NEW DELHI: Doctors collaborating with the Nobel laureate economist Abhijit Banerjee have set out to determine whether technology — a decision support system on mobile phones — could help unqualified rural healthcare practitioners or quacks provide correct guidance to patients. While a pilot project is already on with quacks in Purulia, Birbhum and 24 North Parganas of West Bengal, a randomised controlled trial is on the anvil with about 1,000 informal healthcare providers in the same three districts.
Kolkata-based public health organisation 'Liver Foundation', New Delhi-based Raxa Health and Abhijit Banerjee have come together for a project that will equip quacks with an app with components of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
A prior study co-designed by Banerjee between 2010-2015, to assess what impact quacks have on healthcare outcome in a given area had shown that 72 training classes over nine months had helped improve the ability of unqualified practitioners to manage three limited conditions — diarrhoea, chest pain and respiratory distress.
Findings of the study, that was later also supported by the state government, were published in the journal, Science.“We are now looking to determine whether human training can be replaced with the use of technology and if it’s helpful what’s the degree of usefulness,” said Partha Sarathi Mukherjee, director of Liver Foundation.
Surajit Nundy of Raxa Health, who has designed the app for the planned trial, says that while the project has not received the full funding yet, they hope the project is fully funded soon.“It’s an important project to assess how technology can help in telling informal healthcare providers the dos and don’ts, diagnosing simple health issues and improving referrals for serious medical conditions,” said Nundy.
The trial once started, will take around three years to determine outcomes.
Banerjee, an Indian-born American professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has won the Nobel Prize in economics for 2019 jointly with French-American Esther Duflo, his wife and Michael Kremer of Harvard University for “experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”.
He is known for carrying out randomised controlled trials in the fields of education and health.
In Kolkata, Banerjee visited a reputed fabrics outlet, known for its collection of ethnic dresses, and stayed there for about half-an-hour. He is slated to leave the city early on Thursday.