The previous government in Pakistan, with its vision 2025, had envisioned embarking on the quest of finding and achieving potential of artificial intelligence in Pakistan. As part of this a project, spanning on three years, was launched, costing about 1.1 billion rupees. Under the shadow of Higher Education commission (HEC) nine labs are to be established throughout the country. In view of this, two labs are developed at NUST for Intelligent Robotics and Deep Learning, two at NED UET Karachi on Smart City and Neuro-computation, one at the CIIT to work on medical Imaging and diagnostics, one at UET Lahore on Intelligent Criminology and one at Punjab University of computational modeling. National Centre of Artificial Intelligence was launched back in March 2018.

Currently, the president of Pakistan, launched an initiative to educate the upcoming generation through the President’s initiative on Artificial intelligence (AI) and Computing (PIAIC), started in November 2018, offering opportunity to learning and developing business, in Blockchain, Cloud native and Artificial intelligence. The brainchild behind this vision was expressed in his Op-Ed in January 2019 published in The News, where he reemphasized the need for Pakistan to become a key player in “fourth” industrial revolution and the requirement to up its pace and efforts, in view of the current slow progress. 

With the growing need of technology in our healthcare system, in most government run hospitals, this can be an opportunity to use artificial intelligence to cover and replace the shortage and gap of providing quality healthcare, through the use of artificial intelligence in the hour of need with the grave need due to corona virus disease (COVID 19) outbreak. Where many government and private organizations are offering grants from breakthrough discoveries that can help to fight the COVID 19 pandemic.

COVID 19 is a viral disease which at its severe form can lead into acute respiratory depression syndrome(ARDS). In such scenario, the patient requires invasive respiratory support such as mechanical ventilation. In studies from last flu pandemic extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) had a mortality benefit, in managing severe cases, compared to mechanical ventilation. This means that a patient with severe disease, supported on ECMO has a better chance of surviving.

Currently, according to recent media survey, Pakistan has about 2000 ventilators, with around 1300 ventilators in Punjab, 50 working ventilators in Balochistan, more than 500 in Sindh and 150 ventilators in Khyber Pakthunkhuwa, in a country of 210 million people, belonging from an under developed country. Whereas, there is no survey done about ECMOs, though, according to research citing, the use of ECMO is reported at, Aga Khan Hospital Karachi, Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology Rawalpindi and Institute of Cardiology Faisalabad, in Pakistan. Considering the fact that at the moment with 1975 patients diagnosed with COVID 19, till end of March, this resource is likely going to fall short by miles. Hence, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has announced that they are doing to procure 10,000 ventilators, though, no acquisition of ECMOs is announced.

While, we need these resources, we also need these experts. A ventilator and ECMO, in short, advance medical equipment which requires trained medical personnel, from consultants, nurses, pharmacists and respiratory therapists, with expertise in emergency and critical care. This short fall, can be managed with the use of AI, with collaboration with medical experts. Government of Pakistan in view of President’s initiative should mobilise its resources to generate AI that can help in successfully running these advance equipment and help bare the intensive care surge in hospitals with COVID 19 outbreak.

There could be an AI software that assists doctor to comprehend respiratory mechanics of a patient going towards ARDS, and when taken on mechanical ventilator, recommends settings according to the needs of the patient. There are examples of AI technology used in similar contexts such as CLiO2™ which is an automatic oxygen controller that keeps the oxygen level in the blood within a safe range for newborns needing mechanical ventilation. Many researches in west, of date, are trying to develop AI for predicting tools for severity score and mortality prediction, prediction of sepsis, and decisions to support mechanical ventilations, as to when to place a person or support and when to withdraw it in view of its need and likewise predict duration of ventilation, which is essential in management patients and resources in intensive care.

This is actually the time for Pakistan to take its efforts to the next level and utilise its limited resources, in best possible way, to save lives. Hence, with the use of AI, Pakistan can win in defeating the COVID at its front-line, the hospitals. The use of AI in management of severe cases is one side of it, there is always room to go beyond. In the recent interview, Prime Minister Imran Khan has mentioned using AI in surveillance of COVID 19 to predict its spread and outbreak in localities. Let us hope, they make more use of AI technology, within the present circumstances.