The United Arab Emirates is using artificial intelligence and smart solutions as part of its strategy to combat the spread of COVID-19. In cooperation with a British organization, the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA) is using artificial intelligence to predict how the virus will spread, understand and estimate medical and clinical capacity, and plan its response. According to reports, the infection rate in Abu Dhabi is not expected to rise over the next six weeks.[1]

The UAE is using the same artificial intelligence applications developed by Draper & Dash Healthcare as those used by the British National Health Service (NHS). Data collected from hospitals is used to understand usual levels of demand for beds and emergency care; the data is then collated and compared against how the virus is spreading in other countries around the world in order to identify possible trends and scenarios.
The CEO of Draper & Dash, Orlando Agrippa, has confirmed that the Abu Dhabi healthcare system has the capacity to handle a greater level of demand as a result of coronavirus than is currently being seen, and that the infection rate in the UAE is not expected to accelerate.[2]

Benefits of modeling

The artificial intelligence model being used by SEHA has a number of benefits:

  1. It provides important insights about the virus that help in predicting its spread and preparing a more coherent response strategy.
  2. It enables the Emirati health sector to prepare an effective response to increased demand on hospital beds, especially private rooms and intensive care units for those most affected by the virus. As one of the greatest challenges faced by many countries in mounting a response to the epidemic has been the shortage of medical equipment, beds, and healthcare professionals, artificial intelligence can play an important role in helping hospitals and healthcare facilities in the UAE to better manage their resources, forecast demand, and minimize uncertainty.

The Dubai government has been using artificial intelligence[3] to regulate the movement of residents during the hours of curfew and to prevent all except key workers and those with valid authorization from going outside. It has been using the network of cameras set up throughout the emirate as part of the Eyes on the Road program to identify residents’ faces, voices, and vehicle registration plates. The data is fed into a large central database where it is monitored to assess the effectiveness of the ban in reducing coronavirus infections.

Nabta Health, an emerging Emirati healthcare company, is using artificial intelligence to provide COVID-19 risk assessments, identify symptoms, and diagnose underlying health conditions. According to the company, advanced artificial intelligence, applied machine learning, and blockchain technology can be used to mitigate the impact of future epidemics.
Drones were introduced early in the UAE’s response to the epidemic in order to conduct rapid, effective sterilization and monitor the extent to which residents remain at home during sterilization operations, adhere to social distancing measures, and avoid public gatherings and crowds.

In addition, police forces in the UAE are using smart helmets that allow them to measure the temperature of hundreds of individuals every minute in order to control the spread of the virus. Such helmets, which are faster to use and require less proximity than conventional thermometers, can measure a person’s temperature from up to five meters away and can test up to 200 people per minute. If a person is identified as having a fever, the helmet sounds an alarm. The helmets are useful for testing people in dense residential areas, including closed neighborhoods.[4]

In late March 2020, Group 42, an artificial intelligence and cloud computing company based in Masdar, Abu Dhabi, together with the BGI Group, the world’s largest genome sequencing company, announced the launch of a modern laboratory capable of processing tens of thousands of tests per day using the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) technique in order to meet COVID-19 screening and diagnosis needs in the UAE. This is the largest working laboratory of its kind outside China. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the UAE has the highest rate of testing for COVID-19 relative to population size worldwide, having performed more than one million tests thus far. “Thanks to its superior diagnostic capabilities, the laboratory provides the scale and capability needed to allow UAE residents to obtain the most reliable PCR tests,” said Ping Xiao, CEO of Group 42.[5]
In April, the government of the state of Nevada announced that it had procured advanced technical materials from Group 42 to expand its laboratory testing with a view to combating the novel coronavirus in the state. On April 13, Steve Sisolak, governor of Nevada, announced that the state was partnering with the UAE government and Group 42[6] to conduct an innovative project to sequence the novel coronavirus genome.

Dr. Alawi Alsheikh-Ali, member of the Emirates Scientists Council and official spokesperson for the advanced science sector in the country, revealed that the UAE is carrying out a number of studies on ways to combat the novel coronavirus, including by developing digital tools to reduce the pressure on healthcare facilities and by simulating the spread of the virus and the movement of infected people. He announced that a team comprising members from the United Arab Emirates University, the University of Sharjah, and Khalifa University will work with SEHA, the Abu Dhabi health authorities, the University of Western Australia, and Al Ain Fertility Center to study the genetic factors behind infection rates in the country by mapping the virus’s genome and studying carriers of the disease. The study will help improve understanding of why symptoms vary in severity between individuals and will aid the development of strategic solutions to protect the population, particularly the most vulnerable. Dr. Alsheikh-Ali also said that various efforts were being made at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi to develop a prototype emergency respirator using cheap, easily accessible materials and 3D-printing technology.[7]

Challenges lead to opportunities

Despite the severe impact and general negative repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has presented a number of opportunities. Thanks to its advanced infrastructure and logistical services, the UAE seems better placed than most to invest more in scientific research, make a qualitative shift towards a knowledge economy, and develop various applications in the areas of artificial intelligence, 3D-printing, virtual and augmented reality, and blockchain technology. This would serve not only to further diversify the economy and increase the economic contribution of the digital sector, but it would also help accelerate efforts to expand the use of digital healthcare technologies, strengthen mechanisms to integrate artificial intelligence into health services, and create proactive solutions to enhance health care as an essential part of sustainable development.

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[1] Coronavirus: Covid-19 spread in Abu Dhabi unlikely to accelerate, AI modelling shows, The National, April 23, 2020: https://bit.ly/2WbTr0D

[2] Ibid

[3] Some countries in the Middle East are using artificial intelligence to fight the coronavirus pandemic, CNBC, April 16, 2020: https://cnb.cx/2yFpT3k

[4]Emirati police use smart technology to combat coronavirus, Reuters, April 24, 2020: https://bit.ly/353jwTw

[5] Abu Dhabi opens largest laboratory outside China to combat coronavirus, Al-Ittihad, April 1, 2020: https://bit.ly/3cRQDft

[6] Theodore Karasik, Lessons the US can learn from the UAE about the decontamination of COVID-19, Atlantic Council, April 21, 2020: https://bit.ly/2yN5WaU

[7] One million coronavirus tests, and 1887 cases in the country, Al-Ittihad, April 26, 2020: https://bit.ly/2VEaA3H

 

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