DR Congo: Artificial Intelligence is present in medicine

Artificial Intelligence, which is already the case in some rich countries, can be used to improve the speed and accuracy of disease diagnosis and screening, facilitate clinical care, and advance health research and drug development. As well as supporting various public health interventions such as: disease surveillance, outbreak response and health systems management.

AI can also give patients greater control over the care they receive and better understand their evolving needs. It could facilitate access to health services in resource-poor countries and in rural communities where patients often struggle to access health professionals or medical personnel.

However, a new WHO report warns against overestimating the benefits of AI in healthcare. Especially when technology replaces the basic investments and strategies needed to achieve universal health coverage.

It also emphasizes that opportunities are linked to challenges and risks. Including: unethical collection and use of health data, bias introduced into algorithms, and risks to patient safety, cybersecurity and the environment.

Private and public investments in the development and application of AI are essential. It could subordinate the unregulated use of this technology and the rights and interests of patients and communities to the powerful commercial interests of technology companies or those of governments in surveillance and social control.

The report also points out that systems, which are primarily trained on data collected from individuals living in high-income countries, may not work well for populations in low- and middle-income countries.

AI systems therefore need to be carefully designed to take into account the diversity of socio-economic and healthcare contexts. They should be accompanied by digital skills training, community engagement and awareness raising. Especially for the millions of health professionals whose roles and functions require automation. They acquire or improve digital knowledge and will have to deal with machines that (probably) question the decision-making and autonomy of healthcare providers and patients.

Dr. Mugangu Emmanuel is a doctor who lives in Bukavu: “We use the computer system and the internet to communicate. I remember the experience of Katana (South Kivu) where we discussed patient care by videoconference with the Belgian and Italian teams. At Skyborn Hospital, I noticed that to facilitate patient care, software is also used to collect information about patients. For complicated pathologies, we use the internet directly for better care.

Technologically speaking, neighboring Rwanda has indeed very advanced fiber optics. This country offers a fast connection compared to the DRC where there are still 3G and 4G connections which do not allow for a fast connection.

On telemedicine: “A team of Italian doctors had to share with us cases that we received on site and via video conference we presented a case to them on site”.

Ultimately guided by existing human rights laws and obligations, as well as new laws and policies that guarantee ethical principles. Governments, providers and developers must work together to consider ethical and human rights issues at every stage of designing, developing and deploying AI technology.