KENYA – Kenya’s Ministry of Health has secured digital non-mydriatic research equipment from multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca that uses retinal cameras to analyze the risk of a patient having or developing hypertension and diabetes through a single retinal screening.

The equipment will strengthen the local research capacity for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and improve the screening capacity for NCDs in the country by identifying the risk or presence of complications arising particularly from hypertension and diabetes through a single retinal scan.

The cutting-edge medical devices for non-invasive disease diagnosis will be used by researchers at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), The University of Nairobi (UON) and the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUHN).

The non-invasive technology comes at a time when Kenya has reported a high and rising prevalence of NCDs risk factors such as excessive alcohol use, tobacco use, high blood pressure, high body mass index, high cholesterol, high blood glucose, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity.

Diabetes is screened for by taking a blood sample which is invasive, more costly and requires a longer turnaround time for results.

According to Amref Health Africa in Kenya, the greatest burden of non-communicable diseases is from five diseases namely cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic lung illnesses, diabetes and mental health conditions which are the world’s biggest killers.

The Ministry of Health warned about the rising cases of diabetes and hypertension among Kenyans specifically the diabetes prevalence has been on the rise from two per cent in 2015 and is currently at 3.3 per cent, experts are estimating a further increase to 4.5 per cent by the year 2025.

The ministry further cautioned that the prevalence of hypertension remains high as one in four persons is known to be hypertensive in Kenya with only eight per cent on treatment and four per cent of them have achieved control.

Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Dr Rashid Aman said that late presentation, late diagnosis and delayed identification of complications seen in the patients diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes has resulted in more malignant and severe cases as compared to other developed countries.

CAS Dr Rashid Aman revealed that the rising burden of noncommunicable diseases in Kenya further weighs down the health system posing an impediment to the reduction in morbidity, mortality and economic burden of NCDs in the country.

Subsequently, the Ministry of Health and AstraZeneca partnered to handover cutting-edge digital technologies for noncommunicable diseases to distinguished research institutions that will ensure researchers have an alternative to invasive screening methods currently in use.

The screening for hypertension and diabetes will be carried out by scanning an individual’s retina for both simultaneously, the image will then be processed through an online database stored in a cloud and compared to millions of other retinal scans by Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

In addition, the non-invasive digital medical devices have in-built technology to promptly predict whether the individual has either hypertension or diabetes and has the potential to be more cost-effective especially for large-scale population-level screenings in the longer term.

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