IT News Africa recently spoke to Ariel Beery, the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of MobileODT, in an interview which looks to how the use of next-generation smart medical devices can impact healthcare in Africa.
MobileODT is inspired by creating the next generation of smart medical devices. They look to combine the power of biomedical optics with the computational capabilities and connectivity of mobile phones. This allows their connected, intelligent medical systems to be used everywhere, under nearly any condition.
Ariel Beery is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of MobileODT, and is dedicated to making medical care available to the billions who have access to mobile phones, but not to physicians. Before co-founding MobileODT, Ariel co-founded and served as the Global CEO of the PresenTense Group, an accelerator for social ventures that has launched over 600 social ventures, and now has franchise operations in sixteen cities around the world. Ariel has a B.A in Economics and Political Science from Columbia University, a MPA (Masters in Public Administration) from New York University (NYU) in Management, and an MA from NYU in Jewish Studies. Ariel teaches at the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herziliya (IDC), and lectures in workshops about social business and startup development around the world.
IT News Africa spoke to Beery about the cervical selfie device, the impact such devices could have on Africa, the biggest challenges facing similar technology in Africa and how long it will take for this sort of technology to become the norm on the African continent.
1) Can you explain what the cervical ‘selfie’ medical device does?
In a nutshell, MobileODT uses mobile phones supported by Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud infrastructure to detect cancer. It is the latest tool in remote healthcare.
In a typical first world/developed city, a woman enters a doctor’s office and requests a screening for cervical cancer – a common type of cancer caused by the human papillomavirus. Through a regular Pap smear test, her results will be returned within a matter of days. Should any irregularities be found, she can immediately undergo early-stage treatment. Keeping in mind that cervical cancer can be conquered if detected early and regular pap smears can prevent this epidemic. By the same token, cervical cancer can be considered as one of the most fatal types of cancer if the diagnosis is left for too late.
This particular patient’s story does not always play out in some of the more remote and inaccessible parts of Africa. In fact, access to expert-level care remains out of reach for over 5 billion people around the world. With little or no access to specialised equipment, physicians and social funding, communities are now turning to technology to assist with the delivery of much-needed healthcare.
The EVA System by MobileODT combines the diagnostic accuracy of a colposcope with AWS cloud-based communication and the processing capacity of mobile phones to enable even remote practitioners to conduct visual assessments at an expert level. Now healthcare practitioners from anywhere can identify initial growth visuals, which can be shared through the cloud with any healthcare worker on the planet to perform an expert level visual-based diagnosis to catch the disease early enough to treat. Underpinning this technology is AWS cloud. We selected the AWS cloud because it was fast and easy to set up and run the system, and because of the fact that it is easily scalable. The system provides high availability and fault recovery and complies with HIPAA regulations related to health care. These are all built-in features of the cloud, tools and services provided by AWS.
As an affordable, portable alternative to the larger, clinic-bound, and unconnected medical devices (colposcopes) currently being used for cervical cancer diagnosis, the EVA System leverages the power of Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructure to extend the ability of a health system to reach out to women without geographic boundaries, overcoming many of the challenges currently facing the extension of care. Today we are literally using the AWS cloud to save lives.
2. Where are these devices being used?
MobileODT’s EVA System is currently being used at the Africa Cancer Institute at Stellenbosch University, Cape Town and by doctors at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg through clinical trials. This began in July 2017.
Additionally, here are some examples from throughout sub-Saharan Africa: Partnering with the Federal Republic of Ethiopia Ministry of Health, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, and Doctors with Africa- CUAMM- the EVA system is deployed as a tool for improving visual inspection during routine cervical-cancer screening in health facilities and mobile outreaches in Ethiopia. The effort improves supportive supervision and enhances the capability to collect and analyze important data among District and/or Regional health officials, Ministry of Health staff, and program managers.
In Kenya, MobileODT, MedicMobile, and KMET are working to increase outreach, education, and engagement to increase knowledge and uptake of reproductive health services. Following screening with the EVA System, patients receive ongoing communication for referral, health education, and positive health behaviour communication messaging.
Since 2014, MobileODT and Grounds for Health have partnered to provide ongoing supporting supervision after training healthcare providers in conducting cervical cancer screening across rural Ethiopia. Their clinical consultants in Vermont are using the EVA portal in order to review images and perform reviews on the screenings.
3. What impact can devices such as this have on African healthcare in remote areas?
Cervical cancer screening, our first application, addresses a worldwide issue. Today 990 million women are screened annually for cervical cancer. In the developed world, women undergo routine cervical cancer screening at their gynaecologist or primary care physician. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), approximately 55 million women per year have a Pap Smear in the US, and approximately 4 million women per year (in the US) have an abnormal Pap result and advance to colposcopy, in which the cervix is magnified and examined and biopsies are taken to help with diagnosis.
However, it is estimated by the World Health Organization that 85% of women worldwide do not have adequate access to such screening leading to 275,000 attributable deaths annually – a tragedy because cervical cancer takes 20 years to develop, and can be treated for less than $28 and in less than 40 minutes if caught in the first 5 years.
MobileODT’s technology is a game-changing solution to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer by expanding expert-level screening capabilities to health providers in any setting. Any trained health professional can use the EVA System (RN, NP, PA, MD).
Cervical cancer remains one of the largest, unaddressed global health challenges across Sub-Saharan Africa. While cervical cancer is easily detectable and treatable in its early stages in a single patient visit without the need for expensive and ongoing treatment, only 6% of women are screened. Compounded with a limited state of healthcare infrastructure and human resources, detection of cervical cancer occurs most frequently during the advanced stages of cancer.
Because cervical cancer screening is a core component of reproductive health care, investment in preventive services for cervical cancer leads to an improvement of health outcomes for women across Sub-Saharan Africa, and translates to cost-savings for the individuals, families, the health system, and the countries at large. Anticipated changes to the broader community include improved health outcomes for women and their families, a more skilled workforce, building local capacity through mentorship, and rapidly increasing access to cervical cancer screening for communities by including EVA in existing family planning, HIV, and maternal health efforts.
4. What are the biggest challenges in making this sort of technology the norm in remote areas across Africa?
The EVA System is incredibly easy to deploy; most of the clinicians using the EVA Systems received it in the mail, have never met a member of MobileODT, and have received their training through our website. Connectivity is also less and less of a problem; most of the 26 countries in which we work have robust cellular networks and therefore users can access our AWS-hosted services directly from their EVA System.
5. How long do you think it will take for technology such as this to be a part of common practice across remote areas in Africa?
We believe that over the next decade every person will see a connected clinician, one using the EVA System or its peers to ensure that high-quality healthcare is available in every place on the planet.