Triple Pundit (02.20.13)
The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Operation ASHA has been working with Microsoft Research to fight TB in India. Microsoft Research has developed biometric devices that track treatment of Operation ASHA’s patients. Operation ASHA uses the directly observed therapy, short course (DOTS) program, which requires patients under TB treatment to come to the clinic and be observed taking the medication. Treatment can require up to 50 visits to a clinic or hospital to receive treatment under the supervision of a healthcare worker. However, many patients live far from the clinics or work long hours and are unable to go to the clinic. As a result, many do not complete treatment, which results in the disease becoming drug-resistant. With biometrics, this can be avoided.
When a government hospital refers a patient to Operation ASHA, the patient registers at one of the clinics, which includes providing a fingerprint. The data are kept in small centers located close to the patient being treated. If a patient skips a dose of medicine, Operation ASHA’s system sends a member to one of the local health counselors affiliated with the NGO. The counselor then walks to the patient’s home and administers the drug. The NGO’s health centers are usually a tiny storefront that offers safe and discreet location at which TB patients can take their medication. If they miss a scheduled dose, someone comes to them. Microsoft Research has donated the biometric devices to Operation ASHA.
The new system makes their job easier by automating patient tracking, thus helping reduce the spread of the disease, particularly in neighborhoods where extended families live in close quarters. The system was started in 2006, but only began in Bhiwandi 5 months ago. Bhiwandi is a city of 925,000 residents—mostly migrants from poorer regions of India, most of whom work in the city’s textile industry where working conditions include the long hours, low pay, and exposure to cotton lint that can exacerbate TB.