By Vivian Onyebukwa
Strategies are now in place to ensure that scientists, policymakers and other stakeholders adopt artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in conceptualising and implementing healthcare delivery reforms.
Key aspects of these innovations were revealed during the 4th Annual Scientific Conference of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) which held in the last week of January 2023, themed Innovations in Science and Technology for Attainment of Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria.
Dr Obi Peter Adigwe the Director General of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) presented the Lead Paper on Artificial Intelligence Innovations in Healthcare Delivery. In his presentation, Adigwe explained how AI enables process improvement opportunities and creates more efficiency by mimicking human intelligence through computer manipulated algorithmic exploration of contextual databases.
It would be recalled that in the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, the President of Africa’s foremost Academy, Professor Ekanem Ikpi Braide, led a high powered team of Scientists and Policymakers to undertake a facility tour of NIPRD. During the robust engagement, both parties committed to initiating innovative contextual projects that promote development and advancement of science, technology, and innovation (STI) not just in Nigeria, but across the continent. The meeting also highlighted the criticality of policy and stakeholder engagement in the adoption of evidence-based scientific interventions in solving problems of national interest.
So, at the side-lines of the world class conference held in Abuja, NIPRD Director General, Dr Obi Peter Adigwe expounded aspects of his lead paper stated his Institute’s readiness to partner with the academy in articulating and implementing Artificial Intelligence initiatives.
In addition to unveiling the ongoing multi-million dollar purpose- built AI&ML Innovation and Incubation facility focused on resource efficient phytomedicine and drug discovery, Adigwe revealed other areas where synergies could be harnessed by leveraging the academy’s immense human capacity.
He disclosed that the NIPRD Artificial Intelligence Laboratory will also be capacitated to enable interventions in patient diagnosis. “This will consequently reduce pressure on physicians by working through vast quantities of information to deliver higher quality patient care at reduced costs”, he stated.
Adigwe also explained that the NIPRD AI Lab will support the development of interventions that enhance all levels of healthcare workflow and practice, including workflow optimization, support for interpretation tasks, quality and safety, and operational efficiency.
“Introducing Artificial Intelligence interventions for centralized medical record database will unlock potential value for the healthcare ecosystem by providing up- to-date, accurate and complete information for more coordinated and efficient patient care. Similarly, the automation of other mundane and repetitive tasks in the healthcare ecosystem will free up healthcare professionals to tackle more complex problems. This is especially pertinent in Nigeria, given the low professional to patient ratio, across all relevant disciplines”.
Following the pandemic and ahead of the full implementation of the AfCFTA, Adigwe argued that AI represents the most effective tool for harnessing God-given resources to emerge the continental hub for drug and phytomedicines’ research, development and production.
He further illustrated this by presenting AI for Phytomedicines’ Mapping where emergent and existing plants and herbal products can be identified, categorized and matched with characteristics of conditions and diseases, in a more expeditious and resource efficient manner. He gave the example of how NIPRD, using its rudimentary AI competencies emerged the first in the world to predict the utility of Andrographis paniculata for COVID-19. “This product has now been listed for immune support and is being put forward for clinical trials”, he added.
Fellows of the academy who reacted to the presentation, commended NIPRD’s pro-collaboration ethos which has seen a recent upsurge in partnership and cooperation with many critical agencies and development partners.
Experts in the healthcare sector also noted that a partnership between NIPRD and Africa’s foremost Academy to catalyse health access through Artificial Intelligence was a step in the right direction