Two Harvard students who have developed a technology that connects Indian health care providers and patients via a text message service have made it to the Imagine Cup finals, a student competition to create technology projects that seek to address the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals.
Harvard students Annemarie E. Ryu ’13 and Brandon Liu ’14 make up half of a squad that is one of 10 software design teams in the U.S. that beat thousands of other students to make it to the Imagine Cup finals, which caps team size at four members. They will be flown to Seattle next month for a chance to win $8,000 for themselves, $25,000 for the department they represent, and a shot at the international finals.
Their project, Remindavax, is a health care service that seeks to improve patient attendance at doctor’s appointments for maternal and child health care by automatically sending reminders to patients’ cell phones when they are due to meet with a doctor.
The project came about as a collaboration between Ryu and her older brother Alexander Ryu, a student at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the other members of the team.
Alexander interned last summer with Karuna Trust, an non-governmental organization working in rural India, while Annemarie researched mother and child health in Nicaragua.
“My brother and I have a really close relationship,” Annemarie said, “and we kept in touch throughout the summer. In discussing our experiences we came up with the idea to do what we are working on now.”
In a region with widespread poverty and limited access to a postal system, Annemarie said that a large number of people living in rural India have access to cell phones, which provide an opportunity to improve health care delivery.
In collaboration with Karuna Trust, which works with 27 primary health centers that serve over 500,000 people in India, the team successfully sent their first text message in local Indian script last month.
The team intends to implement their technology this summer, to continue work on a mobile application, and—further down the road—to extend the service to other regions and include additional features.
Liu, who heads up the project’s web development, said that their software was filling in a gap in the health care system.
“There is currently no software for doctors and patients to track these checkups, and that is what we are trying to fix,” he said.
Edwin Guarin, an “academic developer evangelist” for Microsoft has advised the team and facilitated connections for them over the last two and a half months.
Guarin also works with students to create technology using Microsoft software in the New England region and sounded an optimistic note about the team’s project. “They have great field experience in India combined with great technical ability,” he said.