How disruptive African startups are weaving Artificial Intelligence into healthcare

In 2014, young Nabuuma Shamim Kaliisa from Uganda, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Prior to her diagnosis, she had watched her mother battle with cervical cancer, which eventually claimed her life. Following her struggle with cancer and the loss of her mother to cancer, Nabuuma was driven to create a company that could help people survive their battle with cancer. The company would turn out to become Chil AI Lab, in Uganda. According to Nabuuma, her vision is to create a world where “nobody dies of any reproductive health related cancer caused by late detection and treatment.”

Her company, Chil AI Lab, is an Artificial Intelligence company that facilitates access to affordable and easy-to-use E-oncology services for women across the globe. The company’s flagship product is an AI-powered mobile application named Keti, which utilizes artificial intelligence to diagnose cervical and breast cancer. Through the mobile app, women can access consultation services, follow-up and other add-on reproductive health services. The company has also created self-testing kits that are powered by machine learning, which make it easier for their services to reach the underserved. Through Chil AI Lab, Nabuuma has helped over 100,000 women diagnose cancer at an early phase and, via partnerships, helped them access quality treatment.

Like Nabuuma, a lot of young innovative Africans are also leveraging artificial intelligence to solve global and local healthcare challenges. With Ubenwa, Charles Onu, like Nabuuma, is using AI to transform the healthcare system in Africa and the world at large.

Ubenwa is one amid many other disruptive AI-powered startups in Africa. Through their machine-learning-powered mobile app, the Nigerian-based startup is on the path to saving the lives of as many newborns as possible from losing their lives to perinatal asphyxia, which annually claims the lives of millions of newborns. According to the UN, if newborns who have asphyxia can be detected early enough, we may be able to save their lives.

The mobile app is a screening tool that takes the sound of infant cry as input, analyzes the acoustic parameters of the sound, and then, using machine learning, compares it against a database of infant cries that have been clinically labelled. The output is then used to predict the risk of perinatal asphyxia within a short time frame. Just like magic, with just the cry of a baby, Ubenwa’s mobile app is capable of detecting birth asphyxia, thereby, helping in the prevention of the death of these babies. The company is also working on an automated cry analysis tool that can help parents understand their babies. Through the automated cry analysis, basic needs, like hunger, sleep and pain, can be extracted from infant cry and translated to parents so that appropriate care can be given.

Situated in Southern Africa, fast-rising AI-powered startup, Envisionit Deep AI, is also making giant strides in the integration of artificial intelligence in healthcare services. The South African startup is leveraging the use of machine learning, in conjunction with the expertise of radiologists, to improve and enhance easy access to radiology services in Africa. 

The company has developed a flagship product known as RADIFY. RADIFY is an AI-powered tool that can detect up to 20 different pathologies on x-rays, at a rate of up to 2000 x-rays within a minute. The tool is capable of taking up radiology tasks, to fill in the gap of the deficit of radiology experts in Africa, with the capability of analyzing and interpreting radiology scans just like a human expert. This tool supplements the efforts of doctors within the region, and does not eliminate the need for doctors. 

The tool is very easy to use. Once a doctor uploads a batch of images from scans, the images get analyzed by an AI algorithm which then identifies possible issues and pathologies, and prioritizes the images and cases that are most relevant. All the identified features are clearly highlighted and labelled on the images. This makes the process of diagnosis, via radiology, much efficient.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company offered RADIFY to the public at no cost, to be used in the diagnosis and treatment of the COVID-19 pneumonia. 

The fascinating ways in which Africans are using artificial intelligence to build solutions to challenges within a critical sector, like the healthcare sector, is indeed profound. With the cultivation of a mindset that is shifted from a consumption-based orientation to a creation-based one, the world is beginning to witness more and more Africans leveraging the use of artificial intelligence to create global healthcare solutions that are saving the lives of millions of people around the world.

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