Yale students win global health innovation competition < Pediatrics
Yale students win global health innovation competition < Pediatrics

A team of students from the Yale Institute for Global Health (YIGH) won the annual Emory Morningside Global Health Case Competition, held March 14-23 on Emory University’s Atlanta campus. It was the second time in three years that a team representing YIGH won this prestigious event, the largest of its kind in the world.

The competition involved 31 teams from around the world who were asked to propose innovative, multidisciplinary solutions to real global health problems. This year, the challenge of the occasion was “Tackling Twindemic in India: Accelerating Integrated Diabetes and TB Care to End TB”.

“In winning the Emory Case Competition, this talented group of Yale students drawn from across the university demonstrated the critical, creative and strategic thinking needed to address the world’s most pressing health challenges,” said Dr. Michael Cappello , MD , interim director of YIGH and professor and chair of the Department of Microbial Disease Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH). “The Yale Institute for Global Health is proud to sponsor the team’s participation in Atlanta, which we hope will further inspire their efforts to make the world a better place.”

“This win makes two in the last three years, so it’s very significant,” added YIGH Deputy Director Michael Skoniecny. “We are really excited and proud of what the team has achieved. The Case Competition is a great place for students to work together. The valuable thing is that it is appropriate training for them. What excites me is the experience and skills it builds.”

The winning YIGH team, which won $6,000 in first prize, consisted of Lindsay Walker, MSN ’26, team captain; William Zhang, MPH ’24 (chronic disease epidemiology); Felicia Annan-Mills, MPH ’25 (Social and Behavioral Sciences); Noemi Guerra, BS ’24; and Teimur Kayani, MD ’24, MPH ’25 (chronic disease epidemiology).

By winning the Emory Case Competition, this talented group of Yale students, chosen from across the university, demonstrated the critical, creative and strategic thinking needed to address the world’s most pressing health challenges.

Dr. Michael Cappello, MD, Interim Director of YIGH

Their solution – called Akanksha, a Sanskrit word meaning ambition – focuses on screening for latent TB among India’s diabetic population and empowering community health workers.

Screening will be done by health workers at the clinic using an antigen-specific tuberculosis skin test (TBST), which Walker says is more reliable than the PPD tuberculin skin test (TST) and is less expensive and less prone to instability from interferon gamma release assay (IGRA) blood tests. (The Serum Institute of India developed its own version of TBST called Cy-TB.)

Walker said that during their research, the team was inspired by community health workers in India called Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA). “These workers travel to remote locations, visit people in their homes and work with clinics to provide health screening and education,” she said. “They are historically underpaid and there have been recent news stories highlighting their struggle for increased wages and recognition as public servants.”

The Yale team chose to conduct their project in the city of Guntur, Andhra Pradesh state, because of its dedicated ASHA community, government clinics with comprehensive primary health care services, and a growing urban population. Their plan will provide mobile phones to ASHAs; strengthened worker training on a government patient data mobile app and TB education app, trained workers to read TBSTs and engaged them in TB treatment initiation and adherence.

In addition, “We have supplemented ASHA’s income to the level they require with our funding,” Walker said. “We created a detailed budget and cost-benefit analysis and delivered our pitch in a concise and compelling manner.”

Kayani added: After a patient tests positive for latent TB, ASHAs will provide a once-a-week regimen for 12 weeks of isoniazid and rifapentine, a recently developed drug combination that he says is much more patient-friendly than traditional once-in-a-lifetime methods daily isoniazid or rifampin for 3-4 months. The ASHAs will then perform virtual supervised direct therapy through team-provided phones for medication adherence through Ni-kshay, a government-sponsored TB tracking and education app.

From the Yale community, Walker cited the help of Jason Aballak, a professor of economics in the School of Management, in helping the team calculate and present a cost-benefit analysis; and Luke Davis, MD, YSPH Associate Professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases), who shared his knowledge of the evolving TBST and its growing interest for use in high-risk countries.

The Yale team advanced to the Emory competition by triumphing over four other teams on February 17 at the YIGH Global Health Competition. There, the students had to present innovative solutions for the management of non-communicable diseases against the backdrop of the current humanitarian crisis in Sudan. Their winning solution, Cooling as a Solution (CaaS), centers around the deployment of ‘EcoFrost’ coolers to transport diabetes medication and ‘Frio Wallets’ to maintain insulin temperature for up to four weeks. In both competitions, teamwork was paramount.

“I believe that one key element to the success of the Yale team was the cohesion of our team and the ability to use and complement our individual strengths,” Zhang said. “Both at the YIGH Global Health Competition and at Emory, our team adopted a simple and iterative ideation process, held up quickly under time pressure, and was impressively nimble in thinking on the spot in Q&A. I’m proud that everyone challenged themselves, that we learned and had fun, and that we made lasting connections through this opportunity.”

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