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Building Technology for the Fight against COVID-19

Well-known for its digital healthcare platforms, Tencent Healthcare will not be shying away from the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Its latest launch of open-sourced COVID-19 self-triage AI-powered tools further proves Tencent Healthcare’s commitment for providing technology to bridge gaps in the healthcare industry.

Announced on 3rd April 2020, Tencent will be dedicating its expertise in digital healthcare technology to support the combat of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was through the supply of open-sourced AI-powered tools that can assist in self-checks for any potential novel coronavirus infections and also providing live updates to answer pandemic-related queries in China. These tools have since been available on Github for developers around the world to tap on to help their respective countries in the fight against the pandemic.

All of these efforts were in conjunction with Tencent’s strengthening collaboration with the World Health Organisation through a US$10 million donation to WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. The agreement also entails the provision of open-sourced digital health solutions to assist countries against the COVID-19 pandemic. To help us gain more insight to these tools is the Vice President of Tencent Healthcare, Alexander Ng.


1. How will the development of digital tools help in fighting against the COVID-19 outbreak?

We believe that timely, accurate transmission of epidemic information will help people understand the real situation of the development of the epidemic and fight the COVID-19 epidemic in the right way.

The Tencent Health Mini Program has witnessed six billion pandemic-related visits in China over the past two months and has provided key information on COVID-19 to the public with its timely, accurate and intuitive pandemic data and statistics. Moreover, Tencent Health Mini Program provides artificial intelligence digital tools like the self-triage assistant to help people assess the possibility of being infected.

Tencent has recently open-sourced the international module in its COVID-19 Mini Program (TH_COVID19_International), including the self-triage assistant, making an important information resource available for free to people around the world. People all over the world are able to obtain timely pandemic information and professional guidance via an app with just a few taps on their mobile phones.


2. How has the deeper collaboration between the World Health Organization and Tencent helped in strengthening the fight against COVID-19?

Tencent has made a US$10 million donation to WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and open-sourced its digital health solutions to assist the global fight against the pandemic. The US$10 million contributions from Tencent is part of its US$100 million Global Anti-Pandemic Fund, which was established in March to support international efforts to combat COVID-19. It has already helped supply urgent medical gear, such as masks, personal protective equipment, and ventilators, to hospitals and front-line healthcare workers around the world.

In addition to the donation, the open-sourced international module in its COVID 19 WeChat Mini Program makes critical information on the pandemic freely available worldwide.


3. Who will be recommended to carry out the self-check on the COVID-19 self-triage assistant?

People who suffer from respiratory symptoms such as fevers and coughing, or have recently visited epidemic areas or contacted with suspected cases are recommended to carry out self-check. It will help people conduct a preliminary self-evaluation of their illnesses quickly and guide them to the appropriate level of medical care.

4. Will any of the information obtained within the COVID-19 self-triage assistant be stored by the hospitals or disease control and prevention centres who use it?

The COVID-19 self-triage assistant is fully open-sourced. Hospitals and CDCs can leverage the module and deploy it on their own servers. The information obtained within the instrument could be stored by those institutions under users’ informed consent and the permission of local regulations. Of course, hospitals and CDC can also choose not to store any information, according to local laws and user experience, they have the right to make their own decisions.


5. How does the virtual assistant assess the possibility of infection based on the answers provided by the user and how is the report generated in the end?

By having 5 to 7 rounds of virtual conversations with users to gather information including age, epidemiological contact history, respiratory symptoms, and history of chronic disorders, the virtual assistant will assess the possibility of infection by referring to the latest clinical management guideline published by the National Health Commission and then provide preliminary suggestions on next course of action, it will always give the option to connect to an online doctor should the user is still concerned about his/her symptoms.


6. What was the main aim for Tencent to provide these digital health technologies in open-sourced platforms?

As a responsible Internet-based technology enterprise, Tencent is committed to promoting the sustainable development of society by leveraging its advanced technologies, services, and products. By adhering to its “Tech for Good” philosophy, Tencent remains a keen advocate of using technology to address real-world problems and improve social, environmental and health outcomes. In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, Tencent provides digital health technologies in open-sourced platforms, to make the technologies available for free to people and developers around the world to fight against COVID-19.


7. In relation to the Tencent open-sourced COVID-19 live updates module, who answers the queries that are sent in?

COVID-19 live updates module provides users with real time updated epidemic statistics. In China, the epidemic statistics service we provide is based on the epidemic reports made public by public services organization. We aggregate the epidemic data published by public services organization from publicly available information so that users can clearly know the development of the epidemic.

The open-source COVID-19 live updates module could be developed based on different epidemic data source which depends on the local availability in the country or markets.

Depending on the epidemic reporting arrangements of the country or region where the developers are located, they need to obtain epidemic statistics from authoritative government departments or agencies, so that the public can obtain transparent epidemic information. [APBN]

About the Interviewee

Alexander Ng, Vice President of Tencent Healthcare

Alex is currently leading Tencent’s healthcare business. Tencent has already developed multiple products such as Tencent Healthcare (the mini programs on WeChat), AIMIS (AI enabled clinical decision support system for medical images), Oncology Assistant (AI enabled triaging system to better match cancer patients to oncologists).

Alex first started his career as a medical doctor where he was the chief resident at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand. He then moved to the US to become a strategy consultant with McKinsey & Company after completing the Master of Public Health at Harvard. After 9 years at McKinsey between US and China, where he co-led the Greater China Healthcare Practice, he joined the Gates Foundation as the deputy director of the China Country Office, responsible for the health and innovation portfolio.