Artificial intelligence (AI), such as IBM’s Watson, could be used to help decision-making processes and logistics issues in Africa’s healthcare industry. This AI could also improve patients’ access to medical supplies and aid in the safe disposal of medical waste.
The AI already exists in the form of Watson, a question-answering computer programme that is able to converse with humans. Such AI technology is being tested and refined to deliver valuable information to healthcare workers in developing countries.
Health workers can ask the AI if there is a stock of medicines at their facility, when the next shipment is going to arrive and when their medical waste will be collected. The AI could even deliver advice for disposing of hazardous medical waste in remote clinics.
Artificial intelligence enables learning for healthcare workers
“Today’s AI technology offers the solution, allowing us to leverage cognitive capabilities to create a transparent, intelligent and predictive supply chain,” says Deborah Dull, a representative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“An AI-powered chatbot can deliver personalised learning on mobile devices to enhance the supply chain skills of the health workers that staff most African healthcare supply chains,” she says. Clinicians will be able to access quality advice from mobile devices when needed.
AI can also be used for the benefit of patients, allowing them to know which clinics have stock of their required medication. The chatbots could also provide information about first aid, how to dispose of medical waste properly in the home and how to treat certain minor injuries.
Existing AI projects in Africa
Artificial intelligence is already being piloted in Kenya. The Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) is using Watson at its 7000 facilities across the country. Doctors, patients and pharmacists can interact with the AI through various means such as SMS, voice note and online messaging services.
The AI is able to access information instantaneously and is being used to help the medical supply chain. It knows when medication expires, what to do with it once it needs to be disposed of and when to order more.
The AI acts as an advisor that prevents stock shortages and finds new suppliers of medication if needed. This technology could be further developed and introduced in many other African nations to assist the healthcare industry and a variety of other sectors, including waste management.
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