Artificial intelligence in global health: a brave new world

The Lancet
Apr 13, 2019  Volume 393Number 10180  p1477-1568, e37
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/issue/current

Editorial
Artificial intelligence in global health: a brave new world
The Lancet
Despite decades of progress in global health, many low and middle income countries are not reaching their health Sustainable Development Goals, creating a sense of urgency to prioritise health in resource-strained environments. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly attractive to the health-care industry. The accompanying enthusiasm remains awkwardly placed somewhere between aspiration and reality.

The Artificial Intelligence in Global Health report, published on April 1, 2019, was funded by the USAID’s Center for Innovation and Impact and the Rockefeller Foundation, in close coordination with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The report looks at 27 cases of AI use in health care and distils them into four key groupings—population health, patient and front-line health worker virtual assistants, and physician clinical decision support. It hypothesises how AI solutions could improve access, quality, and efficacy of global health systems while accounting for their technological maturity and feasibility. The identified challenges, the most highly volatile being privacy, ethics, and data ownership, are in line with recent debates on regulation and policy for AI technology implementation in health care. To mitigate these challenges, stakeholders would need to be held accountable and be transparent whether supporting innovation, interoperability, or capacity building. The report sets the framework for a proactive and strategic approach to accelerate the development of cost-effective use of AI in global health by investing in case-specific, systematic, and technology-related key areas.

This report outlines an aspirational yet pragmatic framework for better coordination for AI investment between donors, governments, and the private sector, while harnessing a futuristic vision—the digitisation of global health. Because the cost-effectiveness of these AI solutions has yet to be validated, the call for investments feels somewhat premature. Traditionally, the global health community is a late adopter of new technologies. Hence, it is imperative that they have an integral and active role in the dialogue early on. As this report rightfully stipulates, technology will get there, but will the world follow?