In today’s technology-enabled environment, we know that staying connected is critical. If leaving your cell phone at home for even just a few minutes when you run out to the store leaves you in a panic, you know what I’m talking about. When “what’s the Wi-Fi password” becomes the official greeting, we know we’re hooked on our technology.
And technology is great. Our ability at Health eVillages to put relevant clinical content in the hands of healthcare providers in remote areas of the world has helped to address the seemingly insurmountable problem that during our lifetime, 1 BILLION people will go to their graves never having seen a healthcare provider. Over the past five years, Health eVillages has delivered content and decision support tools through Aptus Health’s Omnio application, worked with partners to educate nurses, and has helped bring “doctors to the doorstep” with our mobile technology. All these things are important, driving improved physical health and saving lives.
For true “well-being”, however, we can’t rely on technology alone—we must foster the connection between the caregiver and the patient, the patient and the community, and communities with each other—truly an effort to “heal the villages”. This was evident in our recent visits to our Health eVillages programs in Chellanam and SughaVazhvu, India.
In Chellanam, a small fishing town in Kochi, Kerala, we’ve partnered with a group called ElevateX to test the principles of Human-Centered Design (HCD), in which human relationships are considered first when developing possible solutions to challenges at hand. We witnessed the connections that this team (and “Coach”) built with the community’s youth through music, sports, and theater. They’ve built such a trusting relationship with these young people that they are now open to learning about their own health—physical, mental, and emotional—helping them making better lifestyle decisions for a holistic approach to well-being, including hope for the future.
We’ve extended this connection between communities, bringing together the poverty-stricken students of Chellanam with the affluent youth of Choice High School. Although from seemingly different worlds, they quickly learned that depression, although typically not openly discussed, is common to both groups. They created skits based on shared personal experiences, building the human connection that is critical to well-being. To further emphasize the importance of connection, the results of a recent survey conducted with the children of Chellanam placed “relationships” above their need for food and clean water.
This need for human connection was echoed during our visit to SughaVazhu, a clinical organization in Thanjavur in the state of Tamil Nadu. Consisting of both a “brick and mortar” clinic and a mobile unit, SughaVazhu (meaning “happy life”) is one of our most technologically enabled Health eVillages programs. With proprietary record-keeping software and digitized protocols (Thanks to the Aptus Health Mumbai team!), they take their care on the road, driving best clinical practices while engaging patients and their families in pursuing healthier lifestyles, specifically in the areas of diabetes, hypertension, and hypolipidemia. Although well-equipped with technology and data-driven protocol, we learned of a patient who chose to stop receiving services. When asked why, he shared that the caregiver never “touched” him—falling short on meeting the need for human connection. Eye contact is now written into the protocol. J
The SughaVazhu team also engages the community in discussions of health and wellness through the identification of “key opinion leaders” and facilitation of open discussions at local tea shops. They learn what works and what doesn’t in each village, understanding that they must first build trusting relationships so that healthcare isn’t only “delivered” when there’s an urgent need, but that wellness is an ongoing goal and woven into their daily lives.
And this is what Health eVillages is all about—using our technology-enabled solutions to connect others to “heal the villages”. Is it a quick fix? Absolutely not…it is a long and arduous journey with no real end. But for true “well-being”, it is a journey that must be taken. Since the formation of Health eVillages just five years ago, our journey in connecting others has evolved:
Through the deployment of over 200 content-laden devices in Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Haiti, and rural areas of the U.S. in Louisiana and Maine, the installation of a cell tower in Lwala, our partnership in the education of future caregivers in Haiti, Kenya, and South Sudan, and our community engagement activities in India, Health eVillages is driven to continue our journey to “heal the villages”. Our ultimate goal is to make access to healthcare and general well-being the rule rather than the exception.