This is the fourth and final episode in the #STEMSolutionsAfrica series. We're thrilled to have Enya Seguin, the unit manager of the Baby Checker, a portable AI ultrasound technology that is already changing lives.
Find out more about how this technology is being utilized in underserved communities in Africa, how it detects pregnancy risks, the future of Baby Checker and Enya as a speaker in the upcoming Global Grand Challenge Awards in Senegal.
LinkedIn: Enya Seguin
The root of the science podcast with your girl, Anne with an E. Hello everyone, and welcome back to another episode of the Root of the Science podcast with your girl, Anne with an E. If you are new here, welcome. It's always such a pleasure to have new listeners to the show If you're returning. Thank you so much. We are back. Once again, a reminder that you can listen to this podcast on Spotify, apple Podcast, google or wherever else you listen to your podcast, and remember to click the subscribe button so that you are notified when a new podcast comes on. This includes on YouTube, and remember that you can follow this podcast on Twitter, Instagram and Tok-tok at the root of the sci pod, or on Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as YouTube, at the root of the science podcast. Now let's get into today's episode. This episode is a wrap up of our STEM Solutions Africa series, and I think it's such a wonderful opportunity to tie the bow on everything that we've been doing, from Zameer Brey, who spoke on AI, advancing AI and equality, to our last month episode with Dr Maureen, who spoke on maternal health care. So today we are going to be speaking on maternal health and AI. So ultrasound machines for pregnancy play a vital role in maternal health care by providing non-invasive, real-time insights into fetal development. However, in underserved communities, limited access to ultrasound technology can lead to delayed or inadequate prenatal care. This, in turn, affects maternal outcomes, as timely and accurate ultrasounds can detect complications, guide treatment and ultimately contribute to safer pregnancies, which then reduce maternal and infant mortality. So today we have an extraordinary guest who is making waves in the world of global health innovation. Her name is Enya Seguin, the developer of the Baby Checker, which is an AI ultrasound solution which can be accessed through smartphones. How cool is that? So today we are going to be talking about how the baby checker, which is the AI ultrasound, is transforming maternal health care in underserved communities, as well as we chat about her talk, where she's going to be talking about this work at the annual Global Grand Challenge Awards, which is organized by the Gates Foundation. So she'll be speaking when you listen to this episode. So let's tune in to hear about all of this and, of course, so much more. Hello, Enya, welcome to the show. Hi, thank you so much for having me. It is such a pleasure to chat to you. It's been a long time coming and I'm so, so, so excited to have this conversation with you. We spoke on the, we spoke off air about how last week it's not last week anymore, it was a week before I was in New York and I was attending the goalkeepers event which we're going to get into. But it just made me even more excited to talk to you because I'm like, wait a minute, I know a person doing that. So before I get carried away, let's have a brief introduction. Could you just briefly introduce yourself to our listeners so that they know who you are?Enya Seguin:
Yes, sure. Hi everyone, I'm so glad to be here. As Anne just said, I think this is a perfect come together roundup of the previous episodes and also the events you've been to Anne recently. So my name is Enya and I'm managing and I'm heading baby checker at the moment. I've been working in digital health in Sub-Saharan Africa Since ever. I started working. I was even doing my thesis and studying on topics about digital health in Africa, so for a long time I've been a very big enthusiast of what can we do with technology and how can we improve access to health care, and what I'm doing now is exactly in line with that.Anne Chisa:
Oh, fantastic, and you're doing such amazing work and, like you said, that this episode is a nice roundup to everything how we started the series with our chat with Zameer Brey, with AI and AI equity, and what you are doing and how you're integrating equity, particularly with what you do. So, as a background to this conversation, like I said, I was in New York to attend the Goalkeepers event hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and one of the sessions that I attended was with Dr Raza, and he spoke of the innovations that are being developed specifically for maternal health care to minimize maternal mortality, and I'm sure you're going to get into it in terms of the stats, but one of the things that that had, like my mind blown, was actually one of the things that you're working on the baby checker. So your contributions to global health innovation is pretty remarkable. So tell us about the baby checker. What is it, why are we here and why is it so important?Enya Seguin:
Yeah. So I think a lot of your listeners will know or may have heard about how bad the situation is currently with maternal health. I mean, you know very well, I'm sure, because there's a lot of conversations about that, especially coming from the General Assembly we're really in a bad situation because the status of improving maternal health has actually stagnated and so that means a woman dies every two minutes during pregnancy or childbirth. That's way too many, way, way, way too many, because most of those deaths could actually be prevented. And when you think about that, then there's obviously a huge opportunity to come in and, you know, fix that and improve access to maternal health. And also, given the fact that the large majority of those figures also come from the lowest resource settings in the world, so it's clear that there's a lack of access to resources, a lack of access to all the innovations that in the steps forward we've made in the developed world to address maternal health and well-being. So Baby Checker started about seven years ago. It sounds like quite a while ago, but it does take, you know, that amount of time to not just build a solution like Baby Checker but really wrap your head around. You know what it is that we're doing and also pivot Because, as a company and as a solution, we work really hand in hand with our end users and we always co-create what we're doing. And that means you have to be very flexible, very adaptable to the situation, the demands, the circumstances. And it does mean you know that we are not a company that deploys products and basically wishes everyone, you know, good luck, and that's it right. So we really, as a social enterprise, need to make sure that we are making impact at the forefront and that it's sustainable and that we can grow to continue making impact. So seven years ago that's when the journey started it was clear to us and all of our partners that we've had a great deal of success in artificial intelligence, with tuberculosis, which is a huge, also a huge disease burden, in sub-Saharan Africa especially, and so, you know, let's repurpose or let's innovate and let's continue leveraging our expertise in AI to do something that's also meaningful. And maternal health was a no-brainer. I mean, it is such a no-brainer because we know that ultrasound is important. There's a reason that women who are pregnant get multiple ultrasounds, you know, in developed countries and the WHO recommends as well there's a reason for that. It's a very powerful equipment. It's a great device that can prevent complications, and so, putting all that together, okay, we're good with AI. Ultrasound's important, and those two things are not available in the places where maternal mortality is the highest, then let's go, let's do it, and that's when the journey started, and so fast forward to today. We have an artificial intelligence software that detects different potential pregnancy risks by any community health worker in primary healthcare. So that's really. It's been a journey of co-creation, a lot of passion, a lot of, you know, research and development that has given us what we have today, which is, of course, ever-developing, but it's we're really proud to have a version one today.Anne Chisa:
Mm, fantastic. So I think for someone who's like, okay, this is great, this is sounding really exciting, can you tell us because of course we are. Just we do not have the the privilege of of images as we speaking, but just paint the picture how does it work? Why is it so different and why is it so innovative? For somebody who is listening, yeah, yeah.Enya Seguin:
So, for anyone who's listening, either you've had an ultrasound scan done or you've seen it in the movies, and hopefully you know, you can kind of gather, what an ultrasound probe will look like. You know, when it scans a pregnant woman on her abdomen. What that does? It basically, in a nutshell, creates images, right, it creates images, and a doctor, a trained, skilled sonographer, will look at those images and move the device, the ultrasound probe, based on his or her expertise, so they will see the images up. There's the head Okay, this is should be the head circumference. Oh, there's the heart, and you're guided by your medical knowledge and usually that big machine that's at the hospital that will cost around some 50 to $100,000 and needs to be operated by a trained clinician. There's a lot of luxuries here that I'm talking about that are not available in a lot of rural, you know, villages, community health centers, where maternal complications are that currently the highest, and so what we've done is we've partnered with portable ultrasound suppliers who have basically revolutionized the portability of the ultrasound. So it's no longer with this huge machine. It's now, you know, connectable to your device, to your tablet, to your smartphone, and that's an amazing step because it reduces the price of an ultrasound. It really improves its accessibility. Clinicians can now travel everywhere with it. Now you still need a clinician. That's still a problem. So that's where AI comes in. So now, when you're plugging in the probe to your phone, you open the baby checker app and the baby checker app will read the images for you and, with AI, will analyze and interpret potential complications, so that our target user, who's a midwife and nurse, a community health worker who has never held an ultrasound before, can simply do six sweeps across the abdomen and then wait a couple of seconds Until the AI can tell her the gestational age, the fetal presentation, the placenta location, and those are very critical factors to know, you know, at the point of care and then she can decide refer or re-scan in a couple of weeks, so hopefully that paints a good picture of what we're doing.Anne Chisa:
I think so, and when I saw this, my mind was blown. I was, I think, like you said, that the original ones that we see in movies, or if you've had an ultrasound before. They are these big, bulky machines which are, like you said, very expensive, but now you literally have it in the palm of your hand. And I think you guys went a step further where, okay, it's all well and good that we are able to have these images, but now, with the baby checker, you are able to actually get interpretations, and I think that is the part which was just like amazing. So this, then, I suppose, will take us into, possibly, the ways in which the baby checker is advancing equity in terms of advancing equity in global health within these underserved communities, so particularly in Africa, I'm sure, because, you know, people live really far away and they do not have access to an OBGYN or they have, maybe traditional birth attendance or just midwives, and you know, I'm sure, that that has helped in terms of advancing equity, right, yeah, yeah absolutely, I was actually speaking to someone who works at the UN.Enya Seguin:
I'm going to have a round table soon. I'm speaking on about AI, but the round table they're having before mine is about climate change, and they were like basically thinking out loud like how do we connect the two? And I said, guys, this is amazing, I know exactly how to connect the two because they are connected. Okay, the fact that climate change is bringing, you know, bringing a lot of changes, needless to say, to the environment, and I've seen with my own eyes the rainy season in in West African countries and in some cases it's changing in ways that you know. It's becoming drier, but in some cases it's becoming wetter. The rains are insane. Yeah, it's causing a lot of disruption to roads that are not roads like we know them, you know in. You know in I don't know if you're in Cape Town, but I'm now in the Netherlands like they're not roads like what we have, they're mud roads, and so when there's a lot of rain, there's a lot of flooding, it's really, really hard to access the roads, to get on a motorbike and go to the hospital for your checkup. So, because of climate change and many other reasons, we really need to empower primary health care and community health centers Because women for not just those reasons, but also monetary reasons, you know or they have eight kids they need to take care of, they have, they have work they need to attend to. They don't have time to travel All the way to the hospital, wait for hours to get an ultrasound scan or whatever else they need done. So that's, you know, a combination of reasons why we really need to bring more resources to primary health care. We need to empower primary health care to have more points of care, screenings done there, so that they can triage and refer more adequately, and also so that, honestly, so that community health workers feel more empowered. They are like the pillar of our health care systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. They are so, so important. And so when, you know, a community health worker starts working at a health center, I've seen health centers with absolutely no resources and you know, when you go to work, you, you would hope that there's some resources for you to work with right, I mean, when I go to work, I hope I have a laptop and a phone, you know, and a few other things that help me do my job. And so, by us bringing in not just baby checker but, you know, everybody else who's working in this field, bringing in Equipment that can really empower primary health care, what we're also doing is empowering the health workers working there, that they are important and we're helping them and supporting them to do the job that they, that they, you know love and that they know to do well. So that's what's really important in, you know, having this equity and and decentralizing access to health care.Anne Chisa:
Fantastic. So now let's talk about you know, this sounds amazing and it is amazing. However, we live in the real world and in the real world there are some challenges, so I would like to hear what are some challenges that you faced so far While implementing the baby checker and how have you managed to navigate those types of challenges?Enya Seguin:
So some sorts of challenges would be. Honestly, I would walk us through the many technical challenges that that are entailed in in Bringing a mobile based solution to places where there's no electricity and no and no water. But the thing is, we've been working in those environments for so long that we knew better than to build an AI software that relies on internet. Yes, so we kind of addressed our own challenges, but in in the building of baby checker, because we have that expertise, because we know that if we would build an AI software that uses internet to process images, that we would Basically not be achieving our goals, yeah, or if we were relying on an ultrasound probe that that required a Separate charging port, you know how you have to charge it separately and then you have to charge the phone as well, that would be. I mean, that would be a dead end for us. Most of the facilities I work in in Sierra Leone don't have running water or electricity, so we kind of knew these things when we came into it. But then there's also, you know there's there's other other things that come about, like turning a publication and a research paper into a product. Yes, such a fun challenge and I think we can have such a long conversation about that oh man.Anne Chisa:
We don't have all the time in the world, no no, but I would.Enya Seguin:
I mean we would be here for the whole day if I walk you through the whole roadmap of that, because, and when you have a good AI model, you're halfway from having an actual product Mm-hmm and when you have a product, you're still halfway from having a solution Mm-hmm. And so when we are, when we work with our researchers and the University Medical Center that has developed these AI algorithms, it's not the end and it doesn't end there like, yay, we have AI, we can do this, that's it, we've solved it. Not at all, because those models, they're not made to fit on smartphones and we're not deploying laptops. You know, that's not baby checker. We cannot, you cannot expect untrained users to know how to use a laptop. Some of them have never used a smartphone, so tough it's you, an AI model on a phone into an app is a challenge on its own. So there's a lot of technical challenges like that and you need to be ready as a company. You need to have the years of experience, like we have to know, that that's what you're facing, not the line, and I would say like the challenges coming up now is it's going to be regulatory, it's going to be funding access to funding. There's a lot of big companies now that have received a lot of funding to develop AI, to work on ultrasound solutions. We need to collaborate because Baby Checker has made it this far with the sole investment of Delft Imaging as the company, and we're happy to, as a social enterprise, to continue investing our resources and something as amazing and impactful as Baby Checker. But it's really time to see some doors open now so we can really all come together and continue co-creating the solution and building on what we have now, because ultrasound probes, like the actual device, are really still expensive. They're not as cheap as we would like them to be, so it's still hard to access and it's not that easy to connect your AI software to any probe. So we really do need the cooperation of probes suppliers who, given that, they're interested in reaching last mile and really improving maternal health. So that's what's coming up for us.Anne Chisa:
Yeah, no, I think when you put everything into context like that, you can understand why this has taken seven years. And even though it's been seven years, there's still a lot more to be done, which you obviously take a couple more years as well. And just to reflect back on what you said, I loved how you, because my obvious I think anybody who lives in Africa will tell you about infrastructure, like that is the first thing. So that was my question, but I'm glad that you spoke about that and how that was already something that you thought of and you've figured a way out to deal with. And I wish you all of the best because, like you said, that you are a social enterprise and you have invested, as a company, all of this money, but it really does need hands, or hands on deck, and you are going to be speaking the next week, next week, next week Wow time has flown, you're going to be speaking, you are one of the featured speakers this year at the annual Global Challenge Awards, which is organized by the Gates Foundation, and so I'm sure this is also an opportunity for you to talk about the work and hopefully get some of the hands on deck from policymakers and from media to get more an opportunity to disseminate this type of information. So, as we're about to wrap up, what are some brief highlights that we can expect from you next week in your talk for those that will be in attendance and for somebody who would be interested to hear more about your work?Enya Seguin:
Well, first of all, I'm so excited. I'm so unbelievably excited, because the first time I ever said a word about Baby Checker was two years ago, and this is from a company that's only worked in tuberculosis and so to be recognized, you know, to be valued, I hope, as you know one of the esteemed speakers and the panel is amazing. Yeah, it built kind of hearts of belief and it's a bit imposter syndrome as well, I guess my side but you know to be on a panel full of experts and researchers and really really well qualified you know people in the AI space and also in the global public health space. I'm so proud of what we've accomplished in the past two years in really turning research into product, and my main message at the conference will be, you know, to present about our AI, how it works, who we are, et cetera, but also to do kind of a call for action. You know we've, as you mentioned I've mentioned as well now like we've spent a lot of our own resources. We've had the amazing collaboration of tons of partners in the Netherlands and all over Africa to build this and now we have a product and that product is a version one, of course, and it will continue to develop, but we need partnerships to bring this product into a solution, because Baby Checker alone will not fix maternal care. It needs to fit into a broader spectrum, a broader offering to improve antenatal care in the continent and abroad as well. I mean, there's other places outside of sub-Saharan Africa that are really in need of this and we need partnerships for that. We need the more global institutions who kind of can help guide the regulatory framework and the implementation behind an intervention like this. We need funders to also help, you know, get the right projects going, get the right technical developments on track as well, because the roadmap is endless with Baby Checker. I mean, there's so much we want to do from now on, so I really hope I can make some headway in having those conversations. I'm already so proud again that I've like made it to be on a stage like that, literally and figuratively, like to be on a stage to speak about what we've been doing, because it's been a long time coming. I mean, it's taken a while. As you know, you would expect for people to wrap their head around this, and it's this year, it's 2023, that people are like oh, I get it now?Anne Chisa:
Yeah, I get it.Enya Seguin:
I get it and I'm so thankful to you know the Gates Foundation funding all these AI solutions and bringing like into portable ultrasounds from internal health, because I mean they have a way louder voice than we do. And they're helping open that door, and I'm thankful for that as well. So, yeah, I'm super excited. I think a lot of good things will come out of this.Anne Chisa:
Oh snap, here's Treza. Okay, I it's been. It's been amazing. It's been amazing just hearing about your journey and it's so deserving. You deserve to be there and I'm excited for you. And, like I said, I saw this and I was like, oh, my goodness, it blew my mind and we get it and this. I think we are in such a right atmosphere where we understanding the value of AI and we're understanding why it's so important and how it can be so beneficial with all these global health issues. And I like what you said, that this, this is a solution that needs to be embedded in the whole patient's journey, right From, yes, to have healthy pregnancy and healthy birth, as well as healthy babies, and it'll be really great to see how everybody comes together to hopefully find a solution for that healthy patient's journey. And, yeah, all of the best. I cannot wait to hear your session and, yeah, it's been lovely, lovely chatting with you and congratulations once again to you and your team Fantastic work.Enya Seguin:
Thank you so much, thank you so much and thank you for you know helping us shed light on this. I mean your podcast and especially like a nice segue from the last episode as well, really bringing importance and highlighting the need for not just AI but what AI can do, you know, in face of the need for improved access to healthcare. So yeah, thank you so much.Anne Chisa:
You are so welcome, and to everybody else who's tuned in, thank you so much for listening to another episode of the route of the science podcast with your girl and with an E until next time, goodbye.