Using AI to advance the health of people and communities around the world

January 29, 2020 by PATH

On January 29, PATH joined Microsoft for the launch of the new AI for Health initiative.


At PATH, we work to improve public around the world through the power of innovations like artificial intelligence (AI). Photo: PATH

The initiative is designed to improve the health of individuals and communities around the world by supporting organizations that use artificial intelligence in their programs—organizations like PATH.

At PATH, we harness the power of frontier technologies like AI to create actionable health insights, find new efficiencies in health systems, and design novel approaches to monitoring, diagnosing, and treating disease. This partnership with Microsoft will further our ability to leverage AI to accelerate progress toward health equity.

"At PATH we're focused on using innovation to remove barriers so that everyone can receive the healthcare they need to thrive. Along with Microsoft, we believe there is tremendous power in using AI to help us see all communities, identify the diseases that affect them, and ultimately improve the way they deliver care. Only when every community has the opportunity to transform their health can all of humanity advance." - Jeff Bernson, Chief Data Officer, PATH

This article by John Kahan, Microsoft's Chief Data Analytics Officer, was originally posted at Microsoft on the Issues and showcases this work in action.

The health of people and communities around the world has been improving over time. For example, the steep decline in child and maternal mortality is a key indicator of positive momentum.

However, progress has not been equal across the globe, and there is a great need to focus on societal issues such as reducing health inequity and improving access to care for underserved populations. While researchers work to unlock life-saving discoveries and develop new approaches to pressing health issues, advancements in technology can help accelerate and scale new solutions.

That is why we are launching AI for Health, a new $40 million, five-year program to empower researchers and organizations with AI to improve the health of people and communities around the world. The program is underpinned with a strong foundation of privacy, security and ethics, and was developed in collaboration with leading health experts who are driving important medical initiatives. AI for Health is the fifth Microsoft AI for Good program, a $165 million initiative to empower researchers, nonprofits and organizations with advanced technologies to help unlock solutions to the biggest challenges facing society today.

The AI for Health initiative will focus on three key areas:

  • Quest for discovery. Accelerating medical research to advance prevention, diagnoses and treatment of diseases
  • Global health insights. Increasing our shared understanding of mortality and longevity to protect against global health crises
  • Health equity. Reducing health inequity and improving access to care for underserved populations

AI for Health is a philanthropic initiative that complements our broader work in Microsoft Healthcare. Through AI for Health, we will support specific nonprofits and academic collaboration with Microsoft’s leading data scientists, access to best-in-class AI tools and cloud computing, and select cash grants.

I am honored to lead AI for Health as part of my mission at Microsoft to fuse AI and data to address the world’s greatest challenges. As a tech company, it is our responsibility to ensure that organizations working on the most pressing societal issues have access to our latest AI technology and the expertise of our technical talent.

The Role of AI in Health

Over the last 30 years, health professionals around the world have reduced the number of annual child and maternal deaths by half. This monumental achievement demonstrates that great progress can be made when the global health community works together to create positive change, but we have an opportunity go further, to accelerate research and scale new solutions. This is where AI for Health can help.

Global child and maternal mortality

While great progress has been made in reducing child and maternal mortality, these improvements have not been equal across the globe. For example, Finland’s child mortality rate is 43.7 compared to Somalia’s at 1,899.2 per 100,000 live births, and the U.S. maternal mortality rate is 29.9 compared to Chad’s at 383.3 per 100,000 live births. Even in countries such as the U.S. that have made great progress in reducing child mortality, the probability of a child surviving to their fifth birthday depends heavily on the zip code where that child was born and varies dramatically by demographics.

Progress to reduce child and maternal mortality

There are real health issues in which AI can play an important role, and it may be our best option to accelerate research or expand the reach of new solutions, especially in areas that may lack attention from the commercial health sector.

For example, technology can help scale screenings for diabetic retinopathy – an issue facing 463 million people – to expand the reach of ophthalmologists, as there are only 210,000 in the world. Or in cases such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), where it is tough for organizations to invest in research given the size of the affected population, but there are huge knock-on effects to better understand and mitigate against general infant death.

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of preventable blindness

But to truly make an impact, we need to make sure that medical experts and researchers have access to the best technical talent possible, people who can provide their expertise to get the most value out of technology. Currently, AI talent is disproportionately concentrated in the tech industry.

More than 50% of AI professionals work in tech, and less than 5% are operating within the health and nonprofit sectors. As a result, medical researchers are hampered due to AI talent shortages worldwide.

AI professionals by sector worldwide

To succeed, we recognize there must be a balance between privacy and innovation. Therefore, we are working hard to deliver advanced privacy technologies based on the work Microsoft and academic researchers invented years ago, called differential privacy, which makes it possible to extract useful insights from datasets while guaranteeing the privacy of individuals. This is being undertaken in collaboration with Microsoft and Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science.

At Microsoft and across the tech industry, we also have a responsibility to ensure that new technology is human-centered and developed in a manner consistent with broadly held societal values. We are taking a principled and transparent approach to the development of technology, and we are hopeful the world will see what a compelling force for good AI can be when it’s used responsibly in partnership with innovative organizations.

Empowering Grantees

Microsoft has a unique opportunity to extend its contribution to the world by dedicating data science expertise, technology and resources to help solve pressing health issues. The AI for Health program will operate via collaborations that leverage our best AI tools and technical expertise from Microsoft to further quests for medical discovery, uncover global health insights and increase health equity across underserved populations. A handful of our current projects include:

We are also deepening our explorative partnerships with three leading nonprofits – BRAC, PATH and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – to propel additional advancements in the important fields of maternal mortality, tuberculosis treatment and pediatric cancer.

We look forward to working with researchers, academics, nonprofits, health industry professionals and policymakers around the world as we accelerate research and insights, such as the work we have undertaken in the SIDS space to improve data quality and collection with the Scarlett’s Sunshine on Unexpected Death Act. Together, we can improve the health of people and communities globally.