- The equipment leverages retinal scanning technology to predict the risk or presence of complications arising from hypertension and diabetes as an alternative to invasive screening methods currently in use
AstraZeneca and the Ministry of Health have announced a donation of innovative screening equipment to the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH)/ The University of Nairobi (UON) and the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUHN). The equipment will enable recipient institutions to conduct research on the use of non-invasive technology to predict the risk of hypertension, diabetes, eye conditions and other medical conditions through retinal scanning.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for up to 70 percent of global deaths. [i] In Kenya, NCDs account for 39 percent of deaths. [ii] The 2015 national STEPwise survey revealed that 56 percent of Kenyans had never been screened for hypertension, while 87.8 percent of respondents had never been measured for raised blood sugar levels. [iii]
The equipment is aimed at strengthening the local research capacity for NCDs. It should improve the screening capacity for NCDs in the country by identifying the risk or presence of complications arising particularly from hypertension and diabetes through a single retinal scan instead of separate tests.
Speaking at a stakeholder event that marked the handover, Ashling Mulvaney, Vice President, Global Sustainability and Access to Healthcare, at AstraZeneca said: “Access to healthcare is a key sustainability pillar for AstraZeneca and we are continuously leveraging science to strengthen the resilience and sustainability of healthcare systems. We are glad to support this donation because it will potentially contribute to the future of non-invasive screening for NCDs by empowering the recipient research institutions here in Kenya. This project demonstrates the importance of innovative public-private partnerships (PPPs) by contributing to the Ministry of Health’s mission and National NCD Strategic Plan – to halt and reverse the growing burden of NCDs through effective partnerships – ensuring that Kenyans receive the highest attainable standard of NCD care in a sustainable, affordable and accessible manner.” ii
Traditionally, hypertension – commonly known as high blood pressure – is screened by using a blood pressure measuring device, attached to a cuff wrapped around the upper left arm. Diabetes, on the other hand, is screened for by taking a blood sample which is invasive, more costly, and requires a longer turnaround time for results. People who dislike needles may also avoid the procedure. It is hoped that through the equipment however, screening for hypertension and diabetes will be carried out by scanning an individual’s retina for both simultaneously. The image will then be processed through an online database stored in a cloud and compared to millions of other retinal scans by Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in order to predict whether the individual has any of the conditions. It is fast, non-invasive, and has potential to be more cost-effective, especially for large scale population level screenings in the longer term.
Hon. Mutahi Kagwe, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Health said: “I would like to convey my sincere gratitude to AstraZeneca for this research equipment and their commitment in ensuring ease of access to affordable and sustainable healthcare. The Ministry of Health is currently intent on cementing its global commitment and alignment with the global, regional and national policies on leveraging on technology, innovation and ICT, access to affordable, safe, effective, and quality medicines and diagnostics and other technologies, in the prevention and control of NCDs. Successful health care delivery requires effective medical devices as tools for prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. As expected, the use and evaluation of this digital Non Mydriatic camera (it does not require that the patient’s pupil be dilated before use) to predict medical changes associated with enhanced disease, and especially seen in diabetic and hypertensive patients, will expand innovation in early detection of systemic complications manifesting as eye disease thus effectively controlling an important health problem.”
The announcement was made to coincide with an event attended by stakeholders who are providing solutions to address the growing burden of NCDs in the country. Speakers from county governments, academia, healthcare institutions, development organizations and the private sector highlighted the need to strengthen health systems, including by encouraging local research and innovation. The theme was partnership for improved access to healthcare, which is key to achieving sustainable outcomes for communities
One of the most established partnerships, which launched in Kenya in 2014, is AstraZeneca’s Healthy Heart Africa (HHA) programme which leverages local partnerships to tackle the high burden of hypertension. HHA is currently implemented in eight countries including Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Rwanda, and soon Nigeria – where the programme will be launched in August 2022. HHA has conducted over 27.1 million screenings, trained over 9,100 healthcare workers; and activated over 950 healthcare facilities in Africa to provide hypertension services, with the establishment of secure supply chains for low cost, high-quality branded antihypertensive medicines where applicable, and identified over 5.3 million elevated blood pressure readings.