Food for Life

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Industrial Engineer-Volume 46 Number 1

Purdue industrial engineering professor Yuehwern Yih reflects on nutrition program that has helped patients in Kenya survive the HIV pandemic

Yih first visited the clinic in Kenya in September 2005 and saw the challenges it faced distributing food to patients, usually delivered in 50-kilogram packages. The issue of HIV isn’t just a problem for Kenya. It’s the same for the entire continent. The U.S. government provided a lot of antivirus drugs, which is very expensive, to try to help relieve this problem. But the issue is the people don’t have enough food, so they don’t have nutrition to fight the virus. Yih said the primary drug delivered to patients helps their immune systems control HIV symptoms. Without nutrition, the drug is not as effective.

In 2006, the team developed the Nutritional Information System (NIS), comprising delivery scheduling and inventory tracking capabilities. It also tracks patient food prescription and includes that information among medical records for physicians and researchers to study and determine the impact of nutrition on patient health. Nutritional Information System has two function, one is to trigger when the food should be delivered and how frequently, and the other part is to feed [information] into patient medical record.

The results, Yih added, is synopsis for a doctor, who can research what food the patient has retrieved and how frequently and the doctor can assess how much medication the patient needs based on that data. Yih said the relationship between the patients and doctors in Kenya is unlike anything seen in modern healthcare in the United States. Finally, Yih and team set out to create [a system] that matched our needs. The result was just what we needed. We could now anticipate with confidence the amount of food that needed to go to every site each week. And we could report to our donors the critical information they needed in order to sustain their support.

Yih said to her student “You have to be more than an engineer. You have to be an entrepreneur, not necessarily to create your own business, but in the sense of being able to repackage your skill so you can create your own position or your own job description within the company you work for”.