Project MESA works to increase access to maternal health care in Nicaragua

project-mesa-teamLast month, we introduced M-HEAL, short for Michigan Health Engineered for All Lives, and a team of students who are creating a medical device for clinics in Guatemala.

While some students in M-HEAL continue their work with clinics in Guatemala, another team of students, led by engineering seniors Katherine Chen and Erik Thomas, are working with medical clinics in Nicaragua.

Project MESA, which stands for Making Exams Safe and Accessible, collaborates with seven clinics and healthcare centers in Nicaragua to increase access to maternal health care through the use of gynecological examination tables.

One of the long-standing projects within M-HEAL, Project MESA originated in 2010 with a needs assessment trip to Nicaragua. On one clinic visit, the team discovered that clinic staff had to carry a large, steel table up and down a steep mountain to conduct gynecological examinations.

The process not only made the visits to women in need of healthcare extremely arduous, but it was also significantly slow, affecting the amount of women who could potentially be seen.

Working with their Nicaraguan counterparts, the team developed multiple iterations of a portable examination table. The latest prototype folds into a backpack and weighs less than 25 pounds, easily carried by traveling doctors.   

After multiple iterations, the team was ready to build on their idea by joining U-M’s entrepreneurship competitions.

erikkathy“We had been doing a really good job iterating in terms of the engineering side of things, but we wanted to look more at the business side of things,” said project lead Katherine Chen. “We entered into our first business challenge last year, the Zell Lurie Institute’s Michigan Business Challenge. We created our business plan and won 4th place, which was really exciting for us,” she said.  

Today the team of approximately 25 students is focused on creating a fifth prototype using feedback they received on the device during their latest trip to Nicaragua, as well as revising their business plan. Chen said an innovative mindset has played a significant role in the process.

“From the very beginning, we were innovating by thinking of ways to ensure these women are receiving exams that in a way that is safe, comfortable, and effective for the clinicians,” she said.

The team aims to travel back to Nicaragua with another iteration of their medical device in May 2017. Stay with Innovate Blue as we follow Project MESA’s progress throughout the year.

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