Alex Chang is a Spring 2023 recipient of the Srinivasan Family Awards for Projects in Emerging Markets, run by the Center for Emerging Markets at Northeastern University.
In the remote regions of Baringo County, Kenya, Alex Chang, a fourth-year Biology and Political Science student at Northeastern University, has spent the past four months spearheading a critical initiative to provide portable medical exam and sampling technology to rural communities.
Under the leadership of Northeastern Professor Richard Wamai and the African Center for Community Investment in Health (ACCIH), Alex has made strides in introducing cold chain laboratory sample transport to these communities in the form of refrigerated backpacks that can be carried by Boda Bodas – a team of volunteer motorcycle drivers often serving as taxi transport and emergency responders in the region.
The primary goal of this initiative is to establish a foundational model for sustainable medical development in remote regions and introduce off-grid markets into the international conversation on medical research. Specifically, this project aims to improve community diagnostics and blood sampling for both the disease prevention and development of vaccines for Kala-azar (visceral leishmaniasis), a neglected tropical disease.
Over the past several months, Alex's backpacks, produced by project partner SolerCool Technologies, have received widespread acceptance in Baringo County's healthcare systems and have been adopted during immunization campaigns by organizations like the Kenya Red Cross Society and World Vision. Alex and his team have held training sessions with healthcare workers and Boda Boda motorcyclists to emphasize laboratory safety and patient privacy and provide a formal introduction to the backpacks.
In collaboration with community members and seven partner healthcare facilities, Alex's team has established three transport routes to coordinate sample collection, cut individual transportation costs for the facilities, and increase and standardize the frequency at which sample collection takes place. The team also embarked on an extensive sensitization campaign in November, engaging with villagers along transport routes to familiarize them with the program's logistics. Their efforts have led to an overwhelmingly positive response, with healthcare facilities expressing gratitude for uncovering life-threatening illnesses that might have gone undetected without their transport program.
As his time in Kenya wraps up, Alex aims to pilot the usage of his backpacks in villages beyond the current transport routes to assess for potential subsidization by the Kenya Red Cross and World Vision. His team also plans to evaluate the impact of the program and identify remaining lab service access gaps across the region by interviewing healthcare facility leaders and conducting a geospatial analysis of geographic barriers alongside the distribution of certain disease cases in the past year, using the World Health Organizations's AccessMod5 healthcare accessibility analysis tool. Alex will submit these manuscripts for publication and presentation at RISE 2024 on Northeastern's campus in April, and to the World Extreme Medicine Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, in November 2024.
With their laboratory sample transport model supported by both new technology and local institutions, Alex and his team have cost-effectively increased access to medical testing for patients suffering from a wide assortment of tropical diseases. This increased access opens the region to greater studies on neglected tropical diseases, and the team hopes that the project will continue to raise investments for the prevention and research of such conditions in Kenya.
You can learn more about the ACCIH's cold chain transportation project here: Cold Chain | ACCIH