Combating COVID-19: Artificial Intelligence in Asian Healthcare

by Preethi Amaresh - 10 June, 2020, 12:00 3928 Views 0 Comment

Novel coronavirus pandemic is the most consequential global public health emergency and a crisis of the 21st centenary with all the nations’ concerns firmly tangled. This has led to an increased influx of transformative technologies. There has been a necessity for the world to work together and develop new solutions as the virus has been spreading at a faster rate to save as many lives as possible. Health care in Artificial Intelligence (AI) before the COVID-19 was already on the boom in many parts of Asia and across the world. COVID being a new disease that doctors haven’t seen earlier and due to social distancing norms, tele-health has become a perfect tool in healthcare to help detect the virus and identify high-risk patients early. Due to staff deficiency and an increase in patient numbers, a growing number of hospitals are turning to AI to help them handle the pandemic.

And most importantly, even before the world was even aware of the threat posed by the COVID, AI technologies had identified the disruption of an unexplained type of pneumonia in China. AI is assisting researchers to furbish multitudinous research documents of past and present to reveal clues in order to unearth a vaccine or cure. Virtual assistants, Chatbots, Robots and drones are being stationed to respond to immediate needs in hospitals. Blue Dot, an AI health company supported in identifying COVID-19, days before the WHO alerted people to the emergence of COVID. In the past, Blue Dot has also helped prognosticate the Ebola virus spread to the U.S besides the Zika virus spread in Florida, months before it took place.

AI helps in identifying many slippery patterns concurrently. Today, AI technologies and devices are playing a pivotal function in every phase of the COVID crisis response. Some of the domains where AI can commit to fighting against COVID are mental health, early alerts and warnings in multiple languages (e.g. WHO Early Warning System, Bluedot), treatments and cures, interpreting medical images, to fight misinformation, answering appropriate questions, classifying virus transmission chains, stimulating medical research on drugs and treatments, mass testing and innovating usage to flatten the curve, social control, rapid diagnosis, tracking, assisting and prediction of the virus, monitoring elderly people in their homes and patients in intensive care units, early detection of sepsis in COVID patients and leveraging electronic medical reports to find a treatment. With nearly every component of the healthcare world, AI has been reshaped by the COVID. Across Asia emerging technologies have expanded to help fight the COVID-19 outbreak. Asian governments are urging Startups, universities and corporations to facilitate transformations.

Nations like South Korea and China have set up contract tracing systems and community monitoring to identify the possible infection routes. Korea despite seeing the most visible rise in COVID-19 cases has been strong in containing the virus through a fast-developed testing kit, smart quarantine information system without sealing down its economy. The officials were tracing possible transmitters using the mobile phone and satellite technology. Life Sciences Company, Seegene, came up with testing kits in under just three weeks, with the help of AI. China through cell phone software assigned a colour QR code to show the contagion risk. In China and Hong Kong people are using rings and bracelets synced with AI to provide constant monitoring of vital signs like heart rate etc. Ali baba, a Chinese technology company has developed an AI system for detecting coronavirus from chest CT scans for accelerated diagnosis in a few seconds. Yonghe Cardinal Tien Hospital in Taiwan in collaboration with Microsoft Taiwan has used AI masks and infra-red (IR) temperature detection equipment to recognize unusual temperatures in people. 

India with its stringent lockdown measures and also being one of the worst-hit countries globally in COVID-19 cases has been using AI to help fight the virus. The Indian Prime Minister has been urging the innovators to share their opinions with the central ministry of health to combat the pandemic. Indian startups, organizations and universities are also working to bring innovations in AI to fight the virus. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in cooperation with IIT Delhi and Intel India has been working together to find faster and less pricey COVID testing and genome sequencing to find an effective cure. Indian startups are working on AI-based radiology solutions to prescreen COVID patientshelp analyze the extent of lung damage in Covid-19 patients and have devised a unique AI thermal camera to trace likely suspects. Indian apps have also been created to fight the virus such as Aarogya Setu, MyGov, SAHYOG, COVID-19 Quarantine Monitor- Tamil Nadu, Test Yourself Goa and so on. Lockdown stress and the pandemic have given way to many COVID-19 therapy helpline numbers and many startup apps that are helping solve India’s mental health predicaments. 

Israel through its vibrant and unique AI ecosystem has prospered over the years. The Israel health ministry has launched a national scheme for daily monitoring of COVID symptoms by utilizing diagnostic robotics digital risk evaluation and monitoring platforms. Israel along with India is also preparing to collectively develop rapid trial tools for COVID. Japan has been using a free messaging application line to present discussions about COVID. Japan’s FUJIFILM Corporation is working on an AI research study to aid therapy and diagnosis of patients with COVID induced pneumonia. Vietnam altered the disease course by conducting rigorous measures like mass testing equipment, installing disinfection chambers and test kits to implement quick results that brought in causalities lesser than the developed countries. Thailand’s digital economy and society has been co-operating with Huawei technologies (Thailand) in using world-class technology to provide AI-assisted resolutions with 5G technologies to diagnose issues automatically and quickly which will boost Thai medical workers capacity to cope with the virus. Singapore has facilitated comprehensive AI mapping of the outbreak apart from identifying the hotspots. The National University of Singapore has created ‘IDentif.AI’ platform to increase the efficiency of virus detection. Malaysia’s MOH has been collaborating with Skymind Neurobionix research to share AI technology and research to help in the control of the spread of COVID.

UAE that had launched its first ‘robot pharmacy’ in 2017 has gone ahead in the field of AI by using blockchain and applied machine learning. Nabta Health, a UAE startup is providing contingency and symptom evaluations for COVID. In Dubai, robots have been acting as an associate between doctors and patients by reducing the human contact and risk of transmission of the virus. Dubai police are using AI-based smart helmets to detect COVID infected patients. Qatar government is using computing and geolocation services to track and diagnose the virus. Bahrain has created an app called ‘BeAware’ to track the vicinity to someone with COVID using GPS. 

To achieve the full sign of AI to combat COVID-19, researchers and policymakers must ensure that the agents in the AI development should remain liable. The AI operations should be authentic, transparent, robust, secure and aligned with proper medical ethics to respect privacy and human rights. To combat the virus completely, collaboration within the public and private companies and startups, including academic establishments, is crucial to bring in new AI technologies. Big pharmaceutical manufacturers should collaborate with smaller medical companies and health research institutes to merge AI data support. Barriers in regulations, bureaucracy, infrastructure and financing while working on AI technologies are important to take note of. Big data and data science can help in enhancing hospital management. Geospatial data should be made accessible to the public to avoid areas with high infection rates.

When health care workers can feel fatigued and get easily distracted, AI can help in keeping an eye on how things are going on. A major advantage of using AI is the ability to keep checks on other outbreaks. For example, the recent community spread of Lassa fever outbreak in parts of Africa and Hantavirus in parts of China while the focus is on COVID-19. AI will increasingly play a governing function in stimulating the education and practice of healthcare organizations. Industrial revolution 4.0 will transform the health industries globally as the AI in the healthcare industry is expected to become a $36.1 billion market by the end of 2025. AI is all set to take over the post-COVID era in healthcare.

Preethi Amaresh
Author is a Doctoral Scholar, Geneva School of Diplomacy, Switzerland

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