No country aspires to be known for a high tuberculosis infection rate. But, unfortunately, Nigeria’s tuberculosis numbers are soaring rapidly, ranking third in the world, only behind India and China. Annually, the West African nation sees 590,000 new tuberculosis cases, and 245,000 Nigerians die of the disease every year.
Tuberculosis places an enormous burden on Nigeria’s public health system. Recognizing this, the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP) was set up in 1989. Multiple strategies have been implemented at the community and facility levels in public and private healthcare units. However, the system has yet to overcome the hurdles of low population coverage, lack of accessibility, inadequate resources, and delay in treatment.
Qure.ai, Fujifilm, and Omnia Health came together to organize a webinar on “Accelerating TB screening in rural communities using AI-powered technology." The aim was to capture how the three organizations had come together to use technology for Active case finding and how they are making a difference in the lives of people in rural Africa.
The distinguished panel of global speakers shared their experiences deploying mobile health tech and AI in parts of rural Nigeria struggling with little healthcare access.
- Dr. Obioma Akaniro, MD, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria – Programme Management Unit, NTBLCP, moderated the session
- Naresh Hasija, Global Head – Commercial and Operations, Tata Medical and Diagnostics
The recent partnership between the Institute of Human Virology in Nigeria (IHVN), Fujifilm Healthcare Middle East & Africa, and Qure.ai has been an innovative game-changer in the fight against tuberculosis.
Dr. Ronke Vivian Agbaje explained the problem – “In the past, our efficiency targets were not being met. We had partners who have worked with AI, and it has worked for them. So, we got four portable X-ray machines integrated AI. It improved our efficiency. We can now target our screenings better, and access has improved. We have also been able to detect other lung health issues in our patients, apart from TB."
According to Dr. Shibu Vijayan of Qure.ai- “The transmission chain is being cut via the usage of AI. Partnerships like this are critical to achieving the Global TB Target. Post-pandemic, technology is bridging the gap, and this partnership will ensure we achieve it humanely and cost-effectively. The efficiency brought in by AI for time, resources, and the cost is unmatched by other strategies implemented in the past." qXR's prowess lies in its ability to detect and identify 30 distinct findings in a chest X-ray and monitor the rate of disease progression. In addition, it has been CE-certified and FDA-approved, and independent studies by the World Health Organization (WHO) have validated Qure's solutions.
This partnership undoubtedly brings excellent value to Nigeria’s public health setup. Leveraging the portability of the handheld digital X-ray machine can bring the health system to the patient, who can then be diagnosed at the point of care. This eases the patient's mobility and connects them to the treatment pathway faster. In addition, mass testing and active screening expedite tuberculosis detection, treatment, and notification.
Within Nigeria, the Xair device embedded with the qXR AI solution has been deployed in twelve states, covering rural areas and vulnerable communities. Dr. Bethrand Odume said, “The resources are minimal. We are using this to do screenings in prisons. We can take it to the doorsteps of patients, and that plays a big role in bridging the gap in healthcare."
Besides providing accurate diagnosis of chest abnormalities, Qure’s AI solution reduces the disease’s reporting turnaround time to less than one minute. This assists radiologists in reducing their workload and gives them room to connect to other radiologists for discussion or review. Moreover, qXR minimizes the need for confirmatory tests like CBNAAT or sputum tests.
One of the reasons for this efficiency is the opportunity for early diagnosis that AI screening enables. Before disease manifestation, the algorithm can pick up on abnormalities and reduce tuberculosis’s communicability and transmission. Furthermore, by carefully mapping the hotspot areas within the country, they can do targeted screening within the population and increase coverage. As simple as it may sound, this creates a revolutionary push to improve the overall lung health of people.
“There is a huge gap around trained manpower across the world. We are still fighting against TB. Africa's Fujifilm and Qure.ai association is a good example of how a large corporation and a startup can make a difference. A product innovator can join hands with a corporate that now wants to spend a lot of time on innovation. And it makes a big synergetic impact. It is impactful in private healthcare as well," said Naresh Hasija.
“It has been phenomenal to see how much impact AI can make. Fujifilm can provide a portable x-ray device embedded with this AI. Qure.ai is a peer-reviewed solution. We are now able to see this partnership evolve. It is being applied in rural communities, and the plan is to increase access and proximity to these devices. Being able to provide more devices to more people will be our future," shared Godspower Asika.
At the root of every public health strategy implementation is the drive to make the system efficient, patient-oriented, and accessible without compromising quality. A competent patient management system integrated with innovative solutions can significantly accelerate the population's health goals. Qure.ai's partnership with Fujifilm and IHVN is a testament to these aims, making a significant difference in the fight against the tuberculosis epidemic.