Mumbai: BMC's voice app to detect COVID-19 yet to take off

Updated: 14 September, 2020 07:47 IST | Arita Sarkar | Mumbai

A month after BMC's pilot project to detect COVID-19 through voice analysis, only 200 samples have been collected

Asha Nagar residents get tested for COVID-19 at an antigen testing camp at Thakur Complex, Kandivli on Sunday. Pics/Satej Shinde
Asha Nagar residents get tested for COVID-19 at an antigen testing camp at Thakur Complex, Kandivli on Sunday. Pics/Satej Shinde

More than a month after starting work on a pilot project of developing a voice app for detecting COVID-19, the BMC is yet to make any progress in the matter. While the civic body is trying to speed up the process, of the 500 voice samples needed for the first part of the project, only 200 have been collected. Another 1,500 samples are needed before the app can be rolled out.

The first 500 samples are being collected at the NESCO centre in Goregaon. Additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani said, "We have been working on collecting the first 500 samples from patients who have undergone RT-PCR tests as well and the process should be completed over the next week. Once the algorithm for artificial intelligence (AI) is ready, we will check another 1,500 samples with the software and verify the findings with the RT-PCR results for accuracy."

Thakur Complex residents undergo antigen tests at a camp on Sunday
Thakur Complex residents undergo antigen tests at a camp on Sunday

Lengthy process

Explaining the process, Dr Neelam Andrade, dean of the jumbo facility at NESCO in Goregaon, said that sample collection was a lengthy process and takes up to 18-20 minutes per patient. "Earlier, we had deputed two staff members who would work in six-hour shifts and collect samples from 25-27 patients each day. We have chosen COVID-19 patients with mild and moderate symptoms along with suspected ones as well. Since it's a trial, we have to take their informed consent before they give their voice samples and the process is taking some time," she added.

As part of the trial of using the software called Vocalis created by an Israeli start-up company, people are asked to read numbers for a 20-second voice clip, which is recorded on the app through a mobile tablet.

Residents of Sarova Complex get tested for COVID-19 in Kandivli
Residents of Sarova Complex get tested for COVID-19 in Kandivli

"We need to get an algorithm based on local languages like Marathi and Hindi. If a candidate prefers English then they have to read out numbers 50-70 while if the candidate prefers Hindi or Marathi, then they are asked to read out 1-20," said Dr Andrade.

She added that to speed up things two more people had been deputed for sample collection and they were collecting 50 samples each day.

Accuracy test

She further added that once the first 500 samples were ready, they would send them to Israel along with their corresponding RT-PCR reports. Once the AI software was ready, the BMC would send the samples of another 1,500 people, this time without the RT-PCR reports. After they get the results, they would corroborate those with the RT-PCR test results to understand the app's accuracy.

"We will work on a continuous process to complete the project soon. This can be a great screening tool to examine the biomarkers in people's voice. Taking temperature readings is authentic only 9 per cent of the time," she said. On a scale of 0 to 1, upto 0.5 is considered to be low risk, 0.5-0.7 is moderate while anything above that is a severe case. Moderate and severe cases would be tested followed by isolation if they have COVID-19. The voice analysis app is also said to be less time consuming than a swab test and is non-invasive.

50
No. of voice samples being collected at the Goregaon NESCO centre daily

500
No. of samples that will be collected at NESCO

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First Published: 14 September, 2020 07:05 IST

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