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Leveraging AI for Good Health: The New Frontier in Social Innovation to accelerate progress toward SDG 3

In the evolving landscape of global health, digital innovation emerges as a beacon of hope, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in healthcare access, quality and affordability. A recent white paper by the World Economic Forum, produced in collaboration with the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, EY and Microsoft, sheds light on an exciting paradigm shift: the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in social innovation, especially within healthcare. AI uptake has the potential to improve immunisation programmes, supply chains, referrals, diagnoses, drug safety, and overall health system efficiency. The report finds three primary impact areas where AI is making significant contributions:

  • Healthcare, with 25% of innovators using AI to advance access to health;
  • Environmental sustainability, with 20% of social innovators applying AI to tackle climate solutions; and
  • Economic empowerment, notably prevalent in lower-income countries where 80% of all initiatives aimed at enhancing livelihoods are based.

Healthcare is by far the most prevalent impact domain that social innovators are addressing with AI. Corresponding to this, 1 in 4 Social innovators are deploying AI to advance Sustainable Development Goal 3, Good Health and Well-being. This is apparent across all geographies as innovators seek to adopt AI to address multiple challenges within the area of healthcare.

Referenced in this report is BroadReach Group, a social impact organisation, that is using AI and machine learning to equip health care workers, leaders and institutions to better manage their scarce resources and drive better health outcomes for all. Vantage Health Technologies, a part of BroadReach Group is harnessing its work across continents in the following ways:

  • Using AI in Africa to support large HIV and TB programs by identifying gaps in resources and supporting decision making and targeted actions to address those gaps. This has allowed many districts particularly in South Africa, with the largest HIV population in the world to come close to achieving the UN goals of 95-95-95. The 95-95-95 HIV testing, treatment, and viral suppression targets aim to close gaps in HIV treatment coverage and outcomes in all sub-populations, age groups and geographic settings.
  • Vantage has provided program oversight to Tuberculosis (TB) programs in Africa by providing a single system to manage all key areas. TB outcomes are difficult to manage without daily insight into performance data. Vantage integrated already existing feeds from the national health data system to drive active decision making and launch interventions to address performance, data quality and reporting compliance.
  • A leading non-governmental organisation in Nigeria that provides prevention, treatment and care services across HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria uses AI and predictive analytics in Vantage to prevent missed appointments and bring patients back to care. The outputs are used to prioritise outreach to high-risk patients and monitor the effectiveness of interventions to proactively highlight areas needing attention.
  • In the US, Vantage is addressing Social Determinants of Health, by automating social care coordination for cancer patients. The early results have shown improved patient outcomes, improved equity and financial sustainability, while simultaneously reducing the administrative burden on the workforce.

Dr. Ernest Darkoh, co-founder of BroadReach Group, says, “the fundamental issue in healthcare, whether you are in Sub-Saharan Africa, Western Europe, or the USA, is that demand outstrips supply in terms of health services, doctors, nurses, and medications. The healthcare sector is trying to deliver on an antiquated model of ‘sick care’ without real-time intelligence on disease patterns, who is being affected the most, or the adequacy of healthcare resources. We need to change this paradigm to be more effective by leveraging data and digital solutions to ensure we are always spending the next hour and the next dollar in the in the most impactful way possible.”

Global Collaboration to Achieve Health Equity

The report also shows that Africa is emerging, with leaders like South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. Egypt and Kenya have developed national AI strategies. In other countries like Cameroon, individual social innovators are using AI to address healthcare challenges, such as developing low-cost diagnostic tools for malaria. The continent is also seeing AI applications in economic empowerment and various ML capabilities.

Paul Bhuhi, Managing Director of Vantage shares, ‘’AI is becoming more accepted, with healthcare leaders seeing the promise of AI to drive real improvement in health access, quality, and affordability. Yet, the education gap between innovators and the policy makers inhibits AI adoption, In our experience Rwanda and Kenya are leading that push but more needs to be done.”

An important lesson that BroadReach Group is applying is that learning healthcare lessons in one country can have a profound global impact through collaboration. By sharing best practices, innovations, and research findings, countries can collectively address common health challenges more effectively. Collaborative efforts enable the adaptation of successful strategies to different contexts, promoting universal health improvements and accelerating progress towards global health goals like SDG 3. This exchange of knowledge fosters a more interconnected and resilient global healthcare community, where advancements in one region benefit all.

Dr. John Sargent, co-founder of BroadReach Group, says “an example of impact through collaboration is using our experience and learnings in Africa addressing health inequity and applying them to promote health equity in cancer care in the US. Our teams work across geographies and this collaboration has shown that we can more effectively and rapidly improve patient care because of this experience. Although every geography and market has its differences, many of the same core principles, critical lessons learned, and approaches apply, allowing us to rapidly adapt and implement solutions that have a real impact for populations in need while ensuring that the health system is using its resources in the most impactful way.”

Embracing the Ethical Adoption of AI

The next generation of ethical generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) provides new hope for more equitable healthcare, but advances in technology must never come at the cost of patient rights. AI systems should start with guardrails and ethics within their foundational design.

Chris LeGrand, CEO of BroadReach Group emphasises, “regulatory frameworks for ethical use of AI in healthcare are still early stage but are progressing. The new Digital Trade Protocol recently adopted by African heads of state under the Africa Continental Trade Area (AfCTA) is an example of international bodies defining the desired digital landscape with rules based on common principles, including protecting personal data while promoting trusted, safe, ethical use of emerging technologies. Regulation is slowly evolving to create trust and confidence in the protection of health data.”

ENDS
BroadReach Group is a group of social impact businesses focused on harnessing innovation and technology to empower human action. Since 2003 BroadReach Group has worked in over 30 countries to support governments, international NGOs, public and private sector to improve health outcomes for their populations.

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Young people are the key to ending HIV in our lifetime

South Africa, 16 June 2024: If we are to end the spread of HIV in our lifetime, we must focus on closing the prevention and care gaps among infants and young people, care groups say this Youth Month. Young people make up one of the most important ‘priority populations’ that need extra support with HIV/Aids – and are therefore key to stopping this three-decade pandemic for good.

According to the United Nations’ children’s agency (UNICEF), Sub-Saharan Africa is the region most affected by HIV, and more needs to be done to get young people into clinics to be tested and onto treatment for HIV. Their data shows that adolescents and young people made out a “growing share of people living with HIV worldwide” and that in Southern Africa only 25% of adolescent girls and 17% of adolescent boys aged 15-19 years were being tested for HIV.

“South Africa still has some of the highest rates of HIV among young people in the world, but we are changing this by specifically focusing on our young people. In Mpumalanga, for instance, we have ‘health influencers’ who are community health workers on the ground, who make it their mission to reach young people to create better health outcomes for our communities,” says Dr Ziyanda Makaba, Clinical Specialist for HIV and Paediatrics at BroadReach Health Development.

BroadReach is an organisation which places specialist doctors, nurses and community health workers in rural clinics, in partnership with the Department of Health (DoH) and
international funders such as USAID and PEPFAR. One of their most successful joint programmes is DREAMS, a USAID-led peer support initiative to encourage young girls to get tested, onto medications for the prevention or treatment of HIV, and to maintain ultra-low, and therefore undetectable and untransmittable, HIV viral loads so that they can go on to pursue their dreams and live fulfilled lives. DREAMS stands for Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe (DREAMS) and is supporting high-risk young women and girls around the country.

“We use the Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) model of care. The U=U campaign is an internationally recognised tool to reduce stigma and increase demand for service and linking people to care. On this Youth Day, my message to young girls and boys, you are the architects of change, educate yourself, support other young people and break the cycle of stigma to build a healthier world for all,” says Dr Veni Naidu, HIV Community Services Lead with BroadReach.

“As we mark Youth Month 2024, let’s acknowledge young people as pivotal forces in our drive to end HIV. Through partnerships like DREAMS, we empower them to lead healthier
lives. Our commitment at USAID, on behalf of all Americans and the U.S. government, is to Media release: Influencers for Good Page 2 of 3 swiftly close gaps in HIV services for youth, utilising community-driven approaches like U=U. Together, we can realize an HIV-free future,” says Heather Smith Taylor, USAID Southern Africa Bilateral Health Office Director.

A reflection on local numbers

According to the latest data from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the percentage of people living with HIV in South Africa has decreased from 14% in 2017 to 12.7% in 2022. In total about 7.8 million people are living with HIV in the region today.

Viral suppression was higher (83%) among women when compared to men (79%) and lower (70%) among younger adults aged 15–24 years. The lowest percentage of viral load suppression (66%) was among men aged 25–34 years old.

The HSRC warns that the most pronounced differences in HIV prevalence by sex were seen among younger populations which calls for focused interventions. Compared to teenaged boys, HIV prevalence was approximately twice as high in girls aged 15–19 years (5.6% vs. 3% respectively) – partly because of power dynamics in relationships with older partners. In the 20–24 years age group the ratio was also two to one, with 8% of young women being HIV positive compared to 4% of men the same age. The numbers spike three-fold higher in females aged 25–29, with 20% of them being HIV+ compared to 6% of men that age.

Dr Makaba adds that due to a complex set of factors, women and girls accounted for more than 60% of all new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa in 2022. Six out of seven new infections among 15-19-year-olds in the region are among girls, but the tide is turning as more young girls are supported through peer networks like the DREAMS programme.

The power of fighting stigma

Dr Makaba explains that a Differentiated Models of Care framework is best when reaching out to young people. “This means you look at the community to identify who is most vulnerable to HIV and reach out to them in ways that support them in their unique contexts. There is no judgment, patronisation, shame or stigma. Young people are supported in ways that make them feel seen, understood and held.”

“The goal is to get everyone to take their ARVs every day so that they can become virally suppressed. Suppose someone is HIV negative but in a relationship with someone who is
HIV positive or injecting drugs. In that case, they might be encouraged to take preventative PrEP – a medication that if taken 7 days before HIV exposure, can prevent the HIV-negative person from getting HIV,” says Dr Makaba.

Proof in the pudding: HIV numbers are improving in Mpumalanga

The data shows that influencer interventions, coupled with other community health interventions at clinics, have resulted in huge improvements in HIV rates. In the Nkangala
and the Gert Sibande districts in Mpumalanga, where BroadReach and their community brigades have been working for five years, the numbers speak for themselves.

In 2018, 1 520 people were initiated on PrEP and that number has reached 30 094 in the last year. “This tells you our outreaches are working and we’re convincing a lot more people to get onto life-saving preventative medications,” says Dr Makaba.

Mother-to-child (perinatal) transmissions have also halved, thanks to more mothers taking ARVs today than five years ago. “In Year One, 251 HIV+ infants needed ARVs and now we
have half that at 124 infants. That means the ARVs that more moms are taking while pregnant are effectively protecting babies.”

ENDS

About BroadReach Group and HIV:
BroadReach Group is a group of social impact businesses focused on harnessing innovation and technology to empower human action. Since 2003 BroadReach Group has worked in over 30 countries to support governments, international NGOs, public and private sector to improve health outcomes for their populations.

BroadReach has been at the forefront of developing innovative approaches to improve the outcome of people living with HIV and TB for more than 17 years. For example, currently in South Africa, as part of the PEPFAR-funded, USAID program, Accelerating Program Achievements to Control the Epidemic (APACE), BroadReach Health Development supports the South African Government in achieving the UNAIDS “95-95-95” targets towards HIV epidemic control. BroadReach implements APACE in two HIV-burdened districts of Mpumalanga, covering 203 fixed and mobile facilities.

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