The award aims to help young researchers investigate ways of improving access to health care in developing countries.
July 8, 2015 - By Beth Duff-Brown
Assistant professors of medicine Marcella Alsan, MD, PhD, MPH, and Jason Andrews, MD, have each won a Rosenkranz Prize for Health Care Research in Developing Countries.
Stanford’s Center for Health Policy/Center for Primary Care annually awards the $100,000 prize to young researchers to help them investigate ways of improving access to health care in developing countries.
Andrews is working to identify and develop cheap, effective diagnostic tools for infectious diseases, and Alsan is researching how older girls in poorer countries are impacted by the health of their younger siblings.
The award’s namesake, George Rosenkranz, who is now 98, was a pioneer in synthesizing cortisone and progestin, the active ingredient in oral birth control pills. He went on to establish the Mexican National Institute for Genomic Medicine. His family created the Rosenkranz Prize in 2009.
The award embodies Rosenkranz’s belief that young scientists have the curiosity and drive necessary to find alternative solutions to longstanding health-care dilemmas.
Getting girls back in school
Alsan, a core faculty member at CHP/PCOR, is analyzing whether medical interventions in children younger than 5 tend to help their older sisters go back to school. More than 100 million girls worldwide fail to complete secondary school, despite research that shows a mother’s literacy is the most robust predictor of child survival.
“Anecdotally, girls must sacrifice their education to help out with domestic tasks, including taking care of children, a job that becomes more onerous if their younger siblings are ill,” said Alsan, who specializes in infectious disease and has a PhD in economics from Harvard.
She said she intends to estimate the impact that illnesses in under-5 children have on older girls’ schooling using econometric tools. She will compile data from more than 100 demographic and health surveys covering nearly 4 million children living in developing countries.
Low-cost diagnostic tools
Andrews has been working on ways to bring low-cost diagnostic tools to impoverished communities that bear the brunt of disability and death from infectious disease.
“I began working in rural Nepal as an undergraduate student, and as a medical student founded a nonprofit organization that provides free medical services in one of the most remote and impoverished parts of the country,” Andrews said. “As I became a primary physician, and then an infectious diseases specialist, one of the consistent and critical challenges I encountered in this setting was routine diagnosis of infectious disease.”
He said those routine diagnostics were typically hindered by lack of electricity, limited laboratory infrastructure and lack of trained lab personnel.
“In my experiences working throughout rural Nepal — and in India, South Africa, Brazil, Peru and Ethiopia — I found these challenges to be common across rural resource-limited settings,” Andrews said.
He has been collaborating with engineers to develop an electricity-free, culture-based incubation and identification system for typhoid; low-cost portable microscopes to detect parasitic worm infections; and most recently, an easy-to-use molecular diagnostic tool that does not require electricity.
“The motivation for these projects was not to develop fundamentally new diagnostic approaches, but rather to find simple, low-cost means to make established laboratory techniques affordable and accessible,” he said.
Andrews also intends to establish and curate a website to gather open-source ideas and evidence on diagnostic techniques for use in the developing world.
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