There’s no shortage of health problems in Kern County.
When it comes to diabetes, obesity, heart disease and sexually transmitted diseases, Kern ranks among the worst statewide.
Awareness, however, isn’t an issue. Solutions are.
“We all know about the data, and we can raise awareness as much as we want and say we’re worse than this and worse than that, but at one point we need to start looking at creating venues and places where people can come together and start working on solutions,” BC Public Health Professor Sarah Baron said.
So a group of about 50 students from Bakersfield College and Cal State Bakersfield collaborated this weekend for BC’s first Public Health Hackathon, an event that challenges programmers and health students to come together to form solutions to some of public health’s most challenging problems, but with just one catch – teams have just 72 hours to complete their projects.
Though not by design, the event’s concept played off Kern County Public Health Director Matt Constantine’s plea to the public this week delivered during a health summit: that communities must look within themselves to address serious health concerns in the region.
Students worked in huddles Saturday at BC’s fireside lounge, stressing over lines of computer code and tinkering with what they’d incorporate into their projects, most of which were mobile apps.
A group of students from CSUB and BC collaborated to create an app for Building Healthy Communities, a community organizing outfit that looks at health holistically. It regularly calls on its members to flood city council and school board meetings to get involved in government and speak out for decisions that will benefit the health of their towns.
Except that organization’s internal communication efforts are wanting, Reyna Olaguez, communications coordinator for BHC. The app being developed would change that, sending out immediate notifications to its members when there’s a call to action, like a march, a protest or rally, Olaguez said.
In less than a day, the team of students had created a working website that framed BHC’s needs.
Across the room, Zach Burks and his team capitalized on an MIT study suggesting that LED lights flickering at a specific frequency could reduce beta amyloid plaques seen in Alzheimer’s disease. That has the potential to slow the disease’s progression.
Researchers say the study, which has only been tested in mice, needs further research before it can be conclusively proven. That hasn’t stopped Burks, however, from developing the app, which he completed Saturday morning after about 12 hours of coding work.
“The fact that it could potentially provide a benefit still brings in a lot of customers, so there’s still a market for people who don’t have a proven science behind it,” Burks said, holding up his phone, its background strobing bright white. “You don’t think they’ll put on an app for an hour?”
Another app would help teens – who might be too embarrassed or scared to talk to their parents about STDs – find health resources. Developers sketched out a rough concept, starting with a user survey that would assess knowledge, behaviors and attitudes. That anonymous survey data would be sent to the Kern County Public Health Services Department so that they could better assist targeted communities.
Changing behaviors and directing sexually active teens to resources is critical. County Public Health officials labeled the STD epidemic a crisis this year and launched a campaign to raise awareness by reaching out to the community for help.
Syphilis rates, which have surged 72 percent since 2011, are of particular concern. That disease, if left untreated in pregnant mothers, can infect the baby with congenital syphilis, a sometimes-fatal form of the STD.
“I’m not comfortable with the high STI rate. I’m not comfortable with any part of this,” Calleshia Gillam, a BC public health student participating in the project said. “I have two children. One is 18 and the other is 16, and if I pave the way for them, if I’m successful in what I do, then I can make this a better place for them.”