Preventive healthcare technology — the future of medicine?

The concept of preventive healthcare technology was explained by Emmanuel Fombu, a physician and the author of ‘The Future of Healthcare.’ (AN)
Updated 05 November 2019

Preventive healthcare technology — the future of medicine?

  • Author Emmanuel Fombu: Personal medical decisions will be influenced by data
  • Fombu spoke at two-day EmTech MENA conference in Dubai

DUBAI: When we feel unwell, we usually turn to a doctor for answers. But what if we were able to find out the diseases we are susceptible to and how to avoid falling ill?
The concept of preventive healthcare technology was explained by Emmanuel Fombu, a physician and the author of “The Future of Healthcare,” on the second day of the EmTech MENA conference at Jumeirah Emirates Towers in Dubai.
Many believe that human genes are the main determinants of our disease risks based on family history.
Fombu believes that personal decisions made around data can change the world of medical care.
“Genes are just the beginning of your life story. Just because you have the genes for a disease, does not mean that you will get it. Your decisions make all the difference,” he said.
Environmental and socioeconomic factors play a key role in determining the probability of developing many diseases, with lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise being crucial to living a disease-free life.
However, Fombu argues that each individual is unique, and therefore requires a unique diet plan, medicine and treatment — a concept that is not currently practised.
Drugs analyzed in most clinical trials are tested on a small sample of people, often consisting of white men and very few women, before they are taken to the market for nationwide use, said Fombu.
“What is depressing in healthcare today is this concept of medicine. Two people suffering from diabetes are not the same,” said Fombu, adding that even twins who share the same gene pool are not destined to develop the same conditions.
Studies in the US have also shown disparity in disease rates in different parts of the same city, based on socioeconomic factors.
“Take diabetes in China. It went from 0.67 percent in 1980 to 9.7 percent in 2011,” Fombu said.
“Did their genes change? Or did people get wealthier and perhaps eat more junk food?”
Fombu highlighted existing and upcoming devices that work on monitoring and predicting disease, providing unique data to each patient.
He said research is underway to enable Apple Watch and other specialized fitness brands to be able to use voice to predict conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and even aid in suicide prevention.
Fombu favors leveraging technologies that give individuals more power over their health through personalized data.
One example is a phone-sized ultrasound device manufactured by a company called Butterfly Network, which can be used through automated instructions by patients at home.
“Why wait to get sick before you intervene? Why not understand the risk of disease going forward and modify your lifestyle?” said Fombu.
Moving from physical health to mental health, speaker Jason Kahn, chief science officer and cofounder of video game “Mightier,” discussed tackling mental health through AI technology.
“Mightier” helps children aged between 6 and 14 to develop emotional strength and build calming skills to meet life challenges.
The game, which is connected to users’ emotions, monitors their feelings and reactions while they go through the different stages.
“There are not enough mental health workers around. Studies show there is one mental health worker for every 11,000 people in the world who need care,” said Kahn.
After a comparison between traditional office-based therapy and AI therapy through “Mightier,” Kahn found that 80 percent of children playing the game showed improvement, as opposed to only 20 percent in regular therapy.
“We need to find new solutions,” he said.
The EmTech MENA conference, which took place on Nov. 4 and 5, was organized by “MIT Technology Review Arabia” in cooperation with the Dubai Future Foundation and Haykal Media.
The two-day event featured 31 prominent regional and international speakers including government officials, researchers and entrepreneurs.


10-year-old Bangladeshi’s communication app creates buzz

Updated 20 January 2020

10-year-old Bangladeshi’s communication app creates buzz

  • “I thought we should have something of our own, which inspired me to start working on my communication app”: Ayman Al-Anam

DHAKA: A Bangladeshi fifth-grader’s new communication app — Lita Free Video Calls and Chat — has created a huge buzz among local internet users. Already, 10,500 people have downloaded the app from the Google Play Store since Saturday.

Ayman Al-Anam submitted the app to Google on Dec. 27. After scrutiny and manual verification, Google uploaded the app on its Play Store on Dec. 31.

 “Currently, Bangladeshi internet users are mostly dependent on apps like WhatsApp, Viber and Imo for communication overseas,” Al-Anam told Arab News.

“I thought we should have something of our own, which inspired me to start working on my communication app.”

It took the 10-year-old 10 months to create the app, which he said he accomplished by himself, without the help of any mentor. “I learned the process through different YouTube tutorials. The rest was just trial and error,” he added.

 The app provides better-quality, high-definition video calls to its users. It also works for transferring big data in a shorter amount of time compared to similar apps.

Al-Anam’s success at such an early age has surprised his parents. “From a very early age, my son had a knack for technology, and I encouraged him to pursue it. He used to spend his free time in front of computers, smartphones and other devices,” said proud father Tauhedush Salam Nishad. “I always supported him, but I never dreamed that he’d see this sort of success so young.”

Recalling the first successful test run of the new app, Nishad said: “One night, I returned home from work and Ayman took my smartphone and installed the raw file of the app. Later, he did the same with his mother’s phone and connected the two devices with a video call. It was the best moment in his life. He shouted with joy, ‘I did it!’” 

Al-Anam named the app after his mother Lita. The young inventor is currently studying at South Point School and College in Chattogram, 248 km from the capital. He dreams of becoming a software engineer and wants to work at
Google headquarters.

His creation has drawn much attention from local experts. “We should nurture this sort of extraordinary talent very carefully,” Prof. Mohammad Kaikobad of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology told Arab News.

 “This new generation will lead the technology world of tomorrow if they’re guided and
encouraged properly.”