India Research and Outreach Initiative (IROI) is the collaborative effort of Boston University (BU) Community Participatory Research Laboratory and Central Research Services at Charutar Arogya Mandal (CAM), a charitable trust that manages a tertiary care center and medical university in rural Gujarat, India.
As pre-medical students at Boston University, Apurv Soni (CAS ’11) and Nisha Fahey (CAS ’11) recognized the desire within the pre-medical student body for opportunities to participate in international health outreach programs. They also recognized that existing programs at BU offer students valuable experiences in outreach, but many lack a tangible research component. Students who have studied the importance of evidence-based findings through classes such as Epidemiology, Health Policy, and Global Health, recognize the critical role of research in successfully improving health at a community level. With this understanding, Soni and Fahey sought the support and guidance of Dr. Eileen O’Keefe (PI, Community Participatory Research Laboratory at BU) and Dr. Somashekhar Nimbalkar (Head, Central Research Services at CAM) in creating a system that allows students to actively participate in research that informs the development of outreach in underserved communities.
Over the past few decades, there has been an increase in the number of international health outreach programs in developing countries. While nearly all of them have a valuable, positive impact, the effect is not always well-sustained. Many reasons contribute to this limited impact including lack of involvement from local facilities, absence of research-based identification of community needs, and inadequate assessment of outreach programs. IROI seeks to address these three issues through a dynamic cycle of community-based research and outreach.
The scope of IROI is unique in its goal to place students at the core of the initiative. By focusing on identifying the underlying factors that result in health inequities and addressing them, IROI offers a tremendous platform for students to have an impact and to receive early exposure to working in an international setting with limited resources.
Currently, IROI has designed and implemented its first public health research study on the assessment of women’s health in rural Gujarat, India. The findings will guide the development of subsequent research studies and outreach projects in the future. This framework establishes a foundation for a sustainable process perpetuated by the involvement of faculty and students in actively designing and implementing upcoming projects. The outcome of these efforts will improve health and inform health institutions and policy makers regarding the community’s needs.