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The Catalyst

Medical student's public health poster wins national awards

By J. Ryne Danielson

Dr. Kalpana Manthiram, from left, Vasanth Kuppuswamy and Dr. Athi Narayan, along with community health nurses conduct a home visit to an Indian village in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Third-year College of Medicine student Vasanth Kuppuswamy presented a poster at the national meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Washington, D.C. this past October. The poster, titled “Effect of a home–based intervention by trained community health nurses on immunization rates, exclusive breastfeeding, growth parameters, and hospitalizations for respiratory and diarrheal illness: A pilot randomized controlled trial,” won best poster presentation in the international child health category.

More recently, Kuppuswamy was awarded the 2016 Excellence in Public Health Award from the U.S. Public Health Service Physician Professional Advisory Committee, and his poster was selected by the Consortium of Universities for Global Health as the best poster in the New and Emerging priorities in Globa1 Health category.

“This award is a testament to the education provided by the Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine and to the high caliber of its students,” said Jeneita Bell, M.D., Region 4 coordinator of the USPHS Physicians Professional Advisory Committee.

Kuppuswamy provided some background on the project. “There is a non–profit organization called the Pallavaram Children’s Medical Center based in Atlanta,” he said. “The organization, which runs a non-profit hospital in the city of Chennai in south India, was founded by Dr. Athi Narayan, a neonatologist who practices in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2013, he approached me with an idea to do a village outreach project, whereby the health care services offered by PCMC could be extended into the rural villages of Tamil Nadu, the Indian state of which Chennai is the capital.”

While taking a year off between his undergraduate studies and medical school, Kuppuswamy was looking for a worthwhile project to get involved with, and this fit the bill, he said. “The idea was to train local nurses in these villages in a curriculum prepared by our team here in the United States, so they could provide monthly wellness check–ups for infants in these villages throughout their first year of life. The nurses would check growth parameters, developmental status, advocate for breast feeding, ensure compliance with vaccinations and provide anticipatory guidance to new parents regarding the health of their child.”

This project is based in the village of Maganoorpatti, with nurses providing home visits to patients in surrounding villages.

Kuppuswamy traveled to India in 2013 and spent four months getting the project off the ground. When he began medical school at MUSC, he approached Andrea Summer, M.D., in the Department of Pediatrics about conducting a research study to evaluate the efficacy of the program. “Along with biostatistician Sarah Logan, Ph.D., and research nurse Beth O’Brien, RN, we created a randomized controlled study that we conducted between June 2014 and early 2015,” Kuppuswamy said.

After his first year of medical school, Kuppuswamy received a travel grant from the Center for Global Health so he could return to India and conduct the study.

O’Brien congratulated Kuppuswamy on his award. “It was my pleasure to work with Vasanth on this innovative project. My role was to assist him with the writing of the human subjects portion of his study and assist with all of the Institutional Review Board regulatory issues that go along with doing a study like this over in India. Not only did he have to seek approval through our local MUSC IRB, but his study had to be approved through an IRB in India as well.”

Summer agreed. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Vasanth on this project. He is a highly motivated student who is extremely sharp and resourceful. I was impressed with his ability to accomplish this project during school and to do so with such thoroughness and rigor. He is clearly dedicated to improving the health of underserved children. This pilot project will inform planning for a larger study that will extend over a year and evaluate the full impact of this home-based intervention on infant mortality and other health indicators.”

In addition to Summer, Logan and O’Brien, Kuppuswamy wished to thank many others who contributed to the project’s success. “I cannot emphasize how vital the following individuals were to the outcome of this project: Drs. Athi Narayan and Deepa Ranganathan, neonatologists from the Atlanta area; Dr. Kalpana Manthiram, a pediatric infectious disease specialist working at the NIH; Janani Srindhar, a former Master of Science in Clinical Research student at MUSC who was instrumental in our data collection efforts; and all of the staff members in India who work so hard every day,” he said.

April 25, 2016



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