Pioneering AI advancements in Africa’s healthcare

Category: Africa AI Startup

Darlington Akogo, founder and CEO of Africa’s minoHealth AI Labs, a leading AI health company specializing in radiology and microscopy, embarked on a mission to bring the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) to healthcare applications.

Based in Accra, Ghana’s capital, minoHealth AI Labs has become an essential player in the global AI landscape, particularly in medical image interpretation.

AI Community in Accra

In 2016, Akogo established minoHealth AI Labs while residing in Europe, and in 2017, he returned to Ghana with the vision of applying the power of deep learning (DL) to enhance disease diagnoses in hospitals, covering conditions ranging from diabetes to breast cancer. His journey began at a time when AI, was relatively uncharted territory, with only a handful of AI labs worldwide.

Bridging the trust gap

Despite the warm hospitality of Ghanaians, characterized by the welcoming greeting “Akwaaba!” (“Welcome!”), initial scepticism toward artificial intelligence posed a unique challenge. Akogo recognized the need to become an AI crusader to build trust and acceptance of AI technologies in the region. The first AI event hosted by minoHealth AI Labs in July 2018, titled “Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning: How Africa Can Be Revolutionized,” drew only a handful of attendees.

To expand AI awareness and knowledge, Akogo collaborated with Global Lab Ghana, a hub dedicated to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) education. This partnership provided interactive AI sessions and training opportunities, attracting young tech-savvy entrepreneurs from across Africa, many of whom were participating in the MEST programme — an initiative supporting tech entrepreneurs through training, funding and incubation.

Growing Ghana’s AI ecosystem

Responding to a demand for AI training sessions, Akogo established the Runmila AI Institute, offering introductory courses on DL. These initiatives significantly contributed to the growth of Ghana’s AI ecosystem, with over 1,000 young AI engineers, data scientists, and enthusiasts. Some have found their home at minoHealth AI Labs and KaraAgro AI, Akogo’s AI startup focusing on food security and climate challenges.

AI in healthcare

In the healthcare sector, showcasing AI’s potential in medicine and biomedicine played a crucial role in attracting stakeholders. minoHealth AI Labs published its first paper on applying AI to nutrition and dietetics in early 2018. Biomedical engineer Xavier Palmer joined the team, leading to publications on AI’s applications in 3D bioprinting, regenerative medicine, cancer research, and immunology. Collaborations with institutions like London’s Imperial College aimed to apply AI and digital diagnostics to combat diseases like malaria.

MinoHealth AI Labs received support from organizations like the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), a major funder of clinical, public health, and social care research in the UK. Collaborations with the University of Oxford further contributed to global AI health strategies and innovation challenges. The organization also contributes to the development of global AI standards and regulations in healthcare.

Advancements in medical image interpretation

A ground-breaking AI clinical evaluation study conducted in Africa benchmarked minoHealth AI Labs’ medical image interpretation system against human radiologists, using data from Ghana, Vietnam and the US. Remarkably, the AI system outperformed human radiologists. This achievement led to the development of a platform supporting the screening of medical images, with a focus on detecting chest conditions like lung opacities and pleural lesions. The platform has gained adoption among facilities and clinicians in Ghana and across more than 20 countries worldwide, including Africa, Europe, the Americas, and Asia.

Supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

minoHealth AI Labs is currently working on a generative AI system, similar to GPT-4, designed for radiology and healthcare. This ambitious project is one of the “Grand Challenges—Catalyzing Equitable Artificial Intelligence (AI) Use,” supported by grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Building a generative AI system

As initial scepticism toward AI in Ghana and Africa wanes, international partnerships, funding and support have increased the organization’s credibility.

Today, various organizations in Ghana and Africa seek collaborations with minoHealth AI Labs. Recognizing the need for coordinated national and continental AI initiatives, Akogo has contributed to Ghana’s national AI and data governance strategies and serves as the chair of the working group on the economy of artificial intelligence for the African Union (AU). The AU’s continental strategy encompasses AI regulatory and ethical policies, including the goal of training more young Africans in AI and data science.

Akogo’s clear vision

Africa’s youthful population, empowered by AI, has the potential to emulate China’s manufacturing success. The continent now witnesses AI governance initiatives, flourishing AI communities in major cities and a maturing startup scene.

In the next five years, Akogo envisions Africa emerging as a dominant global force in the AI race, pioneering advancements in AI technology and applications on the world stage.



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