Saturday November 17, 2018

How a phone call is saving lives of TB patients in India

The traditional medication adherence programme "Directly Observed Treatment" or "DOTS" involved the patients going to a healthcare centre where they ingest the medication in front of a health worker

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Tuberculosis
Representational image. IANS
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  • Can a phone call save lives?
  • A project called 99DOTS helps patients with Tuberculosis in India get medication
  • TB is one of the top 10 causes of deaths globally

In a world flooded with technological advancements, can a phone call save lives? This is happening as part of a project developed by software giant Microsoft in India.

The project, named “99DOTS”, which began in 2013 helps patients with Tuberculosis in India get medication adherence and monitoring via missed calls and SMSes.

From a modest pilot involving just 20 patients in early 2014, 99DOTS has enrolled over 93,000 patients in just four years, with 41,000 patients currently under treatment.

Rohingya Children
Tuberculosis causes lots of death every year. VOA

“99DOTS is a great example of such a project, where we’ve invented a very simple but unusually effective technology to solve a global health problem. And we are making this technology openly available to the global health community,” Sriram Rajamani, Managing Director, Microsoft Research India, said in a statement.

TB is one of the top 10 causes of deaths globally, with 10.4 million people falling ill with the disease and 1.7 million related deaths reported in 2016 alone. India leads the count in TB chart even though free and effective medications are available, according to the World Health Organisation.

Also Read: A new substance may help fight tuberculosis: study

“One of the biggest barriers to recovery from TB is medication adherence,” Bill Thies, senior Researcher at the Microsoft Researcher India, said in a statement.

“Patients have to take daily drugs for a full six months or else they do not fully recover, and are at risk of developing drug resistance.” However, “once patients start feeling better after a few weeks, it becomes very difficult to convince them to take toxic drugs for another five months – especially if patients have little or no understanding of germs and antibiotic resistance”, Thies rued.

This is where “99DOTS” project plays a significant role. In the project, each anti-TB blister pack is wrapped in a custom envelope, which hides a phone number behind the medication. When a patient dispenses his or her pills, they can see these hidden numbers. After taking daily medication, patients make a free call to the number.

A new substance may help fight tuberculosis: study
This helpline help patients get medication on time. Wikimedia Commons

The combination of the call and patient’s caller ID yields high confidence that the dose was “in-hand” and they took it, Thies said. The team also developed an SMS reminder system for patients. Missed doses trigger SMS notifications to care providers, who follow up with personal or phone-based counselling. The traditional medication adherence programme “Directly Observed Treatment” or “DOTS” involved the patients going to a healthcare centre where they ingest the medication in front of a health worker.

“99DOTS gives the patients the freedom and ownership of their treatment. They are able to take the medication wherever they are. It also provides them the privacy of not having to visit a health centre,” explained Andrew Cross who was earlier Programme Manager at Microsoft Research and teamed up with Thies to build up 99DOTS. IANS

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Microsoft To Acquire Conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The acquisition of Semantic Machines in May brought a revolutionary new approach to conversational AI

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Microsoft acquires conversational AI and bot development firm. Pixabay

Microsoft has announced to acquire a conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI) and bot development company XOXCO for an undisclosed sum.

Texas-based XOXCO has been paving the way in conversational AI since 2013 and was responsible for the creation of Howdy, the first commercially available bot for Slack that helps schedule meetings.

“It also developed Botkit which provides the development tools used by hundreds of thousands of developers on GitHub. Over the years, we have partnered with XOXCO and have been inspired by this work,” said Lili Cheng, Corporate Vice President, Conversational AI at Microsoft on Thursday.

Conversational AI is quickly becoming a way in which businesses engage with employees and customers — from creating virtual assistants and redesigning customer interactions to using conversational assistants to help employees communicate and work better together.

According to Gartner, “by 2020, conversational artificial intelligence will be a supported user experience for more than 50 percent of large, consumer-centric enterprises”.

The Microsoft Bot Framework, available as a service in Azure and on GitHub, today supports over 360,000 developers.

Microsoft, PUBG
A sign for Microsoft is seen on a building in Cambridge. VOA

“With this acquisition, we are continuing to realise our approach of democratising AI development, conversation and dialog, and integrating conversational experiences where people communicate,” said Cheng.

Over the last six months, Microsoft has made several strategic acquisitions to accelerate the pace of AI development.

The acquisition of Semantic Machines in May brought a revolutionary new approach to conversational AI.

In July, it acquired Bonsai to help reduce the barriers to AI development by combining machine teaching, reinforcement learning and simulation.

Also Read- YouTube Premium Service Expands to 7 New Countries

In September, Microsoft acquired Lobe, a company that has created a simple visual interface empowering anyone to develop and apply deep learning and AI models quickly, without writing code.

“The acquisition of GitHub in October demonstrates our belief in the power of communities to help fuel the next wave of bot development,” Microsoft said. (IANS)