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AI could assist in curbing India’s NCD crisis

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are behind forty percent of all hospital stays, according to Apollo Hospitals Group chairman Prathap C. Reddy. Apollo Hospitals have, however, issued a report that predicts that artificial intelligence (AI) and so-called ‘Big Data’ could be a potential remedy to this.

NCDs top cause of death concept. chronic disease. Copyright: jes2ufoto / 123RF Stock Photo
NCDs are now some of the top causes of death across the globe

NCDs have been India’s top cause of death for a number of years, surpassing infectious diseases to become India’s most prominent causes of death. NCDs account for 64.9 percent of all deaths in the country according to data from Apollo Hospitals. Communicable diseases, maternal, and other causes amounted to 25 percent, falling in number over recent years.

As previously noted by Health Issues India, “India is a prominent example of this epidemiological transition, as it has now grappled for a considerable amount of time with a so-called dual burden of disease. Whilst still battling a considerable burden of infectious, maternal and perinatal disease, India has witnessed NCDs emerge as its leading killer; the main driver of disability-adjusted life years; and a key driver of out-of-pocket expenditure on health, which can leave Indian families facing economic ruin.”

Reddy made the announcement on World Health Day of a new preventative tool to place the spotlight on what he refers to as the “epidemic of NCDs”

“Apollo ProHealth is a proactive personalised health management programme backed by cutting-edge technology – advanced diagnostics, artificial intelligence and predictive algorithms – to help identify your health risk. It coaches you to stay on the path to wellness until your health goals are achieved. With Apollo ProHealth, we hope to change the health check paradigm from a long checklist of tests to a meaningful conversation with the doctor on the status of your health, with a comprehensive plan to make you healthier tomorrow than you are today.”

The programme aims to make use of AI algorithms and the predictive capacities of Big Data to create risk assessment models that may help to reduce symptoms and manage health conditions before they become a serious danger. 

Such a concept is not new. Large-scale health studies have been conducted for many years in order to establish risk factors for diseases. In the case of NCDs, ranging from heart disease to cancer, many of these risk factors are shared. Issues such as unhealthy diets, sedentary lifestyles, smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity raise the risk of a number of NCDs. It is in these risk factors that health programmes may find common ground and produce the greatest impact.

NCDs have become an ever more prominent concern in India over recent decades. A transition into an industrialised economy has presented numerous challenges. The common risk factors for NCDs have now become the norm in Indian society, and this has created a situation in which disease rates have skyrocketed. While just a few decades ago the majority of the Indian workforce played a role in manual labour — and therefore, physically active — a large section of the population now work in sedentary desk jobs. 

Such lack of physical activity, coupled with alterations in diet to consume far more empty calories from sugary, high-fat fast foods combine to considerably elevate the risk of many NCDs. In addition, with many individuals seeking work in densely-populated cities in which pollution is rife, lung conditions are also on the rise.

The approach of Apollo Hospitals in this case is to personalise these risk assessment services. This could be used to great effect if enough data is incorporated into the prediction algorithms. Information on medical history, familial medical history, weight, smoking / drinking alcohol status, occupation and other lifestyle factors could give an early indication of risk of NCDs such as heart disease, allowing for adjustments to lifestyle or preventative treatment options.

Given the sheer death toll that NCDs inflict on India any programmes attempting to curb the conditions are welcome. As health outcomes are often far more positive if a condition is caught early, preventative options coupled with early screening programmes could save numerous lives across India.


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