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A big push for AI in India?

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Centre and groups representing private companies to develop an artificial intelligence (AI) tool to track disease outbreaks in the country.

Telehealth concept. Doctor with a stethoscope on the computer laptop screen. Cap.: Long working hours were responsible Image credit: gjerome69 / 123rf AI
Image credit: gjerome69 / 123rf

“We plan to use artificial intelligence in a big way in public health. This is the first step towards that. We have told the company that they can do the project as part of their corporate social responsibility, but the intellectual property rights for whatever they develop will be with the government,” a senior health ministry official told ThePrint.

Two AI tools are currently being developed – one to track disease outbreaks, and another to interpret X-ray reports based on an India-specific database. “Currently, we scan the media for outbreak reports ,but that is done manually once a day and largely limited to English and Hindi media. But the AI tool will also scan vernacular media. The data will be shared with IDSP state units which can then send personnel on the ground for assessment. This will ensure that the response time is reduced,” the official explained.

The tool will track 33 common diseases within the country, and, due to the tracking being based on media information, additional keywords that may be linked to the diseases are also fed into the tool.

Health Issues India reported last year that the WHO had released guidelines for determining how best to utilise AI within the context of healthcare, along with the challenges it may present. “Like all new technology, artificial intelligence holds enormous potential for improving the health of millions of people around the world, but like all technology it can also be misused and cause harm,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, at the time of the report. 

Apollo Hospitals has also joined in a separate endeavour to utilise AI to improve healthcare within the country. The approach of Apollo Hospitals was to develop a preventative tool called Apollo ProHealth. This tool would incorporate medical data on an individual to assess the risk of developing noncommunicable conditions such as heart disease or cancer. 

This AI tool 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.

AI could be a massive boon to India’s future healthcare programmes. The logistics of managing healthcare for a country of more than a billion people make country-wide projects gargantuan and unfathomably difficult. Using AI and machine learning to improve the efficiency of healthcare and resource allocation could make such projects significantly more successful.

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