Rosemary Muthoni, 26, was scrolling through WhatsApp like any other netizen. Her friend’s status struck her and the one thing believed to have killed the cat, caught her. She became curious.
Her friend had posted something about an app that could work like a personal doctor. Muthoni sent her friend a message asking her about the app. Since then, she has not been to a hospital.
That is not to say that she has not been sick, but, a technology that works using artificial intelligence (AI) replaced her visits to the hospital.
"My friend explained to me what the app was about. I signed up using my email and tried using it, since I had some health issue I needed a diagnosis on. I tried the app and the feedback was amazing," recalls Ms Muthoni.
She is one of the users of a Natural Language Processing (NLP) chatbot, that is new in the Kenyan landscape.
Lilian Awuor, a Natural Language Processing expert told HealthyNation it was encouraging that NLP applications on healthcare are running in Kenya. This kind of technology is not very common in Africa as developers are still trying to explore it. It has been defined as a branch of AI, whose aim is to reduce the distance between the capabilities of a human and a machine.
Being a new form of AI especially in the healthcare systems, developers seek to provide solutions, decode the cognitive nature of messages, analyse and create languages that humans can understand.
As the coronavirus extends its roots to most parts of the world, with the death toll rising each day, most people fear they might have contracted the virus especially when they have been exposed to hotspots.
The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) has since approved the use of NLP chatbots in America and Europe to help people during this pandemic.
Seeing that there's a gap in Africa, Joel Onditi, an NLP expert consulted the CDC to allow him set camp in Africa. And, by last week Friday, Pathways International Kenya was on the go. Today, it has gained traction with over 40,000 African users who are trying to find out if the symptoms they have could be linked to Covid-19.
"We are leveraging artificial intelligence to combat health challenges in Africa and our knowledge base as at now is basically from the CDC," said Onditi.
Muthoni has since used the chatbot five times, all of which have helped her avoid the cost of going to hospital when it is not necessary.
However, Onditi said, the chatbots are not designed to replace trained health workers, but they are guided versions used to assess whether a patient needs to be checked by a doctor or they can get their diagnosis from home.
The Chief Executive Officer of Nadia App, another NLP, Ahmed Elmi, agreed that this technology will in no way replace human interactions.
"Our intention is to make life better for everyone by adding value to existing dynamics of technology and not in any way to replace human interactions, but to enhance the value medical practitioners deliver to our users," said Elmi.
Lilian Awuor, an NLP expert, said in as much the technology was a step in the right direction, some diagnosis needed a physical doctor.
The technology, according to Elmi, is meant to improve the quality of care in a convenient way.
Nadia, for instance, using its telemedicine technology has medical practitioners who are vetted and work behind the scenes to help in giving the patients correct diagnosis of what they could be ailing from.
For Nadia, the registration involves a series of questions to familiarise medical practitioners with a patient. After registration, a patient gets three options: talk to your doctor, top-up wallet or book a check-up. When a patient wants to talk to a doctor, they are automatically connected to one via text. The doctor then gives them a diagnosis which includes recommendations of certain medication that they can get from a pharmacy. The consultation, however, is not free. Patients who use the app have to part with Sh350 which is sent via the wallet.
Elmi said the company was planning to come up with an audio or video option.
During this pandemic, people who suspect that they could have contracted the coronavirus can use such apps.
Asked why she finds this new technology useful, Muthoni said: "I feel confident when saying my symptoms anonymously. I like the privacy that it comes with."