ARTIFICIAL Intelligence (AI) is set to revolutionise the healthcare system in Tanzania and aims at assisting and giving solutions to some of the problems facing health care providers especially those living in rural areas.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Tanzanian doctor-topatient ratio stands at 1 doctor to every 20,000 patients (1:20,000), but AI may ease such a burden. Dr Elsa, a mobile app or telemedicine, is an AI based on mobile phones that is set to transform the healthcare system.
Operating at a small scale in Arusha, the app is now tested and monitored to see how it can be adopted and be of help to the community, according to Dr Elsa Chief of Operations Megan Allen.
“Dr Elsa is a tool that utilises AI and is designed to support healthcare workers, who are not necessarily trained physicians to diagnose and make better decisions,” she stated.
Speaking to ‘Daily News', Ms Allen, who is also an HIV/ Aids researcher, explained that, “As of now it is still being tested at small-scale level in Arusha, where health workers feed patients’ information in the app and Dr Elsa utilises AI to be able to give evidence-based diagnosis.”
She noted that health workers, who tested it, had given positive feedback although the challenge of awareness still remains. “Most of the people who have tested it have said it is helpful in providing good decisions for their patients.
They say it is like having an actual assistant,” she commented. She, however, cautioned that the tool was what it was, and “will not take over human doctors.”
She revealed that AI had been used for so long in things like reading medical scans, MRI and imaging, but it was a new technology that most people were not aware of what it really entailed.
“It is now really important for us to create awareness and educate people about what it does and its benefits.” Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) is set to raise awareness about AI in the Tanzania healthcare system as it is set to address challenges facing the healthcare system.
This represents a collection of multiple technologies, enabling machines to sense, comprehend, act and learn so that they can perform administrative and clinical healthcare functions.
“AI holds tremendous promise for transforming the provision of healthcare services in resource poor settings,” explained a Third Year student of Bachelor of Pharmacy at MUHAS, Mr Castory Munishi.
“The use of AI is on the rise and yet there is no information about the level of awareness among stakeholders about this technology and how they perceive the use of this technology in their area of expertise in Tanzania,” he commented.
He added that, AI was deployed in most parts of the world and it would be of advantage if the health sector had knowledge of how to handle it so that the country had an upper hand once the technology was fully established in the country.
“AI has the potential to accelerate progress towards a dignified life, in peace and prosperity, for all people. The time has arrived for all of us, including government, industries and civil society, to consider how it will affect our future,” he noted.
“Physicians are being helped in diagnosing patients and choosing treatment plans for some conditions especially in areas that have low human experts.”
He explained that what drove AI was data and in healthcare there was a lot of data, “but the question is what is being done with the data? Is it to improve the healthcare system in the country or it is just being lost?” he queried.
“This is where AI comes to provide better tools that will harness the data for the betterment of the healthcare system in the country that will help provide better services to community,” he said.
However, he noted that AI was not there to replace the traditional system, but rather it was there to supplement existing one.
“The promise of AI in medicine is to provide composite panoramic views of individuals’ medical data to improve decision-making, avoid errors such as misdiagnosis and unnecessary procedures, help in the ordering and interpretation of appropriate tests and recommend treatment.
We are living in a world, which is changing.
We also have to move with that change in the betterment of our lives.”