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Mozambique tackles tuberculosis in Maputo's prisons

Inmates diagnosed with Tuberculosis (TB) sit on a mattress at an isolated cell in the maximum security prison of Maputo. 06/11/2023   -  
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Three prisons in Mozambique's capital Maputo are tackling tuberculosis (TB), the world's second deadliest communicable disease after Covid.

Overcrowded prisons are a hotbed of TB, which is caused by a bacteria often attacking the lungs.

According to the World Health Organisation, 7.5 million people were diagnosed with the disease in 2022, the highest figure since it began monitoring in 1995. 

The three prisons in Maputo are taking part in a pilot project using Artificial Intelligence to detect the disease, a programme which has sparked hope that the disease can be eradicated.

All inmates are being scanned in an effort to diagnose the disease early on in patients, key to saving lives and tackling the spread of the disease.

The programme is being conducted by a local non-profit organisation supported by the Stop TB Partnership, a UN-backed entity.

While a chronic cough is a hallmark of infection, people can also carry TB without showing symptoms. Prisons are a perfect breeding ground due to crammed cells and airborne transmission.

Traditional spit, skin or blood tests for TB involves visits to a lab and the results can take up to three days. The quickest time for reliable results is 24 hours.

The combination of AI and portable X-ray machines is faster and eliminates the need for visits to clinics and radiologists, who can be scarce in poor rural areas, says Stop TB's deputy head Suvanand Sahu.

Sahu says he hopes that the success of pilot programmes could help get funding to scale up the use of AI in diagnosing tuberculosis.

"Only a few years ago, if I was to say in a meeting that we can bring X-rays to all communities and have them read by a artificial intelligence with no need for radiologists, they would have kicked me out of the room and told me to go write a sci-fi novel," he says.

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