Wayne State Students Study Diseases In India

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There was no ambulance system in the South Indian village of Chikkamuddavadi when a man lost control and fell off of his motorbike. The impact left him unconscious and his ears bleeding. As he lay injured on the road, his chances of being rushed to the nearest hospital 37 miles away were slim. But the Geetha Ambulance, instituted by Wayne State University students a few days earlier in a nearby village, was able to do just that — ultimately saving the man’s life.

Chandramouli Mandalaparty, 19, a student in WSU’s economics department and resident of Novi, and Amardeep Dhaliwal, 20, student in WSU’s biology department and resident of Seattle, not only provided the village of Doddamuddavadi with an ambulance service, but also hosted a medical camp there to research the factors contributing to diabetes and high blood pressure in rural India.

The pre-med students were mentored by Nelia Afonso, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine at WSU’s School of Medicine.

In India, high blood pressure has become a major health problem. According to Afonso, urban studies have shown a steadily increasing trend in hypertension prevalence over the last 40 years, yet there is minimal knowledge of the nature of both hypertension and diabetes in rural India.

“They’ve done many urban studies in India, but as far as rural populations, especially in South India, there’s not much data on high blood pressure or diabetes,” Dhaliwal said.

Having already developed a non-profit called RHINO (Rural Health International Non-profit Organization) in 2009 with fellow WSU student Ajay Gopalakrisha, the students partnered with India-based NGO Sacred Trust in response to the lack of health statistics and health care access in rural India. Together, they developed a medical camp to serve the residents of Doddamuddavadi in the summer of 2010.

“Many of the people in rural India are farmers and don’t have a lot of money,” Dhaliwal said. “Getting to a hospital about an hour away is a huge deal to them, and they can’t do that. So the camp gave them a place to go.”

With help from one doctor and 12 nurses, Dhaliwal and Mandalaparty treated and collected data from 345 patients of all ages and genders. The data included basic height, weight, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, daily activities and basic habits, such as smoking or alcohol consumption.

With the help of Anil Aranha, a statistician in WSU’s School of Medicine, the students’ data revealed that nearly 40 percent of the patients had diabetes. Approximately 60 percent of the village’s population had high blood pressure, the incidence of which was higher in older age groups in both male and female populations. “We were expecting high rates of elevated blood pressure, but were shocked at how high the numbers were,” said Mandalaparty.

There was a low prevalence of obesity in the study population, however. This correlated with high rates of vegetarianism among the patients, 64 percent of whom also stayed active with at least eight hours of farming and manual labor each day.

As they continue to analyze the statistics, Mandalaparty and Dhaliwal hope to set up a student organization through RHINO at WSU to raise funds and purchase basic medical equipment, “so the doctor can do more right in the village,” said Mandalaparty. “They don’t have basic access to health services there and we want to provide them with everything they need.”

The study was funded by a $3,050 WSU Undergraduate Research and Creative Projects Award grant.

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