The importance of collaboration in fighting Covid-19 - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

The importance of collaboration in fighting Covid-19

ByVidur Mahajan
Mar 17, 2020 02:48 PM IST

Given that our health care services industry will be strained to a great extent when Covid-19 spreads across the country, we must use all options available to fight it. Partnering with industry for developing advanced data analytics and AI tools in a PPP provides an effective way to initiate the development of tools to predict, diagnose and prognosticate, like never before

One thing is now certain: We have a completely new disease that is spreading. It is virulent and will possibly affect everyone in one way or another. India’s health care system even without the coronavirus (Covid-19) is overburdened. Now imagine what will happen when this new disease makes its way through this health care system. We must not only defend ourselves against Covid-19 but take the fight to it, for our survival.

The government realises the threat that Covid-19 presents to India’s medical and economic health, and has taken some strong policy decisions to contain its spread(REUTERS)
The government realises the threat that Covid-19 presents to India’s medical and economic health, and has taken some strong policy decisions to contain its spread(REUTERS)

The government realises the threat that Covid-19 presents to India’s medical and economic health, and has taken some strong policy decisions to contain its spread. For example, completely restricting the entry of foreign nationals has widespread implications and this must have been a tough decision to take. Since India has one of the lowest number of cases globally, we can learn from other countries’ experiences and use their data to our advantage.

Unlock exclusive access to the latest news on India's general elections, only on the HT App. Download Now! Download Now!

On February 1, during her budget speech, finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman said:

“…setting up hospitals in the PPP mode. In the first phase, those Aspirational Districts will be covered, where presently there are no Ayushman empanelled hospitals...Using machine learning and AI, in the Ayushman Bharat scheme, health authorities and the medical fraternity can target disease…”

That the government will partner with private industry in areas where it is lacking or is unable to provide services, combined with the view that machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be imperative for providing health care services, is precisely what is needed today. While the government partnering with private players to expand testing and treatment for Covid-19 is being discussed, it seems that everyone has forgotten India’s private sector computer science expertise, especially in AI and machine learning.

There are many engineers in Indian research and development (R&D) centres of global giants such as GE, Philips, Siemens, Google and Microsoft who are working on AI. Add to that deep technology start-ups and research groups working in AI for health care and you have a ready ecosystem of specialists who can create AI tools to fight Covid-19. The government needs to explore partnerships with such players, provide them appropriate data, and essentially do a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) for data analytics and AI.

More than 6,500 Real Time (RT)-PCR tests have been conducted for Covid-19 in India and around 115 patients have been confirmed. All clinical data, imaging data (including raw dicom files for X-Rays and CT scans), laboratory data, RT-PCR and viral genomics data and treatment outcomes data should be immediately open-sourced and made available to researchers. Once done, the process of developing AI can be started.

AI systems rely on “learning” from pre-existing data. India has a unique opportunity to use AI in the fight against Covid-19 since a full-blown outbreak seems a few weeks away. Since Indian data alone would not be enough to create robust clinically applicable AI systems, we must take the lead in sparking a global collaboration for consolidation of patient-level Covid-19 data. Countries can contribute anonymised patient data to central databases which can be accessed by researchers across India and the world.

After making the data available, the government can expect a huge response from AI developers. There will have to be strong performance benchmarks and automated evaluation systems to first determine the best AI tools, and subsequently onboard them.

Here are some types of AI tools that can be used through different stages of the disease:

One, predicting Covid-19 progression at the population level; two, medical imaging-based AI techniques; three, predicting clinical outcomes in diagnosed patients.

Given that our health care services industry will be strained to a great extent when Covid-19 spreads across the country, we must use all options available to fight it. Partnering with industry for developing advanced data analytics and AI tools in a PPP provides an effective way to initiate the development of tools to predict, diagnose and prognosticate, like never before.

It will not be easy. The development of these tools relies on access to patient-level data, which there isn’t enough of in India. The government will need to devise collaborations focused on data-sharing with countries which have more cases of Covid-19, enabling Indian AI experts to create accurate, quick solutions to fight this war.

Vidur Mahajan, is head of R&D,Centre for Advanced Research in Imaging, Neurosciences & Genomics

The views expressed are personal

Catch every big hit, every wicket with Crick-it, a one stop destination for Live Scores, Match Stats, Quizzes, Polls & much moreExplore now!
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Monday, May 27, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On