Dubai: A Dubai professor has said she has designed a mass screening platform instantly scanning the chest to flag up suspected COVID-19 cases.
The platform has shown “very promising results” during testing at UAE health facilities, said Dr Rula Sharqi, Assistant Professor, School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai.
The automatic AI-powered platform uses a thermal imaging camera – instead of an X-ray – to screen the chest and lungs for any abnormalities in seconds without the need for a technician.
If any abnormality is detected, the person can be referred to or advised to contact health authorities to test if the abnormality is COVID-19 or for further investigation.
The private booth-like platform can be installed at entrances to workers’ accommodations, universities, schools and offices, for example, to screen individuals swiftly. It can use fingerprint or facial recognition (or both) to identify the person.
Dr Sharqi, who is from Iraq, said, “from an accuracy point of view, the thermal image sensitivity was found to be 80 per cent compared to chest X-rays”.
And unlike conventional thermal scanners used in places such as malls, Dr Sharqi said the new platform is more likely to detect elusive cases.
“In the malls now, they are targeting the face, the head, or even the full body, only to check the temperature. While studies show that there are many infected people who have the virus in their lungs, but without any increment in their body temperature, and without any symptoms,” she said.
“So the platform will take an image specifically of the chest area to see if there is any abnormality, or temperature increment, in the lungs, which could be an indication of COVID-19… The temperature alone is not an accurate indicator, as used in malls and other places.”
Dr Sharqi, who has been a UAE resident for 17 years, pointed out the platform is not a diagnostic tool or alternative to medical examination.
Reducing the burden
“Rather it is a reliable method aimed at reducing the number of suspects examined by a professional specialist, down to a number that is sustainable by the available resources during a pandemic. Through this platform for mass screening, we can reduce the load in the hospitals. We can send only the suspected people to hospitals,” she said.
There is also a psychological benefit to the “early-detection, mass-screening” platform, Dr Sharqi said.
“Many of us are afraid of something that we cannot see; we cannot see our enemy. We are afraid that we may have it [COVID-19] without knowing about it. So through this early detection or mass screening platform, when you are going to your office and you’re sure that all the employees have been checked and they are healthy, you will feel more secure working with them and talking with your colleagues,” she added.