Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are very excited to announce the launch of the Stanford Population Health Sciences India (PHS India) Center in Mumbai!  The mission of the Center is to radically improve the health and economic well-being of Indians through:
  • Research: Spurring novel transdisciplinary research that leads to actionable insights.
  • Training: Training and advising the next generation of health, development, and data science scholars and leaders at Stanford and in India.
  • Impact: Connecting research to policy and practice. Aligning with Stanford’s aspiration to become a more purposeful, global university, we will work closely with key policy-makers to translate knowledge into action.
The Center is sponsored by the Stanford School of Medicine with generous in-kind support from Wadhwani AI. Below we outline our approach for realizing this ambitious vision (click here to receive Center announcements). 

Leveraging data science innovations
India is faced with data-related challenges that are crippling its health and development efforts. Important existing datasets have often not been digitized, curated, or harmonized. Even when these essential steps have been completed, data are often not discoverable, accessible, or of sufficient quality to be of practical use for informing policy and/or practice. The Center for Population Health Sciences (PHS), harnessing the latest computational and methodological advances, has created a data platform that addresses many of these challenges.  
 PHS Solution
Technical Infrastructure
Computational infrastructure must be robust, flexible, scalable, and secure 
Developed suite of platform agnostic cloud-based tools that allow researchers to explore, manipulate and analyze multi-terabyte data 
Need a clear path to vetting partners and allowing data access to those with legitimate need for data 
Created system for quickly vetting/training researchers and allowing for granular control of data access 
Data Curation 
Curate and harmonize data in such a way that it is discoverable, searchable, linkable, and easy to use 
Partnered with national leaders (OHDSI & CEDAR) in data harmonization to apply common data models to PHS datasets
Research Facilitation 
Efficient use of human contact 
Assembled team with training in diverse disciplines, programming languages, methods, and datasets. Developed systems to allow cloud-sourced answers to user questions
We plan to replicate this model in India, building an innovative data hub that will provide a comprehensive suite of data and research services (e.g., hosting, vending, curating, and harmonizing datasets, research design guidance) to Stanford University’s researchers and Indian-based NGOs, government, corporate, and academic entities. We will also offer a variety of workshops and courses designed to build data science and research capacity (e.g., a data science leadership program, team science workshops, etc.). Over time, our data efforts will facilitate a shift toward precision health and development, enabling us to provide the right intervention, at the right time, to the right sub-population.

Fostering transdisciplinary research
Health and development issues are complex. To develop effective solutions, we must understand the different combinations of causal conditions that influence challenging problems such as stunting, cancer, child mortality, infectious disease (e.g., malaria and TB) and non-communicable diseases. To encourage transdisciplinary research across the University, the Center will:
  • Act as a “hub.” In India we are collaborating with a diverse swath of NGOs, government organizations, academic institutions, and companies (e.g., The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, PATH, Tata Trusts, WISH Foundation). At Stanford University, there is already a vibrant network of scholars representing different schools and departments who are conducting cutting-edge health and development research. The Center will facilitate an ongoing exchange of ideas and insights between such stakeholders. 
  • Host faculty and PhD students from across the Stanford campus at our center in Mumbai, providing space, on-the-ground logistical support, and, in some cases, research support (e.g., connecting scholars with local research organizations). 

Developing affordable products and services
One of the Center’s longer-term aspirations, drawing on Stanford and India’s technological strengths, is to create a lab focused on developing and implementing affordable products and services that can accelerate health and development efforts in India. 

Solving India’s most pressing health and development issues
Leveraging the Center’s data hub and transdisciplinary research network, we are in the process of developing a portfolio of projects aimed at solving India’s most pressing health and development issues: 
  • Transforming Primary Health Care through Digital Innovation.  While experiments with primary care models proliferate, there remains no overarching solution to the desperately inadequate number of skilled primary care physicians, particularly in rural areas. The emergence of local health and wellness centers, connected digitally to more specialized district facilities, offers a more sustainable model, in combination with securing local availability of sound medical information using internet and other digital solutions. A primary priority for our Center will be to develop and test such systems, along with assessment of their impact at the population level in a “learning health system.”

  • Advancing Gender Equity and Improving Rural Health. Gender inequities are at the heart of many of India’s most intractable health and development problems. The Internet Saathi Program, implemented by the Foundation for Rural Entrepreneurship Development (FREND) which is seeded by Tata Trusts and Google, is committed to closing the enormous digital divide between men and women. Women in rural India are trained to access and use the internet. In turn, these women, called “Saathis” (meaning friend in Hindi), then train other women in their community and neighbouring villages. To date, the Program has created an immense bi-directional digital platform. It has been successfully implemented in over 200,000 villages across 18 states, reaching over 20 million women. Rural women have started to use this platform to improve their livelihoods, obtain critical health information, and ameliorate gender and social equity issues. Looking ahead, the platform can be used to deliver novel interventions in areas such as health, financial inclusion, entrepreneurship, education, and gender equity at a scale that is often difficult to achieve in rural communities. The design of the Project should naturally support well-designed randomized controlled trials in these areas. The Center plans to work in collaboration with FREND (via MOU with Tata Trusts) to assess the overall impact of the Program and to develop and test new interventions that drive positive social and economic impact in rural India.

  • Developing Sanitation Innovations. There are 4.4 billion people in the world without adequate or sustainable sanitation systems. In India, the Swachh Bharat “Clean India” initiative led by Prime Minister Modi has activated a major drive forward to install sanitation systems for all by 2019. PHS India, Tata Trusts, and the Toilet Board Coalition will begin to explore sanitation innovations (e.g., smarter sanitation systems) that can advance this vision.

  • Reducing Wasting and Stunting. Despite India’s impressive economic growth, almost 35% of all children today are stunted. The consequences of stunting are life-long impaired cognitive and physical development. The Center’s data hub will support local scholars in their efforts to better understand the myriad of factors that influence wasting and stunting, allowing us to develop much more effective programs and policies that can finally eradicate this devastating health issue.
  • Utilizing Artificial Intelligence to Meet National Health Goals. Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform health and development efforts in India. NITI Aayog, a policy think tank, has been spearheading the Government of India’s strategy and effort in building the ecosystem for research and adoption of artificial intelligence in India and has set the vision of “AI for All.” Healthcare has been identified as one of the focus sectors that is expected to benefit the most from AI in solving societal needs and to this end International Centers of Transformational AI (ICTAI) have been proposed. Wadhwani AI, a Mumbai based non-profit research institute, will operate as the convening partner for the proposed model ICTAI in healthcare. PHS India was excited to join as one of its core collaborators. The Center, leveraging its data infrastructure, plans to provide broad access to large-scale high-quality datasets, helping to advance ICTAI’s vision of quality heathcare for all. 
We invite your engagement and encourage you to reach out to us if you are interested in joining our events and activities at Stanford and in India, initiating a research collaboration, utilizing our data and/or research services, or just spending time at our Center in Mumbai.

Best regards,

Mark R. Cullen, M.D. 
Professor of Medicine, Biomedical Data Science and Health Research and Policy
Director, Center for Population Health Sciences
Senior Associate Dean for Research School of Medicine and
Senior Associate Vice Provost 
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