Africa- Leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Good Health: The New Frontier in Social Innovation to accelerate progress toward Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3)

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, July 2, 2024/ — In the evolving landscape of global health, digital innovation emerges as a beacon of hope, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in healthcare access, quality, and affordability.
A recent white paper by the World Economic Forum, produced in collaboration with the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, EY, and Microsoft, sheds light on an exciting paradigm shift: the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in social innovation, especially within healthcare.
AI uptake has the potential to improve immunisation programmes, supply chains, referrals, diagnoses, drug safety, and overall health system efficiency.

The report finds three primary impact areas where AI is making significant contributions:

  • Healthcare, with 25% of innovators using AI to advance access to health;
  • Environmental sustainability, with 20% of social innovators applying AI to tackle climate solutions; and
  • Economic empowerment, notably prevalent in lower-income countries where 80% of all initiatives aimed at enhancing livelihoods are based.

Healthcare is by far the most prevalent impact domain that social innovators are addressing with AI. Corresponding to this, 1 in 4 Social innovators are deploying AI to advance Sustainable Development Goal 3, Good Health and Well-being. This is apparent across all geographies as innovators seek to adopt AI to address multiple challenges within the area of healthcare.

Referenced in this report is BroadReach Group, a social impact organisation, that is using AI and machine learning to equip health care workers, leaders and institutions to better manage their scarce resources and drive better health outcomes for all. Vantage Health Technologies, a part of BroadReach Group is harnessing its work across continents in the following ways:

  • Using AI in Africa to support large HIV and TB programs by identifying gaps in resources and supporting decision making and targeted actions to address those gaps. This has allowed many districts particularly in South Africa, with the largest HIV population in the world to come close to achieving the UN goals of 95-95-95. The 95-95-95 HIV testing, treatment, and viral suppression targets aim to close gaps in HIV treatment coverage and outcomes in all sub-populations, age groups and geographic settings.
  • Vantage has provided program oversight to Tuberculosis (TB) programs in Africa by providing a single system to manage all key areas.  TB outcomes are difficult to manage without daily insight into performance data. Vantage integrated already existing feeds from the national health data system to drive active decision making and launch interventions to address performance, data quality and reporting compliance.
  • A leading non-governmental organisation in Nigeria that provides prevention, treatment and care services across HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria uses AI and predictive analytics in Vantage to prevent missed appointments and bring patients back to care. The outputs are used to prioritise outreach to high-risk patients and monitor the effectiveness of interventions to proactively highlight areas needing attention.
  • In the US, Vantage is addressing Social Determinants of Health, by automating social care coordination for cancer patients. The early results have shown improved patient outcomes, improved equity and financial sustainability, while simultaneously reducing the administrative burden on the workforce.

Dr. Ernest Darkoh, co-founder of BroadReach Group, says, “the fundamental issue in healthcare, whether you are in Sub-Saharan Africa, Western Europe, or the USA, is that demand outstrips supply in terms of health services, doctors, nurses, and medications.

The healthcare sector is trying to deliver on an antiquated model of ‘sick care’ without real-time intelligence on disease patterns, who is being affected the most, or the adequacy of healthcare resources. We need to change this paradigm to be more effective by leveraging data and digital solutions to ensure we are always spending the next hour and the next dollar in the in the most impactful way possible.”

Global Collaboration to Achieve Health Equity

The report also shows that Africa is emerging, with leaders like South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. Egypt and Kenya have developed national AI strategies. In other countries like Cameroon, individual social innovators are using AI to address healthcare challenges, such as developing low-cost diagnostic tools for malaria. The continent is also seeing AI applications in economic empowerment and various ML capabilities.

Paul Bhuhi, Managing Director of Vantage shares, ‘’AI is becoming more accepted, with healthcare leaders seeing the promise of AI to drive real improvement in health access, quality, and affordability. Yet, the education gap between innovators and the policy makers inhibits AI adoption, In our experience Rwanda and Kenya are leading that push but more needs to be done.”

An important lesson that BroadReach Group is applying is that learning healthcare lessons in one country can have a profound global impact through collaboration. By sharing best practices, innovations, and research findings, countries can collectively address common health challenges more effectively.

Collaborative efforts enable the adaptation of successful strategies to different contexts, promoting universal health improvements and accelerating progress towards global health goals like SDG 3. This exchange of knowledge fosters a more interconnected and resilient global healthcare community, where advancements in one region benefit all.

Dr. John Sargent, co-founder of BroadReach Group, says “an example of impact through collaboration is using our experience and learnings in Africa addressing health inequity and applying them to promote health equity in cancer care in the US. Our teams work across geographies and this collaboration has shown that we can more effectively and rapidly improve patient care because of this experience.

Although every geography and market has its differences, many of the same core principles, critical lessons learned, and approaches apply, allowing us to rapidly adapt and implement solutions that have a real impact for populations in need while ensuring that the health system is using its resources in the most impactful way.”

Embracing the Ethical Adoption of AI

The next generation of ethical generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) provides new hope for more equitable healthcare, but advances in technology must never come at the cost of patient rights. AI systems should start with guardrails and ethics within their foundational design.

Chris LeGrand, CEO of BroadReach Group emphasises, “regulatory frameworks for ethical use of AI in healthcare are still early stage but are progressing. The new Digital Trade Protocol recently adopted by African heads of state under the Africa Continental Trade Area (AfCTA) is an example of international bodies defining the desired digital landscape with rules based on common principles, including protecting personal data while promoting trusted, safe, ethical use of emerging technologies. Regulation is slowly evolving to create trust and confidence in the protection of health data.”

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of BroadReach Group.

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