Ministry of Health to deploy advanced AI Tool for TB detection

AT a time the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in healthcare has grown across the globe, the Ministry of Health and Child (MoHCC) is set to launch a Computer-Aided Detection Artificial Intelligence tool (CAD AI), to screen for Tuberculosis (TB).

By Michael Gwarisa

The move comes at a time Zimbabwe is making headway towards addressing the TB burden as evidenced by the country’s removal from the world’s top 30 list of countries heavily burdened by TB. Zimbabwe now has a double burden of TB/HIV and MDR-TB.

In an interview with HealthTimes on the Side-lines of the Stop TB Partnership Zimbabwe 2023 First National Coordination Meeting in Kwekwe, Dr Fungai Kavenga, Acting Deputy Director AIDS & TB Programs (TB Control) in the Ministry of Health said the AI program will be up and running before year end.

We envisage to have this computer-aided detection (CAD AI) in country before year end. The long term goal is to have every digital X-ray machine attached to CAD. Apart for TB, CAD detects up to over 8 other chest X-ray abnormalities,” said Dr Kavenga.

He added that CAD has been used in a number of countries including neighbouring Zambia, Kenya and others.

“CAD will result in faster patient screening and less waiting times, and bridge the human resource gap in interpreting X-rays.”

He however said this won’t be the first time Zimbabwe uses AI to screen for TB and as they used CAD4TB in 2014 during the TB prevalence survey.

“The AI detects Chest X-rays that are suggestive of TB amongst people who are being screened for TB, allowing them to submit a sputum sample for definitive diagnosis.”

He said the goal for Zimbabwe is to have reduced the incidence of all forms of TB by 80 percent from 242/100000 in 2015 to 48/100 000 by the year 2026 and by 2026. Zimbabwe also seeks to have reduced mortality of all forms of TB by 80% from 40/100000 in 2015 to 8/100 000 and AI will expedite realisation this vision for Zimbabwe.

Dr Mxolisi Ngwenya, the Childhood and Adolescent TB Focal Person in the Ministry of Health
said accelerated innovation and adoption of AI was one sure way of improving detection of 
TB in children.

“We are looking at the calibration of computer aided detection or AI for us to be able to read X-rays. We noticed that we have very few healthcare workers who are confident to interpret an X-ray and commit and say this Xray is suggestive of TB. AI might be our solution. Once we calibrate the machine to our particular context using the WHO protocol, we will be able to read and interpret X-rays without any doubts,” said Dr Ngwenya.

He added for Zimbabwe to end TB by 2030, there is need to adopt new technologies, strategies, and research.
In terms of Health Services infrastructure and TB Diagnostic Tools, Zimbabwe has 1650 government health facilities throughout the country, 155 Gene Xpert machines in the public sector, five Ten colour Gene Xpert machines, three LPA sites, 20 Truenat machines in the public sector, 50 digital X-ray machines in the public sector and 14 portable digital Xray machines deployed in June 2023.

Meanwhile, despite Zimbabwe having made progress on TB, there still remains a number of issues that need attention. Jointed Hands Welfare Organisation (JHWO) Executive Director, Dr Donald Tobaiwa said TB financing at a local level should be prioritised.

“One of the other areas that we need to look at is TB financing. Where are we as a country in terms of looking at TB as an individual disease within the bigger picture. Despite saying government is contributing so much to infrastructure etc, we then need to say how much government is contributing to diagnosis itself it terms of dollar value,” said Dr Tobaiwa.

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