Capturing AI and innovation to strengthen our healthcare systems during COVID-19 and beyond

Whilst the pandemic has placed unique and challenging demands on our healthcare systems, the industry’s response has illustrated its ability to create new innovations and technologies, and quickly bring them to market. Although the recent announcements of several COVID-19 vaccines provides hope that we may return to normality in the near future, artificial intelligence (AI) and new technologies will play a key role in surpassing the challenges presented by the pandemic as well as the economic fallout.

AI has been championed for supporting efforts across all elements of our COVID-19 response — from enabling early detection of the virus, to efficient patient diagnosis, as well as improving treatment services and accelerating vital drug discovery.

Detecting & monitoring the Virus

AI platform BlueDot detected a cluster of “unusual pneumonia” in Wuhan 9 days before an official warning was issued by the World Health Organisation. Since then, AI has been deployed to enable authorities to predict how and where the virus will spread, and even how quickly it may travel. Further, many of the contact tracing applications in operation require sophisticated AI to process large quantities of data and track transmissions.


AI has also enabled efficient and accurate diagnoses of COVID-19. For instance, Infervision launched an AI solution designed to help clinicians detect COVID-19 which uses an algorithm to locate the virus on images of patients’ lungs. Similarly, Alibaba has developed an AI system which can detect COVID-19 through chest CT scans in a mere 20 seconds, as opposed to the usual 15 minutes it takes a medical professional.

Another interesting example is Vocalis Health, a company which pioneers AI-based vocal biomarkers for use in healthcare. Since March, Vocalis Health has reapplied its expertise in voice-analytics to focus on developing an AI platform that can identify a unique vocal signature in a person’s voice and diagnose if they are carriers of COVID-19. Over the last few months, the company has partnered with the Israeli Ministry of Defence as well as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation in India to collect voice samples and further develop the technology. The non-invasive test will be used to inform officials who may be in greatest need of testing, treating or isolating, and could significantly alleviate pressure on health systems.

Drug development & effective treatment

In the early stages of the pandemic, Google’s DeepMind used AI to predict the structure of the virus based on its genetic sequence, and published its findings to the scientific community to assist research efforts. In the last few weeks, numerous vaccine candidates with high efficacy rates have emerged, providing hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The first announcement came from Pfizer, a biopharmaceutical company recognised for its use of automation, AI and predictive analysis in its research and development processes. Last month, Pfizer announced that it had developed a new AI model with IBM that can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease before typical symptoms develop.

Preparing for post-COVID-19

Over the last few years, I have witnessed the development of some revolutionary AI. Every year my non-profit organisation, the Saby Foundation, holds a “Build Your Business” contest for young entrepreneurs, and this year’s winning project developed advanced AI to enable early diagnosis of strokes. Such impressive innovation shows the rapid rate at which medical technology is advancing, and how it can support our efforts to tackle new and existing healthcare challenges.

Amid the mass disruption and chaos of COVID-19, AI and new technologies have taken centre stage, celebrated for their ability to provide insights and solutions for managing the pandemic. Although AI is not a remedy for all of the issues facing our healthcare sectors, with adequate regulation and governance mechanisms, it can help re-engineer our healthcare systems from being reactive to proactive and preventative, and improve our delivery of care during the pandemic and beyond.

Prominent entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist with interests in mining, high tech and innovative technologies. https://www.linkedin