How Sheena Gill is leading efforts in reducing maternal and infant mortality at CognitiveCare

Sheena Gill joined healthcare AI startup CognitiveCare in 2020 to solve challenges of maternal and infant child health. The company has received $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

How Sheena Gill is leading efforts in reducing maternal and infant mortality at CognitiveCare

Friday May 05, 2023,

5 min Read

Key Takeaways

  • Sheena Gill suffered multiple miscarriages while trying to become pregnant for the second time
  • She joined CognitiveCare in 2020 to lead efforts in improving healthcare outcomes
  • The startup has created an AI platform to detect, quantify, and stratify propensity of 48 maternal and infant health risks
  • The company received a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2022

When Sheena Gill’s daughter was born, doctors found that the baby had a fracture in her collarbone clavicle. Later, when she decided to have a second child, she faced multiple miscarriages, including losing twins in the second trimester of pregnancy.

“No one was able to tell me why this was happening. I was appalled; was this really happening. I mean we have cars that can drive themselves, my fridge can order milk before I tell it to, but we don’t have the technology for women to know what their risks are before they unfold. This was unacceptable,” Gill tells HerStory.

Through years of medical screening, hospital visits, and medications, she noticed that she was not the only one suffering through this. Maternal and infant mortality rates were at an alarming level in developed as well as developing countries.

The Indian-American mother of two kids, Bani and Dev, Gill became one of the founding members of CognitiveCare in 2020 to be a part of far-reaching solutions to this very problem.

Founded in 2018 by Venkata Narasimham Peri (PV) and Dr Suresh Attili, Hyderabad and California-based CognitiveCare has created an AI platform to detect, quantify and stratify propensity of 48 maternal and infant health risks, including sepsis, postpartum haemorrhage, gestational diabetes, anaemia, and more.

Interestingly, Gill has a background in STEM and Law, and an illustrious career journey before she joined CognitiveCare, where she is CEO and President, Americas.

After finishing high school at the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School in Science and Technology, Gill went on to major in both science and technology and international affairs at Georgetown University.

But, she felt law “would be a great way to differentiate myself, in addition to a bachelor’s in science” and set her apart from her peers and accelerate her career the way she wanted.

“I joined the The Chugh Firm with multiple offices in the US, India, and other countries. In fact, I became a partner, quite young, at the age of 26 years. I helped launch some of their branches. While representing startups and innovators from a legal perspective, and advising them on their business models, I saw myself running in those shoes someday,” she says.

While at the law firm, she was headhunted by one of her clients as general counsel of their large organisation. After five years, she became the Chief Administrative Officer of an organisation that worked on improving healthcare outcomes. In between, the challenges in her personal life began unfolding one by one, and formed the genesis for her transition to CognitiveCare.

“I acknowledge I come from privilege and have access to healthcare. What about the millions of women who depend on the ASHA worker in India, the women in Kenya without any support. When I came across CognitiveCare, it changed my perception of what I wanted to do,” Gill says.

Solving challenges for maternal and infant child health

The company was looking to expand its founding team and Gill met with PV and their vision for global healthcare aligned. They needed more women in the organisation to be part of the solution to solve challenges of maternal and infant child health and she was the right fit and joined as Chief Growth Officer.

Before Gill joined CognitiveCare, the company had completed a successful pilot of the platform, but had not gained international recognition, yet. Gill’s role entailed converting it into a reality for women on ground, and forge strong relationships.

In 2022, the company received a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide antenatal risk stratification AI support for the foundation’s Antenatal Research Collaborative (ARC).

“The team’s work uniquely considered both clinical and social factors, achieving metrics north of 90% accuracy for outcomes including propensity for postpartum haemorrhage. The ability to triage high risk patients, particularly in low- and middle-income countries will support community healthcare workers hyper-personalise care and get resources to those who need it most,” she says.

CognitiveCare’s Maternal Infant Health Insights & Cognitive Intelligence (MIHIC) solution is at the heart of this initiative and will work with Kenya PRiSMA (western Kenya) and Aga Khan University & VITAL Pakistan ARC sites’ existing production environments. The initiative will soon cover India as well.

“We’ve been able to create models that have incredibly high precision metrics that predict the propensity for pregnant populations to have risks associated with postpartum haemorrhage C-section and with preterm birth well in advance,” she adds.

CognitiveCare's work also caught the attention of the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad as there are many risks that come under the ophthalmological purview, related to maternal child health.

She explains, “Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is an eye disease that can occur in babies who are born premature. We are working on refining our existing models to see if we can identify women that are likely to have babies to have ROP. If it is identified early enough, a simple 10-minute procedure can save the baby’s vision.”

The partnership will focus on efforts to advance the early detection of eye diseases and adverse eye conditions in infants and children.

“We are also working with the NICE Foundation that works with women in tribal areas in resource-limited settings. For them, having an understanding in advance of what cohorts of women are likely to have risks or babies with low birth weight would help them triage resources in an efficient and effective manner,” she adds.

Last year, CognitiveCare was also one among 10 participants selected for the 2022 AWS Healthcare Accelerator by Amazon Web Services (AWS) focused on improving health equity.

As a social impact startup, CognitiveCare works with non-profit organisations (NGOs) to deliver impact at the grassroots level and address the last mile.

“We want to support as many initiatives as we can to get the insights of our models to the community healthcare workers to ensure they are able to make decisions. We are not of the school of thought that AI will replace physicians or healthcare workers,” Gill says.

Edited by Megha Reddy