November 26, 2019

Faces of Innovation: Dr. Rohit Ramchandani, researcher at the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Waterloo

Julien Rashid
Policy & Advocacy Associate

Faces of Innovation—a new GHTC project that features scientists on the front lines of research and development on new global health tools and technologies—profiles Dr. Rohit Ramchandani, who we met at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Conferenc. Dr. Ramchandani does research to innovate global treatment options for childhood diarrhea at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland and the University of Waterloo. 

My name: Rohit Ramchandani, DrPH

Where I work: Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland and the University of Waterloo

I’m funded by: US Agency for International Development

My research: My research focuses on diarrhea in children…the second-leading cause of death in children under five globally…These are close to 500,000 deaths that are happening every year, most of which are preventable, and treatable. They’re treatable with medicines, oral rehydration salts [ORS] and zinc. That’s the globally recommended treatment for diarrhea. But the problem is, in many low- and middle-income countries, access to these medicines is not where it should be, particularly in rural communities. 

So we looked at that issue of access. We did it by leveraging human-centered design approach. And we really focused on the details and the challenges that mothers face treating their children with diarrhea…Our research showed that 40% of the time, mothers are preparing ORS in the wrong concentration: either too diluted, or too concentrated. That can lead to hypernatremia, that can make the diarrhea even worse, or the efficacy gets reduced if it’s too diluted. So we actually worked with a local pharmaceutical company in Zambia to shrink down then size of the ORS sachets—the standard all over the world is a one-liter sachet—we shrunk those down to make 200-mililiter sachets, and then we made the packaging double as a measurement vessel for the right amount of water…One of our key funders during our scale-up phase was USAID—their Discover Health Program. They played a fundamental role in some of the social marketing we were doing as we were scaling up the development of our diarrhea treatment kit.

Motivation: There’s just a fundamental issue of justice in the world…We often think of innovation being new product development, high technology, but things like ORS and zinc—innovation can happen really in the delivery side of things. And that’s really where our innovation focused.

Why federal support is critical: I think this is low-hanging fruit. Diarrhea, as one of the leading causes of death in the world for children—we have the solutions, we know what to do, and these kinds of innovations can really make a huge difference in saving lives.…[And] there’s a health security argument [to do this work]. The world is getting smaller and smaller every day. We are inextricably linked to one another. 

When I’m not in the lab: I’m a dad! I’m a dad of two amazing young girls. They inspire me every day. It makes my work in child health that much more meaningful—the inspiration I get from them. I want all parents to have that.