Delmiro Fernandez-Reyes form UCL on how AI can deliver better medicines in Africa

January 23, 2020
Delmiro Fernandez-Reyes, University College London at the workshop “Toward a Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in sub-Saharan Africa”, Nairobi, Kenya, April 2019

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m based at the department of computer science, University College London and as well at the College of Medicine at the University of Ibadan. My work is related to solutions for global health challenges such as paediatric infections, malaria, or communicable or noncommunicable diseases.

The work has been basically harnessing algorithms we develop, to actually look at the data that can improve diagnostics, or can improve clinical pathways, or can actually as well make decisions faster, therefore savings on the healthcare systems which are a stretch.

So basically, we can focus on challenges on this global health problems. What I do at the moment is develop the hardware that AI is going to work on, we develop a microscope itself that have a lot of AI components, which for the diagnostics like navigation, detection of the specific objects, like malaria, parasites and all the etymological aspects of malaria screening.

Another important part of what we do, I think that the role of AI as I see as a person who works in challenges in health in the region is that in Africa it is more transformative because it creates opportunity. For example, these projects, the ones I’m talking about, are already running, they are generating employment, they are generating teams. This is being now developed to use technology in the frontline.

We have a tool that improves MRI resolution and that is now being used by radiologists in Nigeria. Through those tools you can train people, professionals, increase interdisciplinarity, so it opens opportunity, which is the opposite as you see in the north countries or in the west, AI seems to be to take jobs out of people or doing tasks. I think in Africa you can use it as challenges that will increase development or the region.

How do you perceive development and Artificial Intelligence?

The way to facilitate development is focusing on the challenges the region has. The region of many challenges, from technological gaps to the ones of governance.

I want to focus on the ones closest to me, because of my background as a basic scientist in medicine and computer science. In those areas, we can clearly see that we can aid the developing areas of improving the key drivers of lack of development, which is inequality, neonatal mortality, maternal mortality. Those are actually three axes that drive the region.

The region has still too many communicable diseases, HLB, Tuberculosis, malaria, those are now the challenge. Another challenge is, as people are getting older in southern Africa, like Nigeria, span is increasing with the GDP increase, you will have a bigger impact on noncommunicable diseases.

For those, I think we can bring a lot of management, health care systems, policy-making and strategies for that. Of course, there is another area on the development that you cannot do that only for the health, you have to develop, power, infrastructure and water – sanitation, so there needs to be a concerted element to this, you cannot have only the health people working alone, has to be the engineers of infrastructure at the same time or telecommunications.

What is your blue sky project in Africa?

The main project that we will focus on is what we are already doing. We would like to have AI-driven platform for diagnosis of diseases fast in clinical labs. You can achieve that.