The Ask the CAMTech Innovator series features passionate members of CAMTech’s global health innovator community who are working to develop affordable medical technologies for those facing major healthcare challenges in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs). Today, we’re talking to Shivangi Bajpai, who just completed a year working in Mbarara, Uganda with the CAMTech Innovator Leadership Fellowship (ILF). The ILF program gives innovators an opportunity to work internationally in co-creation labs on affordable medical technologies, and aims to drive cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural innovation in the US, India and Uganda.
Shivangi worked in the CAMTech Uganda Co-Creation Lab at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), where she led the creation of a low-cost hand sanitizer, Sanidrop, as well as several other projects, including an ultrasound gel, a vein locator that assists with infant cannulation and a bubble project that helps combat combat post-operative atelectasis in children. She holds a degree in biotechnology from Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), in India, where she is a co-founder of Creation Labs,– which provide hacking space and resources to promote creativity and innovations among students.
Shivangi has also participated in and won numerous CAMTech hack-a-thons, and we recently caught up with her to talk about her experiences over the past year.
What made you want to be a CAMTech Innovation Leadership Fellow?
I was always interested in the medical field, and Ichose biotechnology for my undergraduate degree for the same reason. However, after I attended my first medical hack-a-thon showed me a better way to follow my passion through medical innovation. After attending a few hack-a-thons, I was confident that I could contribute to uplifting health conditions in places like India and Uganda. I was awed by the people in CAMTech and the amazing work that they were doing. They were the kind of people I dreamed of working with. So I was really excited when I got the opportunity to become a CAMTech Innovation Leadership Fellow.
What motivates you to innovate affordable medical technologies?
I have worked on affordable technologies because I belong to a middle class family and I have seen my family members struggling to pay for their treatment. I have faced the feeling of helplessness when you know that there’s a way to save your close ones but you can’t because you cannot afford it. It’s painful to lose someone just because of money. Hence, after participating in my first CAMTech hack-a-thon, I realized that no matter what skills you have, you can always help bring a change. I feel proud to be a part of something which is helping me to solve my own problems and others as well. My aim is to contribute as much as I can towards developing and making medical technology more accessible to the masses and helping to improve the lives.
Can you talk a little bit about your experience as a CAMTech Innovation Leadership Fellow?
I really enjoyed working in Uganda. Interacting everyday with the doctors and medical professionals from MUST and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) enlightened me on various aspects of medical problems that I was unaware of. Working at the CAMTech Uganda Co-Creation Lab with Ugandan students was also amazing. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was able to offer and accomplish with their help.This fellowship has helped me improve my technical and management skills and made me a better entrepreneur. Overall, it was a really enjoyable and fulfilling experience.
Can you share some struggles? Some successes?
The unavailability of required resources for building prototypes was the most frustrating thing for me; it subsequently reduced the productivity and consumed a lot of time in solving problems. But this experience also helped me to learn new ways to overcome these problems, and that’s how I have made significant progress in the production of a a low-cost hand sanitizer and ultrasound gel.
Tell us about Sanidrop! What has that process been like for you?
It was Dr. Data Santorino’s idea to develop a low-cost hand sanitizer to increase its use in hospitals and other public places. Since I had some experience making hand sanitizer, I was able to make a perfect batch after a few trials in a week. However, the main challenge was to create a marketable product out of it. With the help of Manny Cabanas [a former CAMTech Innovator in Residence], I was able to set up a mass-manufacturing facility and develop a marketing plan. We distributed samples during the 2015 CAMTech Uganda Hack-a-thon and the feedback was very positive. I am really looking forward to its official approval and product launch.
How was adjusting to life in Uganda?
I lived in a very comfortable apartment and made really good friends who cared a lot about me. It was definitely not easy to stay far away from family and friends for one year, but I was lucky to find amazing people to cheer me up and encourage me to keep moving in every possible way. Working in Uganda was a bit different than India and Boston. Sometimes it was challenging, but on the other hand, this experience helped me to grow and improve my cross-cultural management skills.
Looking back on your time over the last year in Uganda, what experiences stand out the most? What would you say was your biggest accomplishment?
My year spent working in Uganda was an experience which I am going to cherish all my life and I would love to continue working with CAMTech Uganda in the future. This opportunity helped me to realize what I am capable of and where I need to improve. It was so amazing to work with MUST students on various projects and to exchange ideas and skills with them. During this fellowship, I also had an opportunity to learn CAD designing and 3D printing, which was extremely exciting and helpful for me.
I would consider Sanidrop as my biggest accomplishment, since I started this project from scratch and devoted most of my time for to it. Sanidrop has achieved a lot within a year, and the Sanidrop team has registered as a company in Uganda. We now have samples that are being testing and verified for regulatory approvals. I have also worked on the marketing side of the project and was able to share it with staff members at Mbarara regional referral hospital (MRRH). The Director of MRRH has agreed to install dispenser machines in the hospital and order Saniodrop as soon as we receive final approval.
What are some lessons you learned over the last year? Do you have any tips for other global health innovators?
While I had both good and bad experiences over the last one year, each taught me new things and made me a better person. After one year I can say that patience and persistence are the two most important things you need to have in order to work as a global health innovator. There are times when things don’t work, but you must have patience, and communicating with people and asking for help speeds up the process. It is also important to understand the culture of working in a foreign environment.
How has this experienced helped your career trajectory?
I always wanted to work in healthcare, and this experience allowed me to create two products that are much cheaper than existing products in the market. I plan to enroll in a masters or Ph.D. program in biomedical engineering, and this fellowship gave me exposure to real health challenges and motivated me to continue working in the field.
Would you recommend this program to other innovators?
I would recommend the ILF to anyone interested in healthcare innovation and who feels passionate about changing the healthcare settings in developing countries. This is an amazing opportunity to realize what you can accomplish and developing innovations in a low-resource setting. The ILF not only helped me to use my knowledge and skills in the real world, but also helped me to learn about patents, business plans and marketing skills which are the most important factors behind any successful product. The ILF program is a great platform to work with a diverse group of clinicians, engineers and entrepreneurs, as each one of them plays an important role in all the stages of medtech innovation.