Health ministry to explore use of Artificial Intelligence for TB diagnosis


The Union health ministry is exploring the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in its fight against tuberculosis. India is among the countries with the highest number of TB patients, and is chasing the target of eliminating the disease by 2025—five years ahead of the global target.

The Central TB Division of the health ministry has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Mumbai-based Wadhwani Institute for Artificial Intelligence to explore the application of AI in dealing with the disease.

According to a statement on the collaboration, the institute would be supporting the Revised National TB Control Programme (RNTCP) to become 'AI-ready', which would include “developing, piloting, and deploying AI-based solutions”. “It would support the programme in vulnerability and hot-spot mapping, modelling novel methods of screening and diagnostics, and enabling decision support for care-givers, apart from supporting the RNTCP in adoption of other AI technologies,” the statement said.

In the recent years, the Centre has been tapping AI technologies in healthcare to bring in “efficiency, save resources and bring accuracy” in interpretation, and enhance quality of service delivery.

According to the NITI Aayog's National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence that was released in June 2018, in the domain of healthcare, AI-based solutions can be used to address the problem of “scarce personnel and lab facilities” and “help overcome the barriers to access”.

The think tank's strategy identifies oncology as one of the key areas for developing AI-based solutions. India sees an incidence of more than one million new cases of cancer every year, and early detection and management can be crucial in optimum cancer treatment regimen across the country, the strategy paper says. “NITI Aayog is in an advanced stage for launching a programme to develop a national repository of annotated and curated pathology images,” the report adds.

The government is also working on an imaging biobank for cancer, that will be a national repository of annotated and curated pathology images. Human cancers exhibit strong phenotypic differences that may be visualised “non-invasively” by expert radiologists (using imaging modalities). This provides an “unprecedented opportunity” to use artificial intelligence to improve decision-making in cancer treatment at low costs, especially in countries like India. AI-based radiomics is an emerging field that refers to the comprehensive quantification of tumor phenotypes by applying a large number of quantitative imaging features.

“The components of the repository include a move towards 'Digital Pathology', which entails all glass slides generated will be scanned at high resolution and magnification, followed by accurate, precise and comprehensive annotations,” the report says.

Yet another area for AI-based solutions is diabetic retinopathy. The NITI Aayog is also working with Microsoft and Forus Health to roll out a technology to screen for common eye problems.