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The program’s seeds were planted in 2007 when one of the labs in Mehta’s Sensor and Controller System Integration class involved creating a telemedicine system using commercial-off-the-shelf devices. Based on the lab, a student team developed a proof-of-concept for a mobile-to-mobile communication system for disaster relief. Mehta and student Aaron Fleishman combined this lab experience with research and experience working in and understanding health problems in East Africa to conceptualize Mashavu.
“We were trying to figure out how to use the system in a disaster,” Mehta says. “We were working on that with the Chinese, but it didn’t go anywhere, so we decided to modify the system to help Kenya with medical needs.”
On this summer’s trip to Kenya in May and June, he was accompanied by 33 Penn State students, two doctors, a nurse, an IT person, and two people filming a documentary. “We also had someone from Johnson & Johnson for a week. We’re trying to get them involved in redesigning and manufacturing devices.”
The Mashavu team has a number of partners in East Africa. They include the Children and Youth Empowerment Center (CYEC) in Nyeri, Kenya; The United Nations Industrial Development Office (UNIDO) mission in Kenya; the United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC) in Imbaseni, Tanzania, and the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) at the University of Arusha in Arusha, Tanzania.
The Kenyan government also is very interested, Mehta says. “We had a request to see if we can put Mashavu in a backpack so community health workers can use it when they go on rounds from house to house. The African Medical Research Foundation also is trying to implement Mashavu.”