AI helps doctors fight COVID-19 in Brazil

SAO PAULO (AFP) – Doctors in Brazil, the country with the second-highest number of cases and deaths in the coronavirus pandemic, have a new tool in their fight against COVID-19: artificial intelligence (AI) to detect infections.

Under-testing remains a huge problem in the sprawling South American country, but AI is helping fill the gap, thanks to a system called RadVid-19 developed using algorithms from German company Siemens and Chinese firm Huawei.

Brazil has been hit harder by the pandemic than any country except the United States (US), with nearly 2.8 million infections and 95,000 deaths.

Experts said the numbers would be much higher if there were more widespread testing. RadVid-19 seeks to fill that gap, and help doctors decide the right course of treatment for their patients.

It analyses chest X-rays and CT scans to find spots on patients’ lungs that are likely markers of infection by the new coronavirus.

“The software identifies those areas and estimates the probability of a case of COVID-19,” said Deputy Head of the Radiology Centre Marcio Sawamura at the University of Sao Paulo Clinical Hospital.

Claudia Leite (L) and Marcio Sawamura of the University of Sao Paulo Clinical Hospital look at tomography images of lungs. PHOTO: AFP

The programme shows doctors on a computer screen how their patients’ lungs are changing over time and enables them to analyse the white and yellow circles marking potential infection.

The software is being used by 43 Brazilian hospitals, 60 per cent of them public, thanks in part to funding from the Inter-American Development Bank.

It is not a replacement for a lab-based diagnosis by a physician.

But it can help doctors decide what treatment to pursue during the sometimes long wait for lab results to come back, in a country where no large-scale testing campaign has been launched and President Jair Bolsonaro faces criticism for downplaying the pandemic.

“Since Brazil is testing less than it should, CT scans and X-rays end up being used as diagnostic tools,” said Arthur Lobo, a radiologist in the northern city of Belem.

“It’s helped us reach diagnoses when we were in doubt.”