Lower-income countries could soon leapfrog high-income countries with AI-enabled health technologies

Photo: AI-enabled health technologies. Credit: NaijaGrove

A new report backed by Novartis Foundation and Microsoft has revealed that low- and middle-income countries could soon leapfrog high-income countries in their adoption of new AI-enabled technologies in health.

According to the report, technologies such as mobile phone trading platforms, e-banking, e-commerce, and even blockchain applications have often been adopted faster and more comprehensively in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.

It captures that the adoption of health technologies is likely to follow the same trend, with digital transformation accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report “Reimagining Global Health through Artificial Intelligence: The Roadmap to AI Maturity.”

“Reduced contact between patients and health providers due to social distancing has led to major growth in technologies such as AI-enabled diagnostics. Millions of more people have sought digital health care solutions – presenting a tremendous opportunity for countries to integrate data and AI into their health systems.”

For example, Rwanda is now arguably the most digitally connected health system in Africa, with its virtual consulting service surging past two million users – one-third of the adult population – in May 2020.1

Dr. Ann Aerts, Head of the Novartis Foundation and co-chair of the Broadband Commission Working Group on Digital and AI in Health, which crafted the report, said many countries are ill-prepared to address a newly emerging disease such as COVID-19 in addition to the existing burden of infectious diseases and the ever-increasing tide of chronic diseases.

“Digital technology and AI are essential enablers to re-engineer health systems from being reactive to proactive, predictive, and even preventive.”

The Commission was established in 2010 by the International Telecommunication Union and UNESCO to expand broadband access to accelerate progress towards national and international development targets.

“We have to develop a sustainable ecosystem for AI in health in the countries where it is most desperately needed,” Dr. Aerts said. “This has to happen while ensuring fairness and access for all. As health systems build back after the pandemic, technological innovation has to be a core part of the agenda.”

Sub-Saharan Africa currently represents 12% of the global population but faces 25% of the world’s disease burden, while housing only 3% of the world’s health workers.

-Novartis Foundation and Microsoft backed report

  • Investment in data and AI will be a key tool driving African health system improvements during and after the COVID-19 pandemic
  • African countries could be the fastest adopters due to lack of legacy systems but have the most to lose if governments don’t invest now
  • A third of the adult population of Rwanda is already using a digital health consulting service, while an AI-enabled diagnostic mobile app first rolled out in Tanzania now has 800,000 downloads
  • The report uses current AI best practices to draw a roadmap that can help all countries advance towards AI maturity in health

Follow the link below to read the full report.

Eng Novartis Foundation AI report_release_SSA_final_070920

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