An AI has been developed to fight against tuberculosis, especially in places like rural India where there is a lack of medical facilities and deadly diseases like Tuberculosis are rampant. Tuberculosis alone claimed the lives of 1.4 million people in 2019.
Artificial Intelligence and the Internet are helping to diagnose respiratory diseases in remote and poverty-stricken places of the world where trained medical professionals fear to go.
qXR, one of the many applications which in less than 6 minutes can find signs of Tuberculosis and Covid-19 and 27 such other conditions.
Dr. Madhukar Pai, the director of McGillInternational T.B Centre in Montreal stated, ” among all of the applications of A.I, I think digitally interpreting an image using an algorithm instead of a human radiologist is probably furthest along.”
Dr. Pai also stated that AI cannot replace the clinicians but both AI and clinicians would be a powerful combination. Dr. Eric Topol, the director of Scripps Research International Institute in San Diego and also the author of a book on the use of AI in medicine stated that “the machine plus clinicians are better than clinicians and better than the machine alone.”
The Chinchpada Christian Hospital in Nandurbar, a small town in northwest India, serves members of the Bhil tribal community, some of whom travel up to 125 miles to visit the center. The 50-bed hospital has eight doctors, and only the most rudimentary medical equipment.
Clear across the country, Simdega, one of the 20 poorest districts in India, is isolated from the nearest town, Rourkela, by nearly five hours of travel on bumpy roads. The tribal population in the district lives in tiny hamlets surrounded by dense, evergreen forest. Simdega’s medical center, which has 60 beds and three doctors, is in a clearing of the forest — “literally in the middle of nowhere,” said Dr. George Mathew, the director.
The meager staff with very limited facilities has to deal with everything that comes on its way, “from malaria to myocardial infarcts” said Dr. Matthew. He is self-taught reading X-rays. Many times when he faces a problem he contacts radiologists among his far-flung friends and colleagues.
Despite Nandurbar and Simdega being 800 miles apart they have similar populations along with similarities in the spread of diseases like Malaria, Sickle Cell Anaemia, and TB. Also, the problem has inflated poverty and reliance on spiritual healers and alcoholism – shockingly among children.
Chief of medicine at Nandurbar Hospital Dr. Ashita Singh stated that ” Tuberculosis tends to get neglected and diagnosis is delayed often.” By the time people arrive at these medical centers they often “are very very ill and have never been evaluated anywhere else.” She said.
However, in some patients, the X-Ray signs are too subtle for the non-experts to detect. “It’s in that group of patients where A.I. Tech can bring great benefits.”
Worsening the matter, the Corona Pandemic and the lockdown that followed cut off these places. Both Tuberculosis and Covid-19 affect the lung and complicate the matter.
A few months ago, both hospitals started the use of qXR app by the Indian Company Qure.ai, subsidized by the Indian government. The app diagnosed 20 patients at Nandurbar in October, said Dr. Singh. The app can identify a patient with an accuracy of 95%. These apps may also be useful in places with a low prevalence of Tuberculosis and routine screening of people with HIV.
Dr. Silva. S. Chang, an expert in Paediatric TB at Brown University, said that the app has only been tested in adults, and now tests on children 6 years and above have begun.
Qure.ai said that it was testing the app in Bangladesh and the results would be published in the early next year. In the meantime, qXR and other apps would be improving by constantly learning from various tests.
“I’m just dreaming of a time when something like this would be available to all the little primary and secondary health care centers in the government sector who hesitate to do X-rays because they don’t have the confidence to read them,” Dr. Singh said. “If this was to be made available to every X-ray center in rural India, I think we could beat TB.”
ARTICLE: EJAZ SHAIKH
SCIENCE/HEALTH EDITOR: KYLE SMITH
PHOTO CREDITS: THE NEW YORK TIMES