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5 Ways Google Health is Using AI in Africa

Google Health (BBC)

Every day, people in Africa turn to Google products like Search, YouTube, and Fitbit for information about their health and well-being.

However, many people are unaware that we have been investigating how AI can assist improve healthcare outcomes for individuals and how AI can empower our partners to deliver better health services – everything from enhancing maternal health outcomes to developing useful digital tools for healthcare professionals.

To commemorate the upcoming Africa HealthTech Summit in Kigali, Rwanda — an event that brings together a diverse group of digital health innovators and public health experts to share knowledge and ideas to help transform Africa’s healthcare landscape — here’s how we’re collaborating with partners across the continent to research and explore new AI-powered healthcare tools.

1. Searching for skin conditions using images

It might be difficult to adequately describe skin rashes or moles with words alone. Users in the United States and Japan have been able to use Google Lens to search for information about skin diseases using photos rather than words since earlier this year.

This service is now being expanded to include the entire African continent.

People can take a photo, upload it to Lens, and get aesthetically comparable matches.

This tool is useful when you don’t know how to describe something on your body, such as a bump on your lip, a line on your nails, or hair loss on your head.

2. Improving maternal health outcomes in Kenya

Ultrasounds are useful for detecting potential problems in early pregnancy, but collecting and interpreting ultrasound is a sophisticated medical imaging technology that takes years of training and experience.

Due to a shortage of experts, up to 50% of pregnant women in low-resource settings do not obtain prenatal ultrasound exams.

We show in our research from last year that AI models can make ultrasounds more accessible to poorly educated ultrasound operators in low-resource environments.

We’re now collaborating with Jacaranda Health, a Kenyan NGO dedicated to improve maternal and infant health outcomes in government hospitals, to evaluate the use of AI in clinical settings.

Through this collaboration, we will conduct research to better understand the present ultrasound strategy in Kenya and investigate how new AI tools can enable point-of-care ultrasound access for pregnant women.

3. Using Open Health Stack to build apps for healthcare workers

Frontline health workers are a vital link between a community and the healthcare system all over Africa.

Unfortunately, they frequently face difficulties with care coordination and data quality.

Healthcare developers in Africa may now utilize Google’s Open Health Stack to construct next-generation digital health tools to build mobile-first, technology-based healthcare solutions that enable improved care.

These tools facilitate the adoption of the HL7 FHIR standard. We collaborated with Kabarak University and IntelliSOFT Consulting to organize our first Open Health Stack bootcamp in Kenya to help upskill local developers.

4. Screening for tuberculosis using AI 

According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis (TB) is the ninth greatest cause of death worldwide, with Africa accounting for more than 25% of TB deaths. While tuberculosis is treatable, cost-effective screening techniques are required to help detect the disease early and prevent community spread.

This year, Google worked with Right to Care, a non-profit organization with vast experience in TB care in Africa, to make AI-powered tests broadly available across Sub-Saharan Africa.

During our cooperation, our partners have committed to performing 100,000 free AI-powered TB examinations.

5. Supporting access to emergency obstetric care in Nigeria

Despite accounting for only 0.06% of yearly global births, Nigeria is responsible for 28% of global maternal mortality each year, and evidence suggests that extended travel durations contribute to poor maternal outcomes.

In Nigeria, we just released a tool created in conjunction with the OnTIME consortium to assist governments and public health organizations in addressing access problems to emergency obstetric care.

Using Google’s internal directions API — the same API that powers navigation in Google Maps — decision makers can see data on average travel times to the nearest emergency obstetric facilities for various regions, allowing them to better understand where expectant mothers may have limited geographic access to life-saving care.


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