering. The Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book consolidates research findings and serves as an example of interdisciplinary research conducted at Harvard.

Meena Hewett, Executive Director, SAI, gave the introductory remarks, stating the book has produced a set of teaching tools, useful across the disciplines of public health, data science, architecture, urban planning, business, religion and culture. This was followed by a welcome address by Mr. Vikram Gandhi, a member of the SAI Advisory Council and the managing director and global head of the Financial Institutions Group at Credit Suisse.

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Nutrition’s future leaders

Emerging demographic, economic and dietary factors suggest that a large burden of preventable illness is poised to develop in India requiring training for a new cadre of Indian nutrition scientists. There is a great need for nutrition researchers in the country, but few training programs exist.

In response to this critical gap in training, the Bangalore Boston Nutrition Collaborative (BBNC), a collaboration between St. John’s Research Institute in Bangalore (SJRI), Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and Tufts University, was initiated in 2009 to build capacity and to provide research training for young professionals in the fields of nutrition and global health from India and other countries in the region.

SAI supports the project, as its goals align with SAI’s own vision of interdisciplinary collaboration to seek innovative solutions to critical issues in South Asia.

The Collaborative recently wrapped up its sixth annual course in January2015 in Bangalore. The intensive 2 week course provided up and coming Indian faculty and graduate students with skills needed for research careers in public health and nutrition.

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2015 Student Winter Grant Recipients

SAI has awarded 18 grants to support undergraduate and graduate student projects over the Winter Session in January, 2015. These include 6 undergraduates and 12 graduate students who will be traveling to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka for research and internships.

The projects cover topics from many disciplines, for example: Using microfinance to alleviate poverty, sustainable housing, the “Islamization” of Divorce Law in Pakistan, vernacular literature of Indian Christians, changing education in the third world countries using cheap computing devices, and internships at health ministries in Sri Lanka.

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Access to sanitation and women’s rights

By Ghazal Gulati and Divya Sooryakumar, Ed. M Candidates, International Education Policy, Harvard Graduate School of Education

“We have a moral imperative to end open defecation and a duty to ensure women and girls are not at risk of assault and rape simply because they lack a sanitation facility.”

-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Message for World Toilet Day, Nov. 19, 2014

From left to right: Subhadra Banda, Ramnath Subbaraman, and Sharmila Murthy

Worldwide, 2.5 billion people do not have access to proper sanitation. Of the 1 billion of people in the world who defecate in the open, half of those reside in India. The country faces a challenge in meeting the 2015 UN Millennium Development Goal, which aims to “halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.”

The theme of this year’s World Toilet Day, which took place on Nov. 19, 2014, is “Equality, Dignity and the Link Between Gender-Based Violence and Sanitation.” The campaign seeks to put a spotlight on the threat of sexual violence that women and girls face in developing nations, due to the loss of privacy as well as the inequalities in access to safe sanitation.

On Monday, November 17th, SAI hosted a Gender and Urbanization seminar on the topic with Sharmila Murthy, Assistant Professor of Law, Suffolk University; Visiting Scholar, Sustainability Science Program, Harvard Kennedy School, Ramnath Subbaraman, Associate Physician, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Research Advisor, Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action, and Research (PUKAR), Mumbai, India, and Subhadra Banda, Research Associate, Centre for Policy Research; MPP Candidate, Harvard Kennedy School, titled ‘Access to Toilets and Women’s Rights.

By approaching the issue of access to toilets from multiple perspectives of public health, law, and civil society, the three panelists dove deep into the intricacies of the issue, and into the connection between sanitation, toilets, and gender violence, often a taboo topic in India.

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Mass casualty triage

Mass casualty incidents, from terrorist attacks, floodings, earthquakes to bus accidents, are chaotic. With proper knowledge about the principles of triage, even those with no medical training can help.

Mass casualty triage was the topic of SAI’s second webinar of the semester, on Nov. 19, on disaster management with Dr. Usha Periyanayagam (@uperiy), MD, MPH, International Emergency Medicine Fellow, Department of Emergency Medicine, Brigham & Women’s Hospital; Harvard Medical School.

Eight universities from three countries in South Asia participated in the interactive session, using videoconference software provided by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC), with a participation of around 100 students in South Asia, with many more watching online.

Watch the presentation.

Dr. Periyanayagam has worked with SAI and the Aman Foundation to improve disaster response in Karachi, and has extensive experience in emergency settings around the world.

During the webinar, Dr. Periyanayagam explained that “triage” is not treatment – it is a method of sorting injured people and deciding who gets treatment first. “The goal of triage is doing the greatest good for the greatest number – it’s not doing everything you can for every patient,” Dr. Periyanayagam explained. She cited the 2013 Boston marathon bombing as an example of triage working correctly – of the 250 who were injured, no one who was transported to hospital died.

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If Ebola comes to India

This article was originally published in the Indian Express

By Ashish K Jha, K.T. Li Professor of International Health, Harvard School of Public Health; Director, Harvard Global Health Institute, and Tarun KhannaDirector of the South Asia Institute &
Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School

With the ongoing spread of Ebola in West Africa, it is becoming increasingly likely that the disease will make its way to India. So what should India do to prepare? The Union government has already taken several meaningful steps. It has designated hospitals in major cities as Ebola management centres and formed rapid response teams in every state, each of which will include physicians, nurses and epidemiologists. The state teams are being trained by the WHO and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and will disseminate their training to local first responders. Also, the government has put in place screening protocols at international airports, established 24-hour Ebola helplines staffed by doctors and shortlisted the authorisation of 10 new Ebola-testing labs.

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Contemporary South Asia Student Blog: Global Health, pt. 2

This is the fourth blog post in a weekly series from students enrolled in the course ‘Contemporary South Asia: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Social and Economic Problems’ co-taught by SAI Director Tarun Khanna. The course features several modules on issues facing South Asia: Urbanism, Technology and Education, Health, and Humanities.

This week’s focus: Health, led by Sue Goldie, Harvard School of Public Health


By Siddarth Nagaraj, MALD Candidate, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy,Tufts University

How does one create standards to assess the collective health of a society? We examined the difficulty of determining the usefulness of different data in our second week of lectures with Professor Sue Goldie of the School of Public Health. Traditional measures of public health are often standardized across countries and used to shape policy agendas at the national and international level.

The widespread use of maternal and child mortality ratios in public health data collection has encouraged governments to prioritize efforts to lower corresponding figures within their domains, but the interpretation of these measures as key indicators of public health can limit one’s understanding of factors that must be taken into consideration when crafting an intervention.

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