The ancient Egyptians are widely regarded as pioneers of medical practice. They developed one of the most advanced and earliest recorded systems of medical treatment, ranging from therapies for mental and physical disease to diabetes and dementia.
Fast forward to 2022, while today’s medical landscape is completely different, many of the illnesses remain the same, and Egypt continues to be a first mover in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in adopting new healthcare practices.
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted healthcare systems globally and put renewed focus on rapid diagnosis and equal access to healthcare. It has accelerated technological adoption as a means of supporting healthcare continuity — from the rise of digital consultations to applications such as artificial intelligence (AI) transforming the way hospital beds are filled and diseases diagnosed.
Due to the pandemic’s prolonged impact and Egypt’s fast-growing population, expected to reach 130 million by 2030, the demand for affordable, quality healthcare services will intensify.
Egypt’s doctor per 1,000 population ratio is better than MENA and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) averages, but the hospital beds per 1,000 comparative is less positive. Egypt lags behind some of its MENA neighbours on this metric significantly. Research by Colliers, a professional services and investment management company, reveals that Egypt will require around 38,000 new beds by 2030 at an estimated cost of $8 to $13 billion.
AI can be used to predict hospital bed occupancy and analyse critical patient information to make data-informed decisions about intensive-care unit (ICU) admissions. It can help avoid the unnecessary transfer of patients to intensive-care wards and free up beds for those in need.
By examining data patterns, AI can help healthcare organisations optimise their data, assets and resources, increase efficiency, and improve clinical and operational workflows, processes and financial operations.
Disease diagnostics is another key application of healthcare AI in which Egypt is already making great strides. In 2021, the Egyptian ministry of communications and information technology announced it was developing a system with Alexandria University to detect early signs of diabetic retinopathy targeting a pilot group of 7,000 to 10,000 people with diabetes.
The system utilises digital technologies and AI-powered fundus imaging and image analysis. Expect to see the trend of AI in healthcare consolidate in 2022.
2022 will also see greater use of digital pathology technology and virtual microscopy as a means of disease detection. In June 2021, Egypt’s General Authority of Healthcare announced plans to use digital pathology technology to enhance the accuracy of tumour diagnosis and detection as the first entity in Egypt to use such technology.
Digital pathology offers improved analysis, better visualisation of imagery and error reduction, and enhanced productivity of medical teams by improving workflow and turnaround times. It also promotes increased collaboration remotely, as samples and scans can be instantly accessed with transparency and consistency.
The future scope of digital pathology is huge. It could eventually grow to include enhanced translational research and personalised medicine and treatments.
The pandemic has also catalysed the wider adoption of telehealth services in a trend that is likely to continue its exponential growth in 2022.
Health services in Egypt are largely concentrated in cities, often leaving rural communities underserved and isolated. Telehealth offers a solution by improving healthcare access. In Egypt, one digital health platform saw virtual consultations increase 9.5 times during the pandemic as social restrictions isolated rural patients further and in-person consultations in urban hospitals reduced.
As well as reducing human contact and the transmission of disease — vital in a pandemic — telehealth also increases the efficiency and digitisation of records and reduces waiting times. Via hotline services, patients can connect and speak directly to certified medical experts in a matter of minutes.
Egypt’s rapid adoption of HealthTech shows no sign of relenting. Telehealth, digital pathology technology, and artificial intelligence will all grow more prominent and move further into the mainstream of the healthcare ecosystem.
Egypt is primed to become the HealthTech leader of the MENA region. Get set for an exciting 2022.
The writer is CEO of Altibbi, an online platform headquartered in Amman offering telemedicine consultation services.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.