Artificial Intelligence Innovations: Potential Global Health Benefits


DECATUR, Georgia — While the new realm of artificial intelligence (AI) has seemingly been restricted to higher-income states, there has been more research and development of AI that presents potential health benefits for low and middle-income countries. Artificial intelligence innovations that help prevent outbreaks of disease and lower child mortality rates are becoming a reality. Providing lower and middle-income states with these new innovations will improve global health and combat poverty.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

AI is the subset of computer science that focuses on “the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers.” The two general categories of AI are artificial general intelligence and artificial narrow intelligence. Artificial general intelligence refers to the capability of a machine to mimic the human mind and complete any intellectual endeavor that “a human can perform.” Artificial narrow intelligence deals with the ability of a machine to perform one specific task incredibly well. All applications of AI in regards to medicine and global health fall under the category of artificial narrow intelligence.

AI Health Applications in Developing Countries

Expert systems are technologies created with the highest ability to address specific challenges. These systems possess the capabilities to help predict cholera outbreaks in South Africa. The advancement of “fuzzy logic,” a group of mathematical principles “for knowledge representation based upon probability and uncertainty,” has rapidly improved the capability of expert systems. Additionally, the integration of fuzzy logic into “decision support applications” provides an effective representation of how a human would handle intricate situations containing high levels of uncertainty.

Physicians in lower-income countries can call upon medical expert systems for aid in diagnosing patients and selecting treatment plans. In some situations, the expert systems can assume the role of a human expert if one is not available. AI experts from Brazil and the U.S. created a fuzzy logic expert system to predict asphyxia in developing nations. Research showed that this prediction system “was 77% sensitive and 95% specific for” recognizing the need for the resuscitation of infants within hospitals.

An additional application of AI pertinent to developing countries relates to disease prevention. Artificial intelligence in medical epidemiology is a specialty field employing AI to predict the outbreak and spread of disease within a specific area. AI systems aim to foresee and fight the spread of disease in Manila, The Philippines. A “machine learning tool” was created by AI experts to follow the weather and land-use patterns affiliated with dengue fever. Following many trials, the machine has learned to calibrate its predictions and models of dengue outbreaks with more accuracy.

4 Groupings of AI Applications in Global Health

A report constructed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) divides AI use in global health into four segments:

  1. AI-Enabled Population Health. AI-enabled population health refers to the ability of AI systems to map and predict the spread of diseases via the aforementioned expert systems. Additionally, this technology includes risk management tools to grasp which groups within a population are more at risk.
  2. Frontline Health Worker (FHW) Virtual Health Assistant. This AI program can assist frontline health workers through the provision of medical information and diagnosis of ailments. Providing AI to these FHWs will improve their capacity to serve patients without the patients having to visit a health facility. This will lessen the burden on health facilities in lower-income countries. These facilities may be understaffed and overpopulated; therefore, enabling FHWs with the ability to diagnose and aid patients outside of these facilities would be beneficial.
  3. Patient Virtual Health Assistant. This involves placing AI technology into the hands of patients. With the global spread of smartphones, the creation of health apps and chatbots fueled by AI technology would be greatly beneficial for individuals who may not have the funds to make multiple visits to healthcare facilities. These tools can help patients decide if they need to seek medical attention, where they can find it and what they can do in the meantime.
  4. Physician Clinical Decision Support. This entails AI tools that aid clinicians in ways such as reading diagnostic images, providing decision support and quality assurance and training. This will provide perspective on past performance and possible errors.

Investment in Artificial Intelligence Innovations

It is clear to most nations, particularly nations with strong technology, that artificial intelligence innovations are profitable investments. China has declared the goal of becoming “the leading AI power” by 2030. Countries all over the world are investing in AI technology because they are aware of the growing value of the AI industry and its wide array of applications. Nations such as China can use their AI power and products as diplomatic bargaining chips with other states. If China decides to provide medical aid to lower or middle-income countries in the future, Chinese officials should consider providing AI medical tools. The potential of AI is enormous. Furthermore, the application of AI technology in the sphere of global health will benefit all countries, developed and developing.

Wais Wood
Photo: Flickr


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