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Digital Pathology Adoption for Underdeveloped Countries in the COVID-19 Era

By Dr. Talat Zehra, M.B.B.S, F.C.P.S

This guest post has been contributed by Dr. Talat Zehra, M.B.B.S, F.C.P.S. Dr. Zehra is a consultant Histopathologist in Pakistan. Since 2016, she has also worked as a lecturer at Jinnah Sindh Medical University, Karachi. Her field of interest is digital pathology and its implementation in Pakistan.

It has been more than two decades since the adoption of digital pathology and artificial intelligence in developed parts of the world. Although the adoption for primary diagnosis in these countries was slow, it has now been established through FDA approval and recommendations from the College of American Pathologists (CAP). The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the fast adoption of primary diagnosis as it gave pathologists the opportunity to work from home as well as convenient and cost-effective remote diagnosis and consultation.

As far as underdeveloped countries are concerned, this adoption was even slower for several reasons. Pathology slide scanners and AI software are expensive and not within budget or even a priority for most government or private labs. Another reason is that light microscopy has been the gold standard of diagnosis for centuries. With whole slide imaging (WSI) being relatively newer, adoption will naturally take time. One more important contributor to late adoption is that we need strong technical support and additional professional supporting staff to operate this technology.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, life was going smoothly without digital pathology in underdeveloped countries like Pakistan, but suddenly the pandemic has affected almost every human being and has brought about a change in the lifestyle of people across the globe, irrespective of geographical borders. More than 1.3 million precious lives were lost in a span of just one year. No one knows exactly how long this pandemic will persist and if the vaccine will provide 100% immunity. How much of the population will get this vaccine? Will it be accessible to every human irrespective of their geographical location and financial status? These are questions with unknown answers, but we should still have hope.

The pandemic has changed the thought process of everyday life. Currently we are all living with the goal of protecting ourselves and others until the pandemic resolves completely. We are minimizing outside exposure by trying to stay home and only going out for unavoidable necessities.

Digital pathology and its tools provide pathologists, particularly senior ones, an opportunity to work from home, but this is not as easy as it sounds for underdeveloped countries due to the cost of scanners. However, there are relatively cheaper solutions available which can help in this pandemic, such as digital microscopes or manual WSI software.

The second half of digital pathology is the use of AI-based software, which will again take time to be adopted, but I believe it will in time. The world’s leading software organizations could work in underdeveloped countries for cheaper rates initially and hire and train people locally. I am confident they would be successful and would even recover their initial loss.

This is my humble request for the world leaders of digital pathology to come forward in underdeveloped countries. Like COVID-19, which penetrates our lives without discrimination, we must also come together without discrimination in the name of humanity.

Tags: digital pathology, underdeveloped countries