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Sh154m AI programme promises to cure TB screening headache

David Ajowi, IT lead at Qure AI, a solutions provider, trains healthcare workers at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret on Wednesday. Capacity building is part of the programme to enhance TB screening countrywide. [Courtesy, Standard]

The quest to improve the treatment of tuberculosis (TB) and lung diseases has received a big boost following the roll out of a Sh154.4 million Artificial Intelligence (AI) project.

Amref Health Africa in Kenya is upgrading hospital equipment across the country to improve detection of lung diseases.

The $1.2 million project, financed by the Global Fund, targets at least 55 health facilities in each county and runs up to June 28.

The computer-aided detection (CAD) software will be installed in digital X-ray machines at least one health facility per county, while eight counties with the highest TB case notification in 2022 have an additional facility selected.

In 2021, the World Health Organisation confirmed that there was a persistent gap in screening TB cases. WHO recommended systematic screening of TB using digital chest X-ray (CXR) to increase the sensitivity of the screening intervention.

“Computer-aided detection software presents an opportunity to improve the detection of TB by supporting the identification of possible people with presumed TB, when used in combination with portable digital X-ray systems, the promise of CAD technology can be extended to hard-to-reach key populations,” said Amref Health Africa in Kenya in a statement.

Under the new funding model (July 2021 – June 2024), Global Fund has supported Kenya with resources to procure and install CAD software.

During the upgrade at the Busia County Referral Hospital on Friday, Dr David Mukabi, the director of Health, highlighted that the new equipment would improve health outcomes.

“We now have a tool that simplifies TB screening for our patients visiting the facility,” he said. “The AI system connects to our radiology department, swiftly interpreting X-ray images within 30 seconds and providing instant reports to healthcare providers.”

“With this AI-driven screening tool in place, we aim to actively identify TB cases and ensure comprehensive patient care.”

Added Seth Kagia, an official from the National TB programme at the Ministry of Health: “The WHO recommended AI to aid in TB diagnosis. The use of chest X-rays emerged from a 2016 prevalence survey as a crucial tool for early TB detection.”

Raila Ochieng, Amref Health Africa in Kenya Grants Associate, echoed these sentiments, noting that TB is among Kenya’s top three killer diseases, alongside malaria and HIV/AIDS.

Kenya is ranked fourth in Africa with the highest TB burden after South Africa, Nigeria and Ethiopia. In 2020, Kenya recorded 72,943 TB cases, 5,663 of these were paediatric cases translating to eight out of every ten infections.

According to Kenya Demographic Survey 2022, 12,000 people are infected with TB every year, while 32,000 die annually. Deaths reported were 21,000, a reduction from 31,000 in 2019.

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