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CCI Students Win Locally and Impact Internationally Through Creation of Malaria-Tracking Tool

September 8, 2014

This summer, College of Computing & Informatics (CCI) information systems seniors Tammana Chawla, Tarika Chawla and Yi Lao took first place at Impactathon—a Philadelphia hackathon sponsored by local learning start-up, Ycenter, that challenges participants to create solutions in 48 hours to solve real problems in healthcare and education for communities—for their project designed to aid in tracking malaria cases in Africa.

Their project, “Connecting the Dots,” was created “using SMS [text messaging service] that large agencies like WHO [World Health Organization], or mid-sized NGOs and community health clinics can use to get data, at the same time, patients can use to demand point of care malaria testing without having to travel miles to get testing done.” Both their project and the hackathon received local and national media attention including mentions in Philadelphia Business Journal, Technical.ly Philly and The Huffington Post.

For Tammana, Tarika and Yi, the idea of developing a tool to improve malaria surveillance and treatment in Africa was as practical as it was personal—the disease also affects their home countries of India (Tammana and Tarika) and China (Yi).

Malaria is a preventable and curable disease caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes (per WHO). According to the latest estimates released by WHO in December 2013, there were about 207 million cases of malaria in 2012 (with an uncertainty range of 135 million to 287 million) and an estimated 627,000 deaths (with an uncertainty range of 473,000 to 789,000). Most deaths occur among children living in Africa, where a child dies every minute from malaria.

We recently spoke with the team to learn more about their motivation and methods in developing their winning project:

What was your inspiration for creating Connecting the Dots?

The biggest inspiration came from the problem that we read about during at the competition. 90 percent of malaria cases in Africa are never reported, according to report by WHO. With our background in technology and having lived in a developing country, we understand this problem from a very mature perspective. Lack of data directly affects patient care in these countries and also results in death. If a piece of technology can make a change, then why not? We had 48 hours to create this solution, and seeing other fellow participants working towards creating a solution really inspired us to give it our all for making a solution that can potentially impact millions of lives.

Connecting the Dots Dashboard
Image: Connecting the Dots dashboard.

How was Connecting the Dots developed? What roles did each of you play in developing it?

Yi focused on doing a diligent research with different APIs and selecting the best platform for coding. Without the right coding, this product would not have been possible. Tarika took up market research and resource gathering to understand the current mobile technology infrastructure available in Mozambique, Africa—which was key for our project to have a real world value. Tamanna led the team with packaging all the technology to create an end-to-end solution (i.e., creating workflow process for data from a user’s cell phone to server and back). It was an amazing team effort, and for us to be successful, we had to rely on each other’s individual successes. As rightly quoted by Cavett Robert [founder of the National Speakers Association]: “True progress in any field is a relay race and not a single event.”

Connect the Dots SMS

Did you work with any Drexel faculty in developing Connecting the Dots?

We did not directly work with any Drexel faculty during the product development phases; however, we attribute our success to the classroom learning received through different courses [at Drexel]. During the course of weekend at Ycenter’s Impactathon event, we received active mentorship from Dhairya Pujara [Ycenter CEO and founder], David Voyles [Microsoft tech evangelist] and Jedidiah Weller, a Drexel alumnus and Philly-based technology expert. We have decided to continue working on this project as a part of our senior design project and involve Drexel faculty to guide us. The final phase of this project in March 2015 involves actual implementation on the ground in Mozambique, Africa as part of Ycenter’s international program and we will be implementing this project with mentorship from select Drexel faculty.

How did you meet and decide to participate in Impactathon?

We all met for a senior design project and Tamanna mentioned to the team about this competition happening in Philadelphia. There was one more competition on the same day based on the hackathon. But we chose to participate in this competition, as we were largely interested in the technology innovation to make a social impact. That’s how we landed in this competition.

Congratulations to Tammana, Tarika and Yi—we can’t wait to see where Connecting the Dots takes you next!