What Africa’s approach to AI can teach the world

Africa’s diversity and smart problem-solving could help businesses understand the potential - and limitations - of AI.

The Rethabile Clinic in Polokwane, South Africa, seems an unlikely place to look for revolutionary artificial intelligence (AI) applications, yet this clinic was the starting point for a project that will see AI-driven intelligent healthcare rolled out to all 400 clinics across Limpopo province, where it is located.

The particular needs of the area determined the focus of the AI effort. In a developed Western country, if the top noncommunicable disease is cancer, then researchers would invest in AI that can read scans and diagnose cancer, notes Peter Reid, Head of AI at the Mint Group which ran the pilot project for the Limpopo Department of Health (DoH).

"Here, your top noncommunicable disease or deaths are coming from our government’s inability to get healthcare to people, so solving the problem of distributing medication in a rural area is something you wouldn’t encounter at all in the Western world, but it is something that can save more lives here than cancer scans in a cell can save there,” Reid said.

“So, figuring out how to get a minibus loaded full of antiretrovirals from Valley of a Thousand Hills to Mongolia is not something they would ever think of, but we can use AI techniques to do that and we can save a lot of lives," Reid emphasised.

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