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15 April, 2017 11:21:42 PM
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A smart bangle for maternal wellness

FAISAL MAHMUD
A smart bangle for maternal wellness

Jewellery, they say, are a woman’s best friend. Now, what if there was a piece of “jewellery” that could warn a pregnant woman about health hazards, inform her about the foetus, and remind her to take her medicines on time? Wouldn’t it be a friend even better than the best for her?

Anamika Chakraborti could not agree more. This ‘talking’ bangle has been a constant companion of the homemaker from Amtola village in Khulna district’s Botiaghata upazila for the last four months or so.
Anamika was five months pregnant when a local NGO approached her with the bangle. They asked her to use it for the rest of the pregnancy. She had no reason to say “no”. The amazing bangle could “talk”, of course, but it looked pretty too.
Over the next few months, the bangle warned her whenever she was in the presence of excessive kitchen smoke, reminded her to take her medicines and more protein, and kept informing her about the status of the baby, among many other things.
“It was like magic. I liked it a lot,” smiled Anamika, who gave birth to a healthy boy a few days ago.
‘Coel’, however, is no magic. This device, shaped like a bangle, is the brainchild of Grameen-Intel Social Business Ltd. (GISB), a social business information technology company formed in a joint collaboration between Intel Corporation and Grameen Trust.
 
An idea is born
Talking to The Independent, Pavel Hoq, the chief operating officer (COO) of GISB, said the Internet of Things (IOT) is one of the most discussed issues of the time. Their ‘Coel’ project is a part of it.
“We haven’t launched it commercially yet. It is in the final phase of research and development (R&D). We plan to launch it commercially within this year,” he said.
Hoq said while people in urban areas have been familiar with smart wearables for quite some time, very few people in the rural areas of Bangladesh are even aware of the existence of such things. GISB focuses on developing products for the underprivileged sections of the country.
That is how they came up with the idea of designing smart wearables for pregnant women. Citing information from the WHO factsheet, he said that around 800 women die every day across the world from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Many women in developing countries live in remote, rural areas. This makes it challenging for them to access healthcare facilities and midwives.
Moreover, these women have no knowledge of the importance of seeking medical advice from professionals. As a result, they often find it difficult to get medical support to improve their chances of a having a safe pregnancy and delivering a healthy baby.
Hoq said GISB planned to design the wearable in such a manner that it would give a pregnant woman the necessary information at regular intervals over a certain period. They planned to design the wearable in the form of a “bangle” (known as a “bala” in Bangladesh), as women in this part of the world love to wear bangles.
“Besides, we knew that if we could develop a device in the form of a bangle that did not need to be charged, women would wear it all the time,” said Hoq.
Apart from delivering messages, the bangle would also detect the level of indoor air pollution, which largely occurs as a result of cooking and heating. It contributes to around 4.3 million deaths (WHO data) every year. Babies can suffer low birth weight and other serious health complications from the effects of breathing indoor cooking fumes.
 
Chic look
The bangle is made of sturdy water-resistant plastic with different types of engraved designs. Narayan Sundararajan, the chief technology officer (CTO) of GISB, said they needed to get all competing functionalities in the form of a bangle without compromising the aesthetic beauty of the device.
One particularly tough challenge was to get the bangle designed and developed in such a way that it would let the air in to analyse it for indoor air pollution but keep water, dirt, and dust out. To overcome that challenge, the design team used a special type of sensor inside the bangle.
There is also a dedicated microprocessor, which can process pre-programmed instructions, and a speaker, which can deliver programmed messages.
If Coel’s sensor detects carbon monoxide at a harmful level, a red LED light flashes as an alert for the wearer. It also produces a voice warning customized to the wearer’s language, telling her to open windows and doors or to go outside or to a place with fresh air.
To incorporate the no-recharging feature, the design team initially used solar panels. But that made the bangle very heavy and aesthetically unpleasant. Besides, the use of a solar panel made the bangle very costly.
Hoq said they were always concerned about the pricing while working on the project. “We knew that if we wanted it to work in the villages, we would have to keep the price at a minimum level. With a solar panel, that would not have been possible.”
So, in the new design, the GISB team used a battery that could last 10 months, which would comfortably cover the pregnancy, he said.
 
Right info at right time

The bangle can be programmed to “speak” 80 pregnancy-related wellness messages. The device does not need internet connectivity to function.
Hoq said it is crucial that a pregnant woman gets the right information at the right time. Coel is the right device for the purpose. The device can be set in accordance with the pregnancy dates. Based on the dates, Coel will provide pregnancy-related messages (information and instructions) for 10 months at the rate of roughly two messages each week.
The messages have been developed by the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) in partnership with USAID, Johnson & Johnson, UN Foundation, the mHealth Alliance, and BabyCenter. GISB has encoded the translated Bangla MAMA message in this smart bangle.
These messages are being used by more than 160 organisations in more than 54 countries across the world.
Hoq told The Independent that this product is a new concept, not only in Bangladesh but also in the world. “Aside from a commercial launch in Bangladesh, we plan to launch it in other countries too. Only the language has to be customized,” he said.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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