Digital Health and AI in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

By Sumona Bose

February 21, 2024

Introduction

Rising rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) pose a significant threat to healthcare systems in low- and middle-income countries. However, the advent of digital technology offers a glimmer of hope in effectively addressing this growing burden. With two-thirds of the world’s population subscribed to mobile services and the increasing accessibility of connectivity, the use of digital solutions and applications has the potential to transform health systems from reactive to proactive and even preventive.

One of the key advancements in digital health is the integration of artificial intelligence (AI). By leveraging AI, health systems can become more predictive, detecting risk factors and enabling healthcare professionals to respond faster in preventing diseases. However, the rapid growth of digital health has also brought about challenges. The proliferation of digital health apps in both the public and private sectors has led to competition and overlap, while the collection and analysis of digital data remain fragmented, leaving some populations behind.

The Promise of Digital Health and AI in Preventive Care

To address these challenges, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, established in 2010, has been at the forefront of advocating for the transformative impact of broadband technologies in healthcare. Its working group on digital and AI in health, co-chaired by the Novartis Foundation and industry leaders such as Nokia, Intel, and Microsoft, has conducted extensive research to identify common challenges and develop a framework for supporting digital health solutions.

The working group has identified six building blocks for digital health systems. These include formulating and executing a national digital health strategy, creating policy and regulatory frameworks that support innovation while ensuring security and privacy, ensuring access to digital infrastructure, promoting interoperability of digital health system components, establishing effective partnerships, and securing adequate financing.

Figure 1: Six building blocks for digital health systems.

Conclusion

By implementing these building blocks, countries can overcome the challenges associated with digital health and AI integration. Coordinated efforts, capacity building, and sustainable financing are crucial in harnessing the full potential of digital technology to improve healthcare outcomes in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

As the world continues to grapple with the burden of NCDs, we must embrace the opportunities presented by digital health and AI. By doing so, we can aid healthcare systems, empower healthcare professionals, and ultimately improve the health and well-being of populations in even the most resource-constrained settings.

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