Former MPH student Vasundhra Khanna was selected to present her research at the World Innovation Summit for Health in Doha this November. Vasundhra told us about her research and her next steps.
“During my MPH at Imperial College in the 2014/15 academic year, I was inspired to pursue health promotion, primarily the nuances of formulating effective public health policy with greater relevance and utility in society. An opportunity to engage in such policy innovation was presented to me via the ‘Mini-Project’, coursework where students are asked to develop an innovative ‘health-intervention’ targeting real-world problems. The topic that caught my eye was inappropriate use of antibiotics and the serious consequences related to ‘antibiotic resistance’.
Antibiotic resistance in the developing world represents a major public health challenge. It is estimated that 10 in 10,000 people in Africa die as a result of antibiotic resistant bacteria, whereas, in Asia this is estimated to be 9 per 10,000 people. The incidence of resistance, however, seems to be worse in India, where up to 95% of adults carry bacteria resistant to β-lactam antibiotics. As a result, I decided to focus my intervention on India, the largest consumer of antibiotics globally. Antibiotic resistance in India emanates from patterns of inappropriate antibiotic prescription and consumption. Specifically, poorly managed health systems result in the unregulated over-the-counter sale of antibiotics and create a supportive environment for self-medication – the leading cause of improper antibiotic use throughout the country. This multifaceted nature of irrational antibiotic usage makes it difficult to develop a solution for regulating supplier and consumer attitudes.
Keeping that in mind, I chose to focus on affecting current consumer behaviours to curb inappropriate antibiotic consumption. Thus, my intervention concerns the development of home-based testing kits capable of distinguishing between bacterial and viral infections: Bac-Kits (Bacterial infection diagnosing-Kits). In this regard, I adopted a fully integrated Lab-on-a-disc ELISA system developed by Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), Republic of Korea, and applied it to a novel signature of proteins, whose blood concentrations differ in response to bacterial and viral infections. The microbeads structure of the immunoassay on the discs allows the kits to have a competitive advantage over traditional ELISA by generating results using half the blood sample (150 μL) and within ~30 minutes. Each kit comes with pre-treated discs and a portable blood analyser with an easy interface – thereby, eliminating the need for technical skills and providing accurate diagnosis within the convenience of one’s home. This ensures scale-up to resource-constrained areas, where shortages of medical equipment and health workforce act as a barrier to healthcare. Although privately manufactured, cost-efficiency can be achieved through economiesof- scale.
Ultimately, by reducing inappropriate consumption of antibiotics in non-bacterial cases, Bac-Kits can contribute towards decreasing burden of resistance in the country. While the Mini-Project allowed me to develop the concept of this public health solution, the opportunity to make it a reality was presented to me by the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), where my idea was selected under the Young Innovator Programme 2016. WISH is a global healthcare community dedicated to identifying and disseminating the best evidence-based ideas and practices. At the summit in Doha in November, over 1,200 delegates are expected to attend, including national Ministers of Health, healthcare experts, industry leaders, investors and researchers. I aim to use this platform to establish my idea within the global public health community and gain guidance from industry experts and enthusiasts on making it a more robust intervention. Subsequently, I hope to collaborate with public health agencies in India to bring my innovation to life and contribute my share to curb the global disease burden.”