World’s first AI health guidance app in Swahili launched by Ada Health
- Free symptom assessment app will help improve guidance for seeking healthcare for more than 100m people in East Africa
- Localised app developed as part of Ada’s Global Health Initiative in partnership with Fondation Botnar
Berlin, London & New York, 19th November 2019 - The first artificial intelligence-based (“AI”) symptom-assessment application to be made available in Swahili has been launched today, unlocking access to health information and advice for more than 100 million people seeking healthcare in East Africa.
The app, developed by Ada Health, combines a world-class medical knowledge database with intelligent reasoning technology to help users understand what might be causing their symptoms, as well as providing localised guidance about what they should do next. In doing so, the app aims to empower patients to make informed decisions about their own health, while also complementing and supporting existing healthcare services, doctors, and clinics.
Globally, four billion people - more than half the world’s population - lack access to basic health services, with the disadvantages of this global health challenge often disproportionately experienced by people in low- and middle-income countries. East Africa is a region that is acutely affected by this issue. By offering an AI-powered symptom-assessment medical application in Swahili, a language spoken by over 100 million people across the likes of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique and Somalia, Ada hopes to significantly improve access to quality health information and advice, particularly for young people and families.
The Swahili version of the Ada app has been developed as part of Ada’s Global Health Initiative (GHI), a long-term programme to help address the global shortfall in health workers - expected to be over 12.9 million by 2035¹ - by combining artificial intelligence, human medical expertise and the power of mobile technology to deliver access to health care and guidance at scale. Ada’s partners in developing and localising the app are Fondation Botnar, a Swiss foundation focused on improving the health and wellbeing of young people in low- and-middle-income countries through technology, and the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania.
The app is available on both iOS and Android.
Adapting Ada’s AI to East Africa’s unique healthcare challenges
Ada has worked with local partners, clinicians and healthcare organisations to ensure that the app is adapted to the linguistic, cultural and medical context in each region.
In particular, developing an AI app which could provide meaningful health advice to patients in East Africa required overcoming several unique challenges:
- Linguistic nuances: In East Africa, English is in many cases the primary language of medicine, with doctors trained and taught in English. As a result, many medical and anatomical terms simply do not have direct translations in Swahili, and as is the case in other languages and regions, individual health workers typically develop informal ways of explaining medical conditions or terms to patients. To ensure that the Ada app could be used and understood by both medical professionals and patients alike required crucial collaboration with local partners and experts.
- Adapting to local medical conditions: Ada optimised 160 disease models to ensure that the app would correctly factor in the conditions and symptoms that are more common in Tanzania and East Africa than other parts of the world. This included many maternal and child health issues, chronic heart and mental health-related conditions and infectious diseases like malaria, HIV and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis that are more prevalent in the region.
- Integrating with healthcare providers in Tanzania: Ada and its partners are also working closely with communities and health workers in underserved areas, to lay the groundwork with the aim of integrating Ada into the local health ecosystem in the future.
Ada is also working with local communities to conduct in-depth, on the ground research to help identify which individuals can most benefit from Ada, as well as to inform future enhancements and adaptations to the app.
“Four billion people across the world lack access to basic health services, and many countries - including Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia and Mozambique - have fewer than 1 physician per 1,000 people²,” said Hila Azadzoy, Managing Director of the Ada Health Global Health Initiative. “Thanks to the widespread adoption of mobile technology, there is a huge opportunity for AI to help tackle this issue by improving access for patients and empowering clinicians to have the greatest possible impact. However, to be truly effective, these technologies must be adapted to the medical, cultural and linguistic conditions in each region. Working closely with Muhimbili University allowed us to do this for our Swahili app and we’ll be continuing to partner with local experts in East Africa to identify more ways that we can improve access to healthcare.”
“There is a significant healthcare shortage in East Africa and it will be very difficult to address this just by training more health workers and doctors,” said Dr. Nahya Salim, Head of Pediatrics at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. “We can solve this problem and make healthcare accessible to every family is by making use of the latest technology. By working with the Ada team to make its app available in Swahili and to adapt it to the medical conditions and symptoms prevalent in this region, we’re taking an important step in guiding millions of people towards seeking care.”
Stefan Germann, CEO, Fondation Botnar, said: “AI has huge potential to help improve the efficiency and quality of our healthcare systems through more personalised and predictive care; we believe it is vital that these benefits are available to everyone, globally. Apps like Ada can make patients, especially young people, informed stakeholders in their own health; building digital health tools specifically for the demands and local requirements in low- and middle-income countries is therefore essential to achieving health equity. We are proud to be launching the Swahili version of the Ada app and look forward to further collaboration to deliver on our shared vision of using technology to support patients, no matter where they live."
Through its collaboration with Fondation Botnar, Ada is also today launching its health app in Romanian - the first AI health app of its kind to be localised for that language and region. The Romanian version of Ada includes 20 disease models adapted for the region and was created in collaboration with local doctors.
Notes to Editors:
The challenges of adapting Ada in Swahili - two examples:
- For many medical terms, words are simply transposed into Swahili when translated from English: an i is put at the end; c’s are switched into k’s, but the word is not fully translated. For example, the translation for inflammation is inflamesheni, but people that don’t speak English wouldn’t necessarily use that term or know what it means. In order to address this, Ada includes an explanation for the meaning of inflamesheni in Swahili in brackets.
- Not all diseases have Swahili names, particularly rare diseases. Some examples are: acute graft vs. host disease, acute intermittent porphyria, complement deficiencies andperiodic fever, aphthous stomatitis, pharyngitis and adenitis (PFAPA) syndrome. For these conditions, the English name is used in the Ada app, and a detailed Swahili explanation is provided in the description of what the condition is when a user clicks on the condition name.
About Ada Health
Ada is a global health company founded by doctors, scientists, and industry pioneers to create new possibilities for personal health. Ada’s core system connects medical knowledge with intelligent technology to help all people actively manage their health and medical professionals to deliver effective care. Ada is proud to collaborate with leading health systems and global non-profit organizations to carry out this vision. The #1 medical app in 140 countries, 15 million assessments have been completed since its global launch in 2016. To learn more, visit https://ada.com.
About the Ada Global Health Initiative
Ada’s Global Health Initiative (GHI) is a long-term programme to help address the global shortfall in health workers by combining artificial intelligence, human medical expertise and the power of mobile technology to deliver access to health guidance at scale.
The Global Health Initiative contributes to the United Nations’s Sustainable Development Goals by using Ada’s technology for global good. It welcomes partnerships with local NGOs, LMIC governments, and global health organizations to help increase access to personalized health information and improve primary healthcare delivery for those who need it most.
As well as Fondation Botnar, Ada’s GHI project partners include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest private US foundation, with which it is carrying out research to explore the efficacy of AI-powered self-assessment technology in recommending specific diagnostic tests and improving patient outcomes for the Foundation’s priority geographies and diseases.
About Fondation Botnar
Fondation Botnar is a Swiss-based foundation which champions the use of AI and digital technology to improve the health and wellbeing of children and young people in growing urban environments. To achieve this, the foundation supports research, catalyses diverse partners, and invests in scalable solutions around the world.