The power of AI for health equity

December 6, 2023 by PATH

Artificial intelligence (AI) has immense potential to radically transform health systems, but implementing AI comes with ethical risks.

A technician at a chest x-ray laboratory in Nagpur, India, updates patient details in a computer-aided detection software program before running a cloud-based artificial intelligence screening for tuberculosis. Photo: Stop TB Partnership.

A technician at a laboratory in Nagpur, India, updates patient details in a computer-aided detection software program before running a cloud-based artificial intelligence screening for tuberculosis. Photo: Stop TB Partnership.

In an era of groundbreaking technological advancement, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have emerged as powerful tools with immense potential to transform global health equity, especially in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). By harnessing these innovations, PATH aims to bridge critical gaps in health care operations, diagnosis, and treatment.

AI can support health workers with timely insights that inform better decisions and improve patient outcomes—even in resource-constrained settings. At the health systems level, AI has the capacity to enhance interventions like disease surveillance, supply chain optimization, and diagnostics, thereby accelerating progress toward health for all.

Challenges and barriers to the safe, effective, and ethical deployment of AI

While AI technology holds immense promise, it also presents inherent challenges that must be navigated thoughtfully and ethically. There’s a risk of exacerbating existing health disparities if AI solutions are not carefully tailored to local contexts and needs. Unintended biases in AI algorithms, limitations in the availability, quality, and accuracy of local training data, and inadequate privacy protocols could perpetuate inaccuracies and inequities in diagnosis and treatment. Overreliance on AI without sufficient capacity-strengthening and oversight could lead to loss of human touch and scientific rigor in health care delivery. Striking the right balance between these considerations is crucial to ensure AI technologies truly serve the goal of health equity.

“Without critical digital infrastructure and standards, AI-based products will go unused or do more harm than good. We see vast potential for AI and are committed to the upfront investments to ensure it works—and works for everyone.”
— Bilal Mateen, Executive Director of Digital Square, PATH

PATH’s AI approach

Recognizing the extraordinary opportunities for and risks to health equity that AI presents, PATH is aligning and coordinating our operational and programmatic work in AI for health. We are taking into account our institutional AI governance and how we can strengthen PATH’s capacities to implement, support, and use principled AI approaches in our work. We are committed to an ethical approach that maximizes the benefits of AI while addressing potential pitfalls.

Building on the PATH strategy, our approach focuses on three overarching principles:

Strengthening capacity and innovation

PATH is dedicated to fostering inclusive innovation in AI by offering support to governments and local private-sector entrepreneurs. We aim to equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary for the effective development, regulation, and utilization of AI technologies. Through comprehensive training and capacity-strengthening initiatives, we will create a sustainable ecosystem that promotes innovation and responsible AI development and deployment to advance health for all.

Given the rapidly evolving nature of AI, PATH is invested in fostering a culture of continuous learning, supporting stakeholders to proactively engage with AI for health and harnessing its transformative potential to advance health goals, while effectively managing the evolving risks. This approach particularly equips LMICs to navigate the dynamic AI landscape effectively.

Partnering for implementation

In light of PATH's extensive presence in countries and regions worldwide, we possess a deep understanding of local contexts, challenges, and opportunities. This understanding enables us to forge close partnerships with country stakeholders, facilitating the implementation of culturally and socially appropriate AI solutions. We emphasize the importance of contextualizing AI approaches to meet unique local needs and their integration into existing health systems for scale and optimal impact.

Our strategy also places a strong emphasis on robust community engagement throughout AI design and deployment. This approach promotes sustainability by leveraging community resources and capabilities. We are committed to transparent communication, involvement of local champions, and adaptive scale-up, empowering communities to leverage AI for ensuring health equity.

Safeguarding against risks

The principles of privacy and confidentiality are non-negotiable in our AI implementations. Ensuring patient and health worker well-being is our top priority. To achieve this, we commit to implementing rigorous privacy and cybersecurity protocols, safeguarding patient and health worker data while preventing unauthorized access. Furthermore, we pledge to uphold ethical considerations throughout AI development and implementation. Our approach prioritizes accountability, inclusivity, and equitable outcomes for all individuals, regardless of their socio-economic background.

“In addition to building fit-for-purpose approaches and strong local capacity, PATH is committed to the ethical and responsible use of AI to reduce costs and efficiently deliver impact to our stakeholders.”
— Ben Aliwa, Chief Business and Finance Officer, PATH

From principles to action

PATH is dedicated to harnessing the potential of AI to propel health equity forward. By adhering to our principles, fostering collaboration, and prioritizing ethical considerations, we are confident in our ability to leverage AI as a force for positive change in health for all. We are committed to building strong partnerships in this important work and will continue to share updates and deep dives into PATH’s AI work and collaborations.

To start, we recently partnered with Microsoft’s AI for Good Team to co-author Using Artificial Intelligence to Advance Public Health. If you are interested in learning more, please reach out to us at