Launch of “Pahola: PAHO's First Digital Health Specialist on Alcohol Use”

Washington DC, United States,
Friday, 19 November 2021

Alcohol consumption is one of the leading risk factors for ill-health globally and in the Americas. Of the approximately 107 million people globally who have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), fewer than 10% receive appropriate care due to numerous barriers, including fear of treatment, privacy concerns, stigma, time conflicts, and limited availability of treatment.

In 2016, 27.5% of the people living in the Americas lived in a country where the treatment coverage for AUD was unknown, and another 39.4% lived in a country where less than 10% of persons who need treatment for an AUD received it. Alcohol treatment services, including screening and brief interventions in primary health care, have not been scaled up in most countries.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, not only has there been widespread dissemination of misinformation related to alcohol use, but also an exponential increase in alcohol sales online coupled with home deliveries. In contrast, alcohol treatment services were disrupted or stopped altogether. There is a need for alternatives to support people who wish to stop or reduce their drinking so that the large treatment gap for alcohol use disorders in the Americas can be decreased.

A potential, cost-effective, tool to increase access to screening, brief interventions, and other services for the treatment of alcohol use disorders, is through the utilization of digital humans designed using Artificial Intelligence (AI) which visually and audibly emulates a human being. These digital helpers can deliver screening and brief interventions, namely, Motivational Interview-based Brief Intervention (BI).

Pahola is the Pan American Health Organizations first AI Health Specialist and the only AI digital health worker in the world focusing on alcohol-related topics. Pahola can interact with anyone interested in talking about their alcohol consumption, assessing their risk, reducing or stopping alcohol, or seeking resources for treatment and recovery. Pahola is being developed in three languages (English, Portuguese and Spanish).

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