AWS launches new programme to advance health equity

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Amazon Web Services (AWS) is investing $40m over three years to support healthcare projects that leverage AWS services to improve health outcomes for underserved communities in a new global health equity programme.

These include the use of telehealth and telemedicine tools to reach remote and marginalised groups, projects that improve social determinants of health such as access to clean water, as well as the use of data to promote equitable and inclusive systems of care.

Eligible organisations, including governments, startups and healthcare service providers, will receive AWS credits and access to technical expertise via AWS’s professional services organisation that provides assistance through a collection of offerings to help customers achieve specific outcomes related to enterprise cloud adoption.

“One of the obvious challenges in serving the underserved is that they’re often a very large number of people with very diverse backgrounds and I think the agility, scale, security and performance of the cloud has some very good proof points that has come about as a result of the Covid-19 response,” said Peter Moore, regional managing director for worldwide public sector in Asia-Pacific and Japan at AWS.

“So, how do we increase access to health services to those underserved communities is one of the key pillars, because half of the world’s population don’t have access to basic health care,” he added.

Moore said another goal of the programme is to plug the gaps in health-related data that often does not include data on diverse groups of people in underserved communities.

“We’ll look at how we address these gaps by creating or consolidating data sets to increase the representation of these communities in health systems and linking them to the social determinants of health to create more robust and informative data sets,” he added.

In some cases, Moore said this might involve cleaning existing data sets to improve the accuracy of data on social determinants of health or factors like race, ethnicity, gender, disability and other data points that improve access to healthcare.

Healthcare organisations in the US are already tapping AWS services to improve access to healthcare for underserved communities. They include the National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved, which launched its cloud-powered Data Fusion Centre on AWS to tackle intergovernmental data challenges and translate social determinants of health data into actionable insights.

In Asia-Pacific, the Indian government built an AWS-powered vaccination platform called Cowin which has been made scalable, inclusive, open and shared globally as an open public good. 

The global health equity programme is being led by AWS’s Global Social Impact team, building on the earlier Diagnostic Development Initiative (DDI) that helps healthcare organisations harness cloud services for Covid-19 research.

AWS’s $20m DDI programme has so far supported 87 organisations in 17 countries ranging from non-profits and research institutions to startups and large businesses. This work will continue in parallel to the new health equity programme.

One beneficiary of the DDI is Medo, a Singapore-based healthcare artificial intelligence (AI) startup that used Amazon SageMaker and Amazon Textract in combination with ultrasound to help radiologists and clinicians identify medical conditions and provide a diagnosis in less than a minute.

Medo’s AI algorithm is device-agnostic and can be integrated into any ultrasound probe to conduct scans at the point of care, especially during emergencies. The diagnosis can be shared with emergency response teams before they arrive, so that the right treatment can be administered quickly.

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