Diabetes is sometimes called a “rich man’s disease.” But, the truth is anyone eating badly and failing to exercise is at risk, including millions of people who are still living in poverty.
It’s these folk that a group of business school students wants to reach with a cheap new diabetes test. It’s called the Square, and it’s aimed at urban “slum-dwellers” who may be threatened with diabetes, but very likely haven’t been checked for it.
The concept comes from a team from the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. It’s one of six finalists for this year’s Hult Prize, which challenges students to create social good enterprises. This year’s goal, set here by Bill Clinton, is to reduce rates of non-communicable diseases among the urban poor. The challenge: “Can we build a social health care enterprise that serves the needs of 25 million slum dwellers suffering from chronic diseases by 2019?”
“We saw that diabetes is growing at the fastest rate among the slum population,” says Dhaman Rakhra, one of the students. “It is also a disease that can be addressed, and where you can have an immediate impact. A lot of it is about a lifestyle change, if it’s detected early.”
The Square is about the size of a postage stamp, and it’s similar to a pregnancy test. If someone’s urine has a certain level of glucose in it–indicating propensity for diabetes–it will change color. Most ingeniously, the test is super-cheap. You can print it out using a normal printer, and the cost is only about two cents.
The students plan to distribute the Square using the Avon business model, where local people will sell on the enterprise’s behalf. That should help overcome reticence about foreign interventions, they say. “We found that the adoption of Western medicine is low in urban slums. With the Avon model, we’re using women who are trusted in the slums and who can distribute for us,” Rakhra says.
The Schulich students, who are all undergraduates, will refine the idea over the summer, first spending time with a Hult accelerator in Cambridge, Massachusetts, then during a month-long pilot at a large slum in Mumbai.
“It’s exciting to really show that young people really can make a difference by creating a social enterprise that’s self-sustaining,” Rakhra says. “It’s not something that many young business students really think about as a career path. But it’s definitely something we hope to influence.”