Mohammad Azib, a 26-year-old final year medical student at Dow, is using technology as a powerful and progressive tool to fight fake news about coronavirus.
2020 has a landmark ring to it. The start of a new decade prompts bigger-than-usual thoughts about the future and in these tumultuous times, we have all had to reimagine community and how interconnected we are. In a way, we’ve never been more isolated, but we’ve also never been going through such similar experiences simultaneously. The community feels incredibly small right now – the people who you’re isolating with or whether you’re isolating alone – but it also feels absolutely global. There will be voices who want to disconnect us out of fear and there will be other voices who say the only way we can get through this global fight, is together.
Mohammad Azib, a 26-year-old final year medical student at Dow University of Health Sciences, and founder and CEO of MedAngle, has pursued the latter by recently launching a Covid-19 platform and education initiative to offer people information that is relevant, informative and up to date in the fight against the virus.
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What's more dangerous than COVID-19? Misinformation. Or the lack of authentic information. MedAngle, like always, is on the forefront to help combat and counter such an emerging threat. We have made a platform with verified and authentic pieces of information and clinical details and updates regarding the dangerous pandemic. So that you don't have to waste your time and resources on finding the right resources, the time saved can be used to help spread awareness and in educating all those around us instead. Link in bio!
The Coronavirus crisis has no doubt sparked a perfect storm of global online misinformation and seldom have we all had to get to grips with a slew of new terms and abbreviations so quickly. Talking to MangoBaaz, Azib explained how he and his team at MedAngle have “extended [their] vision of a medical intelligence platform to get something out there in order to better educate people.”
“I have personally seen the amount of nonsense and misleading information out there that people are spinning or using as propaganda,” Azib stated.
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There has been a lot of controversy amongst the general public about the possibility of COVID-19 being an artificially engineered virus meant for harm such as biological warfare or if it is simply a product of natural origin, stirring up potential conflict on socioeconomic levels. A research paper by Anderson and colleagues titled “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2” details the analysis of public genome sequence data from SARS-CoV-2 and its related viruses, SARS and MERS, debunking the idea that the virus was manufactured in a laboratory. After Chinese scientists sequenced the genome of SARS-CoV-2 and made the data available for researchers worldwide, Anderson and collaborators analyzed the genetic template to explore the origins and evolution of the virus by examining key features. The scientists analyzed the genome for spike proteins, which bind to ACE2 receptors on the outer walls of cells. They honed in on two specific features of the spike protein: the receptor-binding domain (RBD) and the cleavage site. The RBD acts as a grappling hook that latches onto host cells while the cleavage site penetrates the host cell, allowing viral entry. Scientists discovered that the RBD portion of the spike protein was so effective at binding to ACE2 receptors in the body that they concluded it was a feature of natural selection and not a product of genetic engineering. This evidence was further supported after identifying the unique molecular backbone of SARS-CoV-2. A coronavirus engineered in a laboratory would carry the overall molecular structure of an already existing virus strain, not a backbone distinct from other coronaviruses. The molecular structure of SARS-CoV-2 resembles related viruses found in bats and pangolins instead. After identifying the effectiveness of the RBD portion of the spike protein and its distinct backbone, Anderson and colleagues concluded that the virus is a product of natural evolution rather than a conception of deliberate genetic manipulation.
“Our Covid-19 platform is about making the idea of accessible learning and accessible medical intelligence available for everyone. Not many people are talking about the research or clinic updates, outside of the generic advice to stay home and wash your hands. We’re using proper scientific channels to do this, such as analysis of research articles and journals and simplifying them to provide awareness and authentic education.”
“The goal is to be prepared to better educate people regardless of what the disease or medical issue is.”
The slow pace of change in academic institutions globally is lamentable, with centuries-old, lecture-based approaches to teaching, entrenched institutional biases, and outmoded classrooms.
Since MedAngle’s launch in 2017, Azib and his team have worked tirelessly to ensure that medical students in Pakistan have a digital space that puts them at the center of their learning experiences. A designer and programmer at heart, Azib reflected back to his first year at medical school and how this idea came to fruition.
“When I first started medical school in Karachi, I realized that things were very old-fashioned. Most students would rely on word of mouth or regurgitate information from textbooks and I didn’t really agree with that. At some point, I thought, this is enough.”
“There has to be a better way to help people get through medical school. What if I could use my skills as a designer and programmer to bring the future into today? I felt like there was a huge opportunity to drive meaningful change.”
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“We spent thousands of hours discussing what this would look like and how we could use technology to create world-class learning experiences.”
Azib detailed how “MedAngle allows students to practice, revise, and excel using Pakistan’s biggest online question bank filled to the brim with clinical cases, medical questions, medical concepts, and much more.”
“For the first time ever in Pakistan, the app analyses a student’s performance in real-time and identifies weak areas and strong points.”
It’s clear that Azib sought to innovate and perhaps encourage a move towards the idea that learning could become a habit that is integrated into daily routines – a true lifestyle.
He doesn’t want the impact to stop there, though. What followed was probably the most enlightening part of the conversation as he articulated that through his own research, he found and stated, “Pakistan is amongst the top five producers of medical graduates in the world. I was surprised by this because the opportunities and resources that are available to medical students in our country pale in comparison to those in other countries.”
“My vision was to harmoniously intersect advanced technology and design, so that Pakistan can not just catch up in terms of medical education but can be the cliffhanger of medical excellence.”
“If you bring these things together [advanced technology and design], you can take things a step further and be at the cutting edge, just like other countries. That’s how we make a happier and healthier Pakistan. And if doctors choose not to remain in Pakistan, then our talents and our country’s name will be well-represented on a global stage.”
In order to cement this pioneering mission, its no doubt that user experience is at the forefront of Azib’s mind when designing the specifics of the platform. Azib ultimately wants students to feel a sense of “delight and joy” when using it “because when you have that, studying, learning, practicing and preparing to be a better healthcare professional becomes that much easier and that’s how you can have an immediate impact on your community.”
“The overall experience should be delightful.”
What is interesting to note, then, is that for the first time, students can see how they are performing in comparison to their peers in real-time when using MedAngle. Some would say that the element of competition is unnecessary but Azib explained his rationale behind including such a feature on the platform.
“I see competition as very subjective. My competition is myself – I’m competing against my past self and my future self. I know everyone doesn’t think in the same way; some people are intrinsically motivated whereas others are externally motivated. When I sat down to think about this feature, in particular, it wasn’t to promote competition, it was more to cater to the motivation factor of individual students.”
“Some students are driven by seeing how they’re doing on leaderboards but irrespective of that, the main takeaway is for students to be able to immediately assess their strengths and weaknesses so that it can lead to better outcomes for them and then they can build stronger foundations of knowledge.”
Azib’s logic here concedes to his commitment to using educational technology as a transformative tool for students to acquire the skills and knowledge they need in order to achieve their full potential.
With a number of awards already under its belt, including winning the special prize for innovation in the All Pakistan DICE Competition in 2019, beating hundreds of other startups to be placed in the top 7 finalists for the #UnitedWeTech20 challenge hosted by Islamabad United and being the only Pakistani startup in history to be accepted into the Weekend Build Programme based in Silicon Valley, one would imagine that Azib feels as if these are signs of becoming closer to achieving his desired future position for MedAngle.
He refrains from becoming complacent, however, resolutely stating that “with entrepreneurship and startups, you’re never done.”
He shared an anecdote of the moment when he felt proud.
“I was walking through the hallway (ironically wearing my MedAngle t-shirt) and there were some first-year students – all dressed up in their lab coats, stethoscopes, combed hair, etc- ready to take their oral examinations. What I realized for the first time was that these students, and I had no idea who they were, were using our platform. It was open on their phones, I saw it on laptops, there were students huddled in staircases looking at questions together, tapping the interface, and really interacting with the platform.”
“To me that was really cool. For the first time in the country’s history, students are now incorporating a home-grown, tailor-made platform for medical education.”
“But are we done? No. We should be able to go into any medical institution in Pakistan and see students learning through our platform, and that’s work in progress.”
Azib’s passion for technology stems from a childhood fascination with computers. Describing himself as a designer, programmer, and hacker, he recalled how he’s been playing with computers since he was in diapers.
“I was really intrigued by how computers worked and how they looked. As I got older and became more knowledgeable, I taught myself about design and programming. I read like crazy about how to craft and create beautiful, functional user interfaces.”
We’re all too familiar with how our data can be transformed into a precious commodity. The internet can seem like one big privacy nightmare.
Whilst most would associate hacking with a method to exploit weaknesses in a computer system, Azib takes a unique approach.
“To me, hacking became about privacy and ethics. How do we prevent unethical people from getting access to data? How do we make sure messages and emails stay private and secure? The hacker label to me is something different to what the traditional hacker in the media is usually presented as and more about safeguarding people.”
Azib created his first startup at the age of 12, sold it by the time he was 14, and went on to set up three more startups before the inception of MedAngle.
He reminisced about how he was really into design when he was 12.
“I started learning Photoshop and Illustrator and other software packages that bring design into the world. Back then, the internet wasn’t as refined as it is now and computers weren’t as centralized. I wanted everyone’s sites to look better and to bring a beautiful functional design to the masses so I started a company called WebDis. I built the site and it started taking off. A British company approached me to buy it almost two years later. People were interested in the idea of helping others discover design resources to help them craft their own stories and design experiences for their personal brands and communities.”
When Azib isn’t using technology to create social and global change, he wears the hats of a DJ, musician, and producer.
Azib’s unique ear for interesting sounds and self-taught technological skills marry beautifully to create some exceptional music for all of your moods. Azib expressed how music has definitely been one of his passions from a young age.
“I feel that music itself is a positive force.”
You might be thinking – how does he do it all?
Well, interestingly, one of the driving forces behind Azib’s unstoppable perseverance stems from an idea he was taught in an Economics class during school: vertical integration.
“Let’s use Samsung as an example,” he explained. “Along with the smartphones they create, they also own all of the technology to create the chips, the batteries, the plastics, and the metals. They own the whole process from start to finish and that’s what helps someone become exceptional. When you have complete creative control over every single element, that’s when you have this perfect picture of what something can be.”
“The idea is that if I can influence what people see with their eyes, hear with their ears and feel in their hearts, then that’s a winning product.”
Continuing with this aspirational stance, Azib candidly offered some practical advice for talented young people who may have similar ambitions.
“Whoever someone is inspired by, talk to them, reach out to them, see what their story is, learn their techniques, and what their efforts were. If you like it, then you can apply it to your own life. Rather than me saying, you know, ‘be yourself,’ ‘work hard,’ or ‘network’ and ‘get good grades,’ I’d say follow the people you’re inspired by.”
“That’s what I do. I read and watch their interviews, I look at who is writing about them, I hear what they say about their own experiences, their own struggle, and their journey and see how can I apply this to my personal life.”
Members of Azib’s team of 40 medical students describe him as a “multi-dimensional leader” with “a genuine desire to bring about change” whose “greatest talent is his ability to bring out the best in others.”
The vignette is telling of what it’s like to work with Azib. It concludes that he has curated a culture of the unity of purpose, unwavering commitment, and relentless optimism at MedAngle.
Globally, we have gotten used to the common misconception that motivation arrives as a result of passively consuming a motivational video or reading an inspirational book. Azib disrupts this ideology and embodies the idea that motivation is often the result of an action, not the cause of it.
Suffice to say that his objective to use the digital revolution as an opportunity to become “the future of medical intelligence” is no easy feat.
That said, Azib is confident that “we will get people from the beginning of their healthcare interests, from point A to point C and become an all in one centralized place where medical intelligence is personified.”
I don’t know about you, but I certainly take great comfort in the fact there are leaders like Azib with a progressive outlook. His understanding that the digital world isn’t something new for students – but rather an extension of who they are in the modern world – solidifies his perspective and forward-thinking approach to the future of medical education in Pakistan and we, at MangoBaaz, wish him the best of luck!
Be sure to check out the Covid-19 platform for regular updates and if you’re a medical student who has yet to sign up to MedAngle, what have you been waiting for? Get to it now and let us know what you think in the comments below!
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Cover image via @Maz1b/Instagram