Saudi Arabia leads GCC AI healthcare race

5 min read
  • Saudi Arabia is predicted to benefit the most from the shift to AI among the six GCC countries
  • AI is expected to contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

Since the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, healthcare professionals and governments worldwide have been counting on innovative data and technologies to fight the virus’s spread. As a result, the healthcare sector’s digital transformation has expanded, focusing on Artificial Intelligence technologies (AI).

Many AI-based healthcare development efforts have sprung significantly as a part of the pandemic. Companies have started to apply AI-enabled techniques to develop potential vaccines more quickly, though some of them are still clinical trials.

With AI and machine learning, datasets related to COVID-19 can also be shared in real-time across essential stakeholders such as clinicians, public health professionals, scientists, and researchers worldwide.

AI and machine learning have proven to be particularly effective in detecting COVID-19 through chest x-rays and computerized tomography (CT) scans since they can differentiate between the virus and community-acquired pneumonia.

The use of AI in healthcare, on the other hand, is not new. It can be used to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnoses and disease detection, assist in clinical care, improve health research and medicine development, and support a variety of public health programs, including disease surveillance, outbreak response, and health system management.

According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, AI brings high promise for improving the provision of health care services and medicines worldwide, but if ethics and human rights are prioritized in its development and implementation.

Saudi Arabia and UAE are leading the Shift 

According to a PWC report, AI is expected to contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030 and $320 billion to the Middle East economy, or 11 percent of GDP.

Saudi Arabia is predicted to benefit the most from the move to AI among the GCC six countries, with a $135.2 billion contribution to its economy. The UAE will benefit from a $96.0 billion contribution, while the remaining four countries will share a total increase of $45.9 billion. According to the same report, for each country’s GDP, the contribution of AI to the UAE economy will be the highest, accounting for 14 percent.

AI adoption in the healthcare industry is growing rapidly in GCC. From 2023 to 2030, virtual care, remote patient monitoring, and artificial intelligence are expected to account for 30 percent of hospital investment.

Through various programs and initiatives that emphasize AI and digital technology, the UAE aims to become one of the world’s major healthcare centers. For example, two UAE-based health companies launched the world’s first AI-powered rapid Covid-19 test. In addition, a UAE-based pharmaceutical company signed an agreement with a local AI and computing to produce millions of Sinopharm vaccine doses for the region.

Moreover, as part of the country’s National Agenda 2021, the UAE announced an AI-based preventive healthcare platform (Enayati) at the 45th Arab Health Exhibition in late 2020.

The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) want to integrate AI into medical services and modernize how healthcare is delivered. For example, DHA has developed a virtual health application that uses AI in collaboration with Babylon to provide 24-hour remote consultations. Similarly, the Abu Dhabi Department of Health (DoH) has launched an AI lab for innovative healthcare solutions.

The UAE also announced its plan to launch the first international summit on AI at the Medical Sector Summit this year.

Similar patterns, on the other hand, could be seen in different regions of the GCC. For example, Saudi Arabia recently authorized an AI policy expected to enhance the Saudi economy by $135 billion by 2030. SDAYA, the Saudi Authority for Artificial Intelligence, also signed a memorandum of cooperation with Philips International to employ AI capabilities in the healthcare sector and contribute to the development of new job opportunities in the field of health care services.

The Ministry of Health and the Information Technology Authority in Oman has announced a new system for the early detection of breast cancer in five hospitals across the country. In addition, the Bahraini Ministry of Health has deployed robots across a variety of isolation and treatment facilities to limit the risk of COVID-19 infection amongst healthcare workers.

AI’s Importance

According to the WHO report, technologies mainly trained on data collected from people in high-income countries may not perform well for people in low- and middle-income countries.

Therefore, the report recommends that AI systems should be carefully designed to reflect the diversity of social, economic, and healthcare environments and that they should be accompanied by digital skills training, community engagement, and awareness-raising, especially for the millions of healthcare workers who will require digital literacy or retraining.

According to the organization, governments, service providers, and developers must work together to address ethical and human rights concerns at every stage of AI technology development.

Warnings Against Misuse of AI

The WHO report warns against exaggerating AI’s health benefits, especially when doing so at the expense of the critical investments and policies needed to achieve universal health care.

The report also states that opportunities are related to challenges and risks, such as unethical health data collection and use, algorithm biases, and artificial intelligence dangers to patient safety, cybersecurity, and the environment.

Unregulated AI, for example, can subordinate patients’ and communities’ rights and interests to enormous business interests of technology companies or governments’ interests in social surveillance and control.

The WHO has published six guidelines to ensure that AI works in the public interest in all countries:

  • Protect human autonomy
  • Promote human well-being, safety and the public interest
  • Ensuring transparency, explainability and clarity
  • Promote responsibility and accountability
  • Ensuring inclusiveness and fairness
  • Promoting Responsive and Sustainable AI