September 24, 2023

Artificial Intelligence Improves Eye Care Access in Africa

According to Orbis International, findings of a new research reveals that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in diabetic retinopathy screenings can boost the uptake as well as speed of patients in using referral services in Rwanda. This comes in handy for reducing the cases of loss of vision in the region caused by diabetes. Orbis stated that the study is the first of its kind globally that has explored the use of artificial intelligence when it comes to diabetic retinopathy as well as uptake of referrals. It said that the study also included results that can also be applicable to other settings of diabetic retinopathy screenings that are supported by AI.

Orbis International’s medical advisor, Ciku Mathenge stated that the number of people suffering from diabetes is growing all around the globe. The PhD holder also served as the principal investigator of the study, and said that Africa would see the largest increase in the number of people with diabetes by 2045, which is around 143%. He stated in a press release that implementing screen programs effectively for vision loss due to diabetes is very tough in low-resource areas. He revealed that the findings of their research proved that incorporating advanced technology like artificial intelligence into screenings of diabetic retinopathy is quite feasible.

Moreover, he added that it was also handy for identifying patients who are at risk of vision loss and can give them access to care, even in communities that are extremely vulnerable. The aim of the study was to determine if using the Cybersight AI tool developed by Orbis for detecting diabetic retinopathy would boost the uptake of referral services. The Rwandan International Institute of Ophthalmology (RIIO) assisted Orbis in conducting the routine screenings in 2021 at four diabetic clinics that were located in and close to Kigali, Rwanda.

Those who participated in the study had been recruited when they visited the diabetologist. They were at least 18 years or older and were patients of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The research’s results showed that there were greater chances of patients who were given feedback immediately based on the screenings conducted with the help of the AI, as opposed to those who got their reports after human grading that takes a couple of days. There were several reasons for this difference. First off, with immediate results, eye care teams were able to guide the patient about the importance of follow-up care.

Furthermore, immediate feedback also helped patients in visiting the ophthalmologist right away, which minimized the need for them to travel again. The instant report also comprises of images, which gives them a visual reminder of their condition and this prompts patients to accept referrals. Healthcare systems all over the globe are dealing with increasing demands because of the higher cases of diabetes and the complications associated with it. The possibility of vision loss in diabetic retinopathy can be reduced by 98% via screening, but countries with low resources do not have access to such infrastructure and this AI tool can be helpful in such situations.

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