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Kāhu AI and MoleMap partner with Te Hau Ora O Ngāpuhi

Skin cancer is one of the more common forms of cancer worldwide. It’s particularly prevalent in New Zealand, though, which has the highest rate in the world with nearly 400 New Zealanders dying each year from skin cancer. 

Studies indicate that early detection could have greatly improved the chance of survival in the majority of cases.

Auckland-based start-up Kāhu – a spinoff of MoleMap, a chain of clinics across Australia and New Zealand – is aiming to help address this. It’s offering patients early, low-cost access to an artificial intelligence (AI) clinical decision support tool that gives clinicians more information about skin lesions.

Kāhu is partnering with Precision Driven Health (PDH) to build tools based on MoleMap’s initial research on skin lesions. 

This $2m research project will enhance Kāhu’s AI algorithm, which leverages MoleMap’s world-leading database of high-quality dermatological images. The AI differentiates cancerous skin lesions from benign lesions, and prioritises lesions which need to be reviewed by a dermatologist.

As with all PDH projects, a key focus of this project is applying new techniques in data science to advance Māori health outcomes. 

Kāhu has highly prioritised working with New Zealand’s Māori communities to further optimise their AI algorithm. While Māori do not have a high incidence of melanoma, there is a high mortality rate for those who have melanoma. Earlier and easier melanoma detection could help decrease this mortality risk and save lives.

Kāhu, in conjunction with MoleMap, is working to identify partnerships with specific Māori communities to ensure technologies of the future increase health equity for all.

This includes partnering with Te Hau Ora O Ngāpuhi – an organisation with a mission to provide health and wellbeing to the people of Northland, with a focus on Māori in particular – provided free skin checks in Kaikohe, Northland in July 2022.

Tia Ashby (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Te Ati Awa), Interim CEO of Te Hau Ora O Ngāpuhi, says: “There’s a critical shortage of doctors in the North, and often, cancer diagnoses of all sorts happen too late, before anyone can provide any treatment.”

“We know that early detection can save lives. So we aim to ensure that whanau have equitable access to primary health care services, and to a broad range of diagnostic services, so any innovative opportunity we can find like this, we will pursue it.”

Over two days, MoleMap melanographers and Te Hau Ora O Ngāpuhi nurses saw 39 patients. Through MoleMap’s telehealth digital platform, dermatologists recommended treatment to five patients for potential skin cancers, four of which were malignant.  

Tia says Te Hau Ora O Ngāpuhi is “very grateful for the opportunity to partner with MoleMap, Kāhu and PDH to ensure Māori whanau have equitable access to diagnostic services in Kaikohe.”

“Barriers to specialist appointments exist, so we’re missing the opportunity for early detection and treatment. Usually, our patients’ journey is fragmented and often they’re bounced around from a doctor to a specialist due to missed appointments.

“Instead of expecting the people to come to us, we can bring the services to them”

As part of the current study, Kāhu will continue to engage Māori communities to conduct skin checks and contribute to the growing database of lesions, increasing the diversity of the data used for AI training. 

Tia says Te Hau Ora O Ngāpuhi’s nurses loved the MoleMap and Kāhu technology which was easy to use. “They liked how there was follow-up for whanau immediately. They didn’t have to offer transport to a, b and c to help complete their journey…This is equity in action, because it’s removing barriers to care.”