Two McCormack Graduate School researchers are making strides to improve global health disparities. Amit Patel, assistant professor of Public Policy and Public Affairs, and his Public Policy PhD student Andrew King are engaged in Gates Foundation-funded, cutting-edge research to study the efficacy of Information Communication Technology (ICT) interventions to improve tuberculosis (TB) treatment adherence among the urban poor in India.
King took the time to answer a few questions about his spring-break research trip funded by a UMass Boston student travel grant.
Barbara Graceffa, McCormack Graduate School: Andrew, please tell me a little about the background of your research with Professor Amit Patel.
Andrew King: Dr. Patel's research focuses on bottom-up approaches to combat global health disparities through the integration of technology strategies and socio-economic supports to empower patients in low-resource settings, and encourage community ownership and resilience in the fight against TB.
India has the highest Tuberculosis (TB) burden on earth, where the disease kills more than 300,000 people every year. While much global progress has been made in the fight against this disease, we have a long way to go. Over spring break, I had the opportunity to participate in a research trip to New Delhi and Ahmedabad, India, with Dr. Patel and his international research team.
Although free or low-cost TB medication is widely available in India, patient adherence to the six-month DOTS (Directly Observable Treatment Short Course) treatment regimen is a major challenge due to a variety of complex factors, many of which are poverty-related. With the explosion of mobile phone access and usage in the developing world, mobile health (mHealth) strategies are providing unprecedented opportunities to support health systems and patients in the battle against deadly diseases such as TB.
BG: What is the focus and impact of your team research?
AK: The pilot study intervention conducted by Dr. Patel’s research team offered TB patients a choice of several mobile phone reminder options as well as reward choices for complying with their long and complex medication regimes. Completion of treatment not only helps prevent relapse, but also the emergence of drug resistant TB, which is deadlier and more costly to treat. We are in the process of developing the Gates Foundation phase II grant proposal to expand and scale up the pilot study in multiple cities.
BG: What have you gained from this experience?
AK: This journey provided me with an unparalleled opportunity to immerse myself in the world of global health policy, gain valuable field exposure, and meet with frontline community health workers and stakeholders combating the TB epidemic.
I had the privilege of participating in brainstorming and strategy sessions with the Indian Institute of Public Health, the Government of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, community NGOs, TB doctors, health workers, and patients. Traveling into slum communities, witnessing people’s everyday realities, and observing the public health policy challenges in low-resource countries have given me invaluable insights into key challenges regarding public policy, inequality, technology access, and health equity.
Ultimately, this eye-opening experience has pushed me to grapple with critical questions that are central to McCormack’s core values and principles, such as: What barriers to healthcare do vulnerable populations face? How do we ensure equity and accessibility for all in global health policy? And how do we close the gaps in health services between poor and affluent countries?
BG: Thank you, Andrew. I guess it is true that good research often brings up more questions. On behalf of the McCormack Graduate School, we look forward to watch your academic development as you seek to remedy social and economic injustices in global health practices.