The Acara Challenge, sponsored through the Acara program with the Institute on the Environment, aims to encourage student groups to to address global social and environmental challenges. Recent CBS alumna Katelyn Pastick (B.S. Genetics, Cell Biology and Development '15) and her teammates took silver in the international division for their SMS Maama project, a text messaging service for pregnant women in Uganda.
What did your Acara Challenge project entail?
Through SMS Maama, women receive both weekly informational texts tailored to their specific gestational age and bi-weekly interactive questions aimed at potentially identifying common pregnancy related complications. Should a woman respond in such a way that she is experiencing a complication, a local midwife is put in immediate contact for further follow-up. By participating in the Acara Challenge, we hoped to gain additional funding to assist in implementing our pilot program before expanding to more rural locations.
What's the next step in launching your project?
Beginning June-August, we will enroll approximately 60 women to compare and test feasibility and ease of use. Half of these women will receive SMS Maama texts, while half will not. Through various pre- and post-test assessments and recorded maternal health outcomes, we will compare and monitor whether or not the technology is beneficial to the specific target population.
What intrigued you about this topic in particular? Why did you want to work in this area?
In Uganda, the country with the third highest birth rate, 1 in 44 women will die from pregnancy-related complications throughout their lifetime. This statistic alone is completely unacceptable. I wanted to work in this area because I felt it was a field where a ton of improvement could still be made. With mobile technology expanding at such a rapid rate and with the ubiquitous use of mobile phones and SMS services in Uganda, working in this field utilizing a technology that goes beyond just basic informational texts has truly been a unique opportunity.
What are you doing now that you graduated?
I have been working as a Clinical Research Assistant at Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda on a HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis clinical trial. I plan to apply to medical schools this June.
How did your time in CBS prepare you for your career, as well as your experience with the Acara Challenge project?
Very early on, CBS prepares you for the in depth research that is required for scientific writing and the scientific process in general. Although many people may not think starting a business or being a social entrepreneur requires a ton of scientific research, it could not be further from the truth. A lot of evidence is required as is a very detailed oriented mindset, something I definitely developed during my four years in CBS.