High-tech public health meets an­cient rit­ual at Hindu fes­ti­val

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

At an an­cient Hindu river­side fes­ti­val in Nashik, In­dia, the mil­lions hop­ing to cleanse them­selves of sin were also un­wit­tingly help­ing to cre­ate high-tech so­lu­tions for crowd con­trol, dis­ease out­break and public se­cu­rity.

A group of tech in­no­va­tors launched a dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion plat­form at the six-week Kumbh Mela, which was set to end Sept. 25, aim­ing to help main­tain or­der among those camp­ing near the river and piling into the wa­ter for one of hu­man­ity’s largest re­li­gious gath­er­ings.

Twelve years ago, dozens died in a stam­pede dur­ing the same fes­ti­val. As this year’s event neared its end, there were no such in­ci­dents as the crowds waded into the tem­per­ate wa­ters of the Go­davari River as part of an an­cient rit­ual to seek spir­i­tual re­birth from the Hindu gods.

“We had thought about Kumbh Mela as this gath­er­ing of masses, peo­ple who are on path of self-dis­cov­ery. But in a way, in­no­va­tion and in­no­va­tors are also al­ways on a path of self-dis­cov­ery,” said Ramesh Raskar, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the MIT Media Lab, which has been lead­ing a two-year ef­fort, dubbed Kumb­haThon, to de­velop tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions to bet­ter man­age pop­u­la­tion-dense events.

The dig­i­tal plat­form, ac­ces­si­ble via a free cell­phone app, al­lowed author­i­ties and fes­ti­val-go­ers to col­lect and share data on food carts, traf­fic jams, port-a-pot­ties and med­i­cal tents, pro­vid­ing an up-to-date record of real-time data.

Com­pil­ing data from med­i­cal tents, the app could tell fes­ti­val-go­ers about any out­breaks of dengue, jaun­dice and other dis­eases, though at dead­line there had been no out­breaks of note. Us­ing cell­phone power data to es­ti­mate crowds, the plat­form also gave of­fi­cials in­for­ma­tion that helped them de­cide when to put up block­ades or dis­perse crowds.

Hindu holy men gather to take dips in the Go­davari River.

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