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January 17, 2024

Artificial intelligence for human capital development and start-up companies in Nigeria

By Nigerian journalist Oyinlola Abosede. First published in Osun Reporters.

According to Professor Isa Ali Pantami, NigComHealth would “leverage on AI communication technologies for promoting health equity and improving the quality of life for every citizen.”
Pantami also stressed that this initiative would provide “digital health services to 1.7 million people in Nigeria.”

The former Minister of Communications and Digital Economy in Nigeria, Prof. Isa Ali Pantami
(Photo Attribution: Independent Newspaper May 16, 2023)

Fortunately, the impact of this would enable citizens to receive medical advice, and schedule appointments and remote consultations with physicians in the comfort of their homes and also in local communities. Indeed, this is a shared commitment towards promoting the Sustainable Development Goal three (SDG 3) – ‘Good Health and Well-being.’

NigComHealth, an AI powered innovation for telehealth in Nigeria would enhance the capacity of healthcare professionals and solve the challenges faced by the inadequacies and inequitable distribution of health service delivery.

This, especially in a country “where only 39,914 operational hospitals and clinics are available, with a physician attending to more than 5,000 patients, against the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of one doctor to 600 patients.”

This is one of the numerous prospects that Artificial Intelligence (AI) offers for digital access, information systems and human capital development in Nigeria today.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Human Capital Development

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a simulation of human intellectual processes by machines, particularly in computer-controlled systems and it is one of the modern world’s fastest developing technologies. It is constantly changing our world. Artificial Intelligence powered innovations perform tasks requiring human intelligence, efficiently and effectively. Similarly, AI applications are being used in our daily lives and various sectors of the economy including finance, automation, security, business and healthcare, with promising trends in the market.

In a nationwide report, the global market size for Artificial Intelligence (AI) was estimated to be approximately US$ 100 billion and it is expected to grow twentyfold by 2030. Moreover, leading innovative organizations such as iCarbonX, Insilico, Infervision and Airdoc have leveraged AI digital technologies for analytics, speech recognition, robotics and cloud computing to improve operational performance and enhance maximum production.

Massive Implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Start-ups

A survey conducted by The Cable in 2021, reveals that Nigerian start-ups raised over US$1 billion, contributing significantly to the growth of the nation’s economy. Indeed, the world of work is changing.

Speaking at a tech conference on the 28th of July, 2023 in Lagos, the former Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Professor Umar Danbatta affirmed that Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools and Machine Learning (ML) frameworks for start-ups have the potential to foster business innovation, increase revenue and revolutionize industries for growing the digital economy.

In Nigeria today, AI technologies are being used by Fintech start-ups for biometric verification, data collection and analysing complex decisions accurately via predictive algorithms. Flutterwave, a start-up company in Nigeria uses Artificial Intelligence technology for fraud prevention and detection, electronic payments, tax auditing, cybersecurity and digital identity.

An application of AI for a remote-controlled drone delivery of blood to a health facility in Kauru, Kaduna State, Nigeria.
(Photo Attribution: ThisDay Live 27 June, 2023)

An application of AI for a remote-controlled drone delivery of blood to a health facility in Kauru, Kaduna State, Nigeria.

(Photo Attribution: ThisDay Live 27 June, 2023)

For instance, a case was recorded in the country, on the 6th of March, 2023 when the Fintech company “debunked reports that its account was hacked and the sum of N2.9 billion equivalent to approximately US$2800000 was lost to fraudsters.”

Furthermore, ChatGPT – ‘Chat’ and ‘Generative Pre-Trained Transformer’ an AI enabled tool, generates human-like responses to queries and automate many repetitive and time-consuming tasks for administrative operations in Nigerian start-ups. Such innovative technology would identify and generate potential leads, promote real-time data and enhance a conversational approach to authenticate identity systems for data protection and security.

In addition, artificial intelligence is also transforming how HR practitioners are automating their processes and data to make better decisions about their most valuable asset – people. In fact, for Nigerian start-ups, AI powered technologies and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms can automate the entire recruitment process, onboard new employees and enhance skill assessment. Such would promote a highly skilled and productive workforce in the nation.

Applied Artificial Intelligence for Digital Health in Nigeria

Digital health is fundamentally an intersection between technology and healthcare delivery.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is under the scheme of digital health in the transformation of health start-ups in Nigeria. Its applications include Health Information Technology, Telehealth, Telemedicine, Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), Augmented (AR) and Virtual Reality. It would not be out of place to assert that the healthcare sector in Nigeria today is rapidly evolving from human oriented to a technology-oriented form.

A report recently released by Amaka in June 2023 affirms that, “at Kauru Rural Hospital in Kaduna, Zipline, an AI powered drone start-up made a first drone delivery of blood that helped to save the life of an emergency patient brought to the hospital.”

We had a lengthy interview session with Dr. John Adeoye, a Postdoctoral Fellow and an AI-education expertise at The University of Hong Kong – to deeply understand the impacts of Artificial Intelligence (AI) innovations for health start-ups in Nigeria.

A detailed question and answer session with Dr. John Adeoye (JA):

Reporter: Are AI technology innovations going to take over our jobs completely in Nigeria or create new jobs as a result of this digitization?

(JA): This has been an ongoing concern for workers, especially in developing countries, on whether AI will take over their jobs completely or not. However, the first thing to note is that there are three levels of Artificial Intelligence. These includes Artificial Narrow Intelligence, Artificial General Intelligence and Artificial Super Intelligence.

For narrow intelligence, which is the state of AI right now, the data that is fed into the AI model is basically to perform a single task, so they do not have human level cognition yet, compared to general intelligence where the Artificial Intelligence actually has human level cognition and knows how to perform wide variety of tasks just like humans.

For super intelligence, AI is deemed to be smarter than humans. In fact, humans cannot even comprehend how the AI works, and it may take decades for humans to get to the super intelligence level.

Overall, it depends on the sector. For instance, some sectors are very key and they require human interventions and there are some sectors that AI may completely take over what those individuals do. Specifically, for healthcare, it is impossible for AI to take over completely.

In fact, AI will act as a decision support tool for healthcare system. But, for other sectors such as writing manuscripts, AI may replace their jobs. However, the beauty of this technology is that AI will also create new jobs. For example, AI needs data for anybody that is developing an AI model, thus a job creating avenue for data engineers and data scientists.

Reporter: How can health start-ups in Nigeria learn from healthcare companies in China and leverage on their AI technologies for the Agenda 2063; The Africa We Want?

(JA): There are a lot of opportunities for health start-ups in Nigeria to learn anywhere, not just China. First, it can be a bilateral agreement or partnership where a staff of a health start-up in Nigeria goes on an internship or training to learn a few from these companies or vice versa, to enhance mentorship and leverage on these emerging technologies.

Secondly, investment is also another great platform for health start-ups in Nigeria. Start-up companies can partner together such that whatever AI technology is being developed locally, Chinese industries can invest in it, thereby strengthening the bilateral cooperation between these two countries.

Reporter: Since, we are the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, how do we work with AI innovations effectively and efficiently for sustainable national development?

(JA): AI models are being developed, to make work in the industry, more productive, effective and efficient. In Nigeria, the first way to start, is to incorporate more of these digital systems in our workplaces and industries.

More fundamentally, a shift in our mentality on AI innovations, for individual healthcare companies and start-ups is essential, especially on the prospects that AI technologies offers in their work day activities for enhancing socio-economic growth and promoting sustainable national development.

Reporter: What are the risks involved and the safeguard measures to mitigate the risks involved in leveraging AI for digital health and telemedicine.

(JA): One of the risks involved in using AI is misinformation. For instance, if an AI platform or model is not properly accessed for its accuracy, validity, sensitivity, specificity, precision, yielding index, or even the stability of the model, to perform a particular task. Then, it is unclear what benefit the AI model would serve for that task. Consequently, if you do not properly assess it for such task, then you are using it at your own risks.

Another risk involved is consumer privacy. AI digital technologies can collect data and information from people. This can also create loss of privacy for users.

Also, there are currently no clear legal regulations for AI models right now. Moreover, if there are errors or inappropriate tasks in the models. Who do we counter, – the models, the developers or the programmers?

However, mitigating these risks, has to do with transparency in cyber and digital policy for human rights. More fundamentally, transparency on the part of the government and developers – private entities, to ensure that the personal information of individuals is being used appropriately. Also, increase in the use of legal regulations for defending their digital rights.

Reporter: What are the prospects of using AI innovations for predicting the risk of health-related challenges in the digital world?

(JA): AI acts as a decision support system for health start-ups. Why do we need a decision support system as a clinician? First, on who should get treatments, who should be referred or recommended based on the digital data from historical patients. Secondly, AI can integrate all these data together and make recommendations on medical solutions for health challenges.

Reporter: What are the possibilities of using AI technologies to create mobile health apps and digital health platforms for quality healthcare development?

(JA): The possibility of using AI technologies for digital health, telemedicine and mobile health is 100% guaranteed to complement humans for healthcare development, especially with innovation, creativity and the ability of individuals to adapt to these technologies. However, the backend models for creating these AI powered digital systems must have been validated for health care task in Nigeria.

Reporter: Has there been breakthroughs recorded in Science and Technology recently, in the possibility of using AI in administering and developing vaccines?

(JA): For vaccines in terms of immunotherapy, it’s an ongoing development. AI models are being developed to understand how vaccines work, find possible identification for vaccines for tumor growth, tumor invasion and tumor aggressiveness.

Furthermore, they can also be used to combine vaccines together properly to administer and prompt immune systems to fight against viruses in the body.

Reporter: As an Oncologist, who specialises on Oral Cancer, how can AI-web tool for digital health prevent Oral Cancer in Nigeria?

(JA): AI web tool definitely plays a central role in digital identity for cancer treatment. It can identify the people in the communities that need oral screening based on their lifestyle information, behaviour or any predictive variable fed into AI digital systems. In addition, for those with high risks, if they understand their own risks themselves, these AI web tools can make good lifestyle decisions for early stage treatment.

Reporter: How can AI-web tool facilitate effective decision making in digital health?

(JA): There are different categories of doctors, some are specialists and others are general practitioners. For general practitioners, they are less experienced to manage some conditions, that may require specialists. Thus, AI web tool are being designed to assess or give a second opinion to general practitioners to determine who needs referral to these specialists or to the general clinic for monitoring, especially for those living in rural communities. Also, for specialists, AI can promote effective communication from clinical experience on who needs treatment based on the data collated from their digital identity.

Reporter: What are the implications of adopting AI for digital identity, telehealth and the world economy?

(JA): AI can enhance productivity for the workforce in the healthcare service. It saves patients time when they visit the clinic for treatment, maximise efficiency in government service for the public sector and ultimately boost the economy via diagnostic accuracy and data security. Also, it reduces subjectivity and provide measures for objective opinions to predict performance for healthcare workers.

Furthermore, Oketade Ifeoluwa – another AI expert who works at the University College Hospital (UCH) in Nigeria reveals the significance of Artificial Intelligence and digital innovations for generating the data sets of patients in health start-ups.

According to Oketade, “AI for digital identity is already operational in terms of paperless documentations in many private health start-ups in Nigeria but it can be better in many government laboratories in Nigeria.”

He also gave an example of how patients walk into the clinic, they register computer-based or via biometric verification, once they are moving from the registration points into the clinic, the clinical director already has a detailed information of the individual on his own desk, even without seeing the person. In an interview with him, Oketade believes that the challenges facing AI for digital identity, data and technology at the University College Hospital (UCH) for healthcare capacity development in Nigeria, are in the form of managerial.

Oketade claims that “UCH is said to be premiere and the oldest health institution in Nigeria.” However, with the diversity of healthcare professionals on digital health, cloud computing and big data, most practitioners do not really have a better working understanding of how AI works presently.” In addition, “AI when properly harnessed would reduce to a large extent medical tourism and stem the exodus of doctors due to the menace of brain drain,” he further stated.

Oketade also lamented on the insufficient budgetary allocations for digital innovations in Nigeria leading to staff not being motivated to maximise Artificial Intelligence (AI) for healthcare transformation in the nation.

However, he believes that in leveraging AI and digital automations for quality healthcare delivery in Nigeria, we must keep on informing the government, civil society and research institutions through the media, investigative reporting, conferences and paper works, that AI is an important thing that cannot be ignored, if we must improve the standard of digital health in Nigeria.

Ahmed Abdulkareem, a Youth and Community Development Enthusiast in Nigeria, also “believes that with the digital National Identification Number (NIN) in the country, Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria can be improved massively for the health sector in the nation.”

According to him, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) has about 15 to 20% coverage in Nigeria. Moreover, every citizen with their NHIS number with the NIN can be linked, such that these can automatically generate the data record of individuals, predict the number of people living in a community and those who accurately need medical care.

In addition, AI automated systems are currently being maximized for remote monitoring and telehealth for detecting heartbeat rate, blood pressure rate, especially for people using smart watch and mobile health apps at the comfort of their homes in rural communities to identify potential medical treatment.” Ahmed stated.

However, by and large, “certain drawbacks to AI and digital automations in start-ups, particularly for AI-assisted healthcare development in Nigeria include a regular and stable power supply – which is still lacking, poor internet network in marginalised communities and the high illiteracy level within the populace,” he affirmed.

As we journey further in the 21st century, the potential of AI and innovative technology for healthcare delivery and start-up companies in Nigeria is limitless with the growing urban population, supportive business environment, changing economic landscapes and various applications within and across the country. Thus, AI innovations when integrated within start-ups companies generally, would create tremendous opportunities for digital identity, data security and technology advancements in growing people and growing economies for the ‘Africa We Want’.

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