Health and Healthcare Systems

How cloud computing is helping close the health equity gap

FILE PHOTO: health - Doctor Charles Eblin prepares to take care of a girl with malaria at his clinic Centre de sante sainte Marie de Marcory in Abidjan, Ivory Coast October 7, 2021. REUTERS/Luc Gnago/File Photo

The pandemic has accelerated the use of cloud technologies in healthcare. Image: REUTERS/Luc Gnago.

Maggie Carter
Global Lead, AWS Global Social Impact Team, Amazon Web Services
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This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare

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  • There are huge disparities in health outcomes between countries at different ends of the economic spectrum.
  • Organizations are using cloud-based innovations to help address the health gap.
  • From diagnostic treatments to democratizing access to care – technology is shaping the future of healthcare.

The global need for health equity is rightly receiving increased attention as new evidence demonstrates a stark contrast in health outcomes between countries with varying levels of resources. Findings from the World Health Organization’s research on Social Determinants of Health noted a 19-year difference in life expectancy between developed countries and resource-constrained ones.

The reasons for life expectancy differences are complex, transcending genetics, socioeconomic status, education, environmental conditions, and many other factors. That’s why health equity is not something that any one government or organization can tackle alone.

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Cloud computing technologies could make a substantial impact in this area. To help address this issue, in 2021, the AWS Health Equity Initiative was launched, a three-year, $40 million commitment to support organizations globally that are inventing and scaling new ways to promote equal access to health care and address social determinants of health.

“Closing the health equity gap will require new, better approaches to providing care,” said Max Peterson, Vice President of Worldwide Public Sector at AWS.

“Innovations range from a mobile technology-based taxi service for women in labour needing emergency care in Tanzania and Lesotho to genomic sequencing technology making it easier to address COVID-19 and other diseases in Africa.”

Promoting equity through better diagnostics

Despite their critical role in treatment, diagnostics are consistently overlooked and underfunded, particularly in addressing primary healthcare concerns, including diabetes and hypertension. Non-communicable medical conditions account for approximately 70% of deaths globally, with a disproportionate number occurring in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Over the past two years, spurred by the pandemic, organizations have been using the cloud to power new diagnostic technologies to tackle COVID-19. Looking beyond the pandemic, there is a need for sustained diagnostic innovation across a wide range of diseases, and this new focus area is designed to address that.

Hyrax Biosciences is one such company using the cloud to bring diagnostic treatments to LMICs. The South Africa-based bioinformatics software company is enabling the analysis of the genome of COVID-19 to understand better and track the progress of the virus in Africa. This allows national and international health authorities to monitor infections, quickly identify and understand new variants and take rapid action. Hyrax is scaling their genomic sequencing technology to address other diseases, including HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, which disproportionately affect individuals in developing countries.

“Next-generation sequencing data is both large-scale and computation-heavy. We are able to process large amounts of raw genomic data in hours, not days or weeks. The faster we can identify the COVID-19 variants spreading in Africa, the more quickly we can understand the diversity of the disease across the continent and provide the right care to as many people as possible,” said Dr Simon Travers, CEO at Hyrax Biosciences.

Democratizing access to care

Beyond diagnostics, we’ve also seen big steps forward in tackling inequalities in treatment and care.

For example, in Seattle, Washington-based startup Hurone AI is democratizing access to high-quality cancer prevention and care. The company is building AI-powered applications derived from data sources and algorithms from people of African descent to bridge the gaps of cancer care outcomes.

Oncologists are scarce in Africa. Estimates suggest there are between 10 and 20 oncologists in Rwanda to serve a population of nearly 13 million. Hurone AI’s Gukiza app enables oncologists to provide remote patient monitoring and tele-oncology throughout the country. The Gukiza app allows oncologists to communicate with patients via digital devices or text messages, increasing their ability to provide care to more patients in more places.

“Using the cloud, we are able to scale the Gukiza app, address the African cancer data gap, and better support patients throughout their cancer treatment journey. By increasing treatment compliance and completion through Gukiza, we reduce costs from side effects-related hospitalizations, and increase survival rates,” said Dr Kingsley Ndoh, Founder and Chief Strategist at Hurone AI.

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Difficulties with accessing health services extend to primary medical care as well. Emergency response personnel are frequently called upon to step in to provide support for non-urgent cases when a patient lacks transport or easy access to primary care. Telemedicine provider eVisit, based in Arizona, is helping emergency personnel offer telehealth services, thus giving underserved populations access to the care they need without requiring an emergency visit to the hospital.

Access to the eVisit virtual care platform is available with just a few taps on tablets carried by emergency medical technicians to facilitate live, on-site, telehealth visits between patients who call 911 and emergency medicine physicians.

“The cost and the ability to get to a point of care facility can be real challenges for vulnerable and underserved groups, and telehealth can play a critical role in bridging that gap. Our platform is designed to make it easy for emergency personnel to get patients the help they need and avoid unnecessary trips to the hospital,” explains Juli Stover, Chief Strategy Officer, eVisit.

Closing the health equity gap

Great work is underway, but there is still more work to be done to close the health equity gap. We will continue to find ways to support organizations use the power of the cloud to tackle this important global challenge.

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