The Novartis Foundation: Connecting minds, fostering innovation, and empowering through creativity

By Lucy Setian, Digital & AI Stakeholder Engagement Lead, Novartis Foundation

The first Data Science & AI Summit (DASH) in Africa would be a first step in building a regional ecosystem for research and innovation that will empower the next generation of entrepreneurs to leverage technology for sustainable and impactful change in their communities.

Digital health plays an integral role throughout the Novartis Foundation programs. We believe digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) are key enablers that allow for people-centered, integrated, scalable and sustainable health and care solutions. Last year, we decided to sharpen our focus and concentrate fully on this emerging challenge: How can digital and data reimagine health and care systems around the world, in particular in low- and middle-income countries.

We are convinced that one of the most promising digital health strategies is to link existing, widely available technologies such as mobile phones, with cutting-edge technologies, such as AI. This opens new portals to transform the way health and care is delivered. We believe that digital and AI are the key enabling technologies allowing for people-centered, integrated, scalable and sustainable solutions.

Mobile technology is the fastest adopted technology of all time, with mobile cellular penetration exploding from less than 1% in 1991, to 99.7% in 2016. There are an estimated 5.6 billion smartphones in use on the planet this year by 2020, with around 90% of growth coming from low- and middle-income countries. Enabling connectivity and dynamic interaction, it is an accessible tool empowering community health workers, patient self-management, improvement of access to and quality of care, and offering real-time data for better decision making in health and more accurate resource allocation. A good example is our urban hypertension initiative Better Hearts Better Cities.

We believe that digital and AI are the key enabling technologies allowing for people-centered, integrated, scalable and sustainable solutions.

For healthcare practitioners and life sciences professionals, AI is an invaluable tool to extract insights from data to make more informed decisions. While for patients, it offers more personalized, preventative and even predictive care, while it also empowers self-management. In this new paradigm, the Novartis Foundation and Microsoft are partnering on a novel AI-enabled digital health tool that aims to speed up leprosy detection by analyzing images of skin lesions. This could ultimately lead to a reality where any person in any location can photograph and upload images of lesions to the Cloud – and then receive advice as to whether they should visit a medical specialist.

In sync with our programmatic work we also have the honor of chairing the Working Group on Digital Health of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development since 2016. This year, we are excited to be working on a report about AI in global health with the vision of generating knowledge on successes, challenges, and learning from data & AI solutions in health. One of the key outcomes of the report will be the creation of an AI maturity framework, helping accelerate progress in health care and delivery in low and middle-income countries.

We look forward to learning from the transformative solutions that will be shared by the DASH community.

The first Data Science & AI Summit in Rwanda will be a unique platform to exchange ideas and a catalyst for reimagining how healthcare systems can be transformed by Digital and AI.

Join us building momentum in this journey of utilizing Data Science and AI in Africa, let’s accelerate the path forward together.