AI Medicine Comes to Africa’s Rural Clinics

28 July 2017

Digital Content

Smartphone-based diagnostic tools with an artificial intelligence upgrade could save millions of lives

As part of a cervical cancer prevention campaign in six African countries, the nonprofit Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon works with local health clinics on special screening and education events, such as this one in Botswana. 1/4

In rural health clinics across Kenya, women have started showing up with a surprising request: They’ve come for their “cervical selfies.”

Their enthusiasm is a good omen for a public health campaign against cervical cancer now under way in six African countries. Using an optical accessory that snaps onto any Android smartphone and makes use of its camera, health workers are examining women and catching early signs of cancer, enabling them to get immediate treatment. And soon this diagnostic device will be better still. With the integration of artificial intelligence, this technology may serve as a model for smarter health care in Africa and beyond.

The screening campaign relies on a tool developed by the Israeli company MobileODT—the acronym stands for “optical detection technologies.” Health workers use a clip-on attachment, called the EVA (enhanced visual assessment) Scope, to turn a smartphone into a device similar to a ­colposcope, the tool gynecologists use to view a magnified image of a woman’s cervix. With an associated phone app, the screeners can analyze the image, show it to the patient, and store the data in the cloud.