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Local firm UC-Wireless uses selfies, AI in COVID-19 fight

Read time 4min 10sec

Selfies can now be used to detect clinical signs in the fight to halt the spread of COVID-19.

This is according to local integrated communication systems provider UC-Wireless, which has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) solution that can diagonise vitals such as oxygen saturation, heart rate and respiratory rate.

The company says it is designed as an advanced screening tool for the personal mobile phones of employees and the general public, to ensure COVID-19 and other health risks can be managed to minimise the risk of infection and detect symptoms as early as possible.

“Everybody knows how to take a selfie – which is the way the app screens the person holding the phone, using our unique artificial intelligence which detects the key vital signs with medical-grade accuracy. The result is computed to generate a risk status and also displays the vital signs from the screening,” says Quentin Daffarn, managing director of UC-Wireless.

The company says the app is already being marketed by large telcos and system partners in South Africa and across Africa.

“The solution is commercially available to enterprise customers, which will be the initial release. To support widespread adoption and to benefit the public at large, the app will also be available as a public app. This will enable health screening of the individual and limited family members.”

Rushing to find an African response to the pandemic, UC-Wireless says it started with the design and concept in early April and the app is now ready for deployment, although the company says enhancements are being planned.

Daffarn tells ITWeb that through the use of AI, the solution detects the key vital signs that “are not being monitored by people but which are actually early indicators in many cases.

“Hypoxia develops silently, undetected by people and this is in many cases. By detecting actual vital signs, we don’t only rely on the honesty and subjective responses from people,” he says.

According to Daffarn, the solution comes with a unique encrypted QR code, which manages the overall health risk status of the individual and “also manages the entry to public places and businesses/enterprises so that access to these places is managed by checking the QR code and the linked status of the individual.

“If they don’t have a suitable phone or they are not an employee, then the screening can be performed at the entry and will be linked to the person's mobile number. This means the solution can provide risk management for 100% of the population,” says Daffarn.

Explaining the motivation behind the innovation, he says: “The access to accurate vital signs and telehealth is costly and being able to use a mobile phone to deliver these key vital signs in a mobile phone app with medical-grade accuracy is ground-breaking.”

The risk of COVID-19 and the impact on the economy is another key factor, says Daffarn, adding “we need ways of dealing with the new reality and managing the risk at the same time and allowing people to screen themselves at home reliably”.

This, he says, will also enable people to access healthcare services in time, as many “are not even aware they have developed these symptoms and the impact of this can have long-term effects on people”.

“The inclusion of the QR code element to the overall solution seeks to provide enterprises and public places a fast and effective way of managing the risk, while at the same time providing more economic benefit to ensure business can trade as much as possible without risks of long and costly closures and wide-spread employee infection, impacting on revenues and profits.

“A solution was needed that would work in Africa − one that will be inclusive since not everyone has a mobile smartphone − and can be used to screen people entering public places, thereby adding value to businesses, especially retail, supermarkets, restaurants, and anywhere people will come in to contact with others.”

Turning to how this innovation will alleviate the current pressure within the health sector, Daffarn says many individuals may feel sick but are not sure they are at risk and his app will facilitate identification of genuine cases that may otherwise overload the healthcare system.

“The app will ensure those who need healthcare – specifically because oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) is a widespread symptom, and acting too late can actually impact the healthcare system as well as putting affected individuals at risk of death in cases that may have been avoided,” he explains.

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