Originally from Buffalo City but now based abroad, dietician, founder and CEO of Qina, Dr Mariette Abrahams MBA RD is im
proving public health by using artificial intelligence (AI) in nutrition.
Qina is the only nutrition consultancy in the world that uses AI to provide personalised nutrition advice for consumers.
AI refers to computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence.
The application of AI in nutrition marks a new era of more personalised health care and Qina has sped to the forefront of the trend. The company believes there is great potential in collaboration between nutrition, health and technology.
Abrahams is one of a handful of global nutritional experts who are using AI to possibly prevent disease, alleviate illnesses and provide consumers with accurate information about individual nutritional needs.
Abrahams believes that AI in nutrition will lead to huge leaps forward for people however the danger is that the computer systems will be developed using data from contexts that do not reflect challenges in food insecure countries such as SA.
Recognising this risk, Abrahams believes that Qina will play a key role in providing accurate data to computer systems so that technology used in nutrition can benefit people living in cities like Buffalo City.
Growing up within a politically affiliated family in exile during apartheid, Abrahams was exposed to different cultures and recalls noticing the inequalities of the world reflected in the food people ate, especially in Buffalo City.
When her family moved to Breidbach, they implemented soup kitchens and organic gardens in the area to combat the proliferation of cheap and widely available low nutritional food products.
This inspired Abrahams towards a career in dietetics that spans more than 20 years.
She said: “If someone in the Eastern Cape had access to AI and asked it to provide a meal plan, the computer would do that with data that doesn’t take into context the unique economic, social and health challenges people in the Eastern Cape experience.
“Tech needs to work together with researchers, health care professionals and nutrition experts to create technology that doesn’t work to further current inequality.
“This will only happen once areas like BCM invest in proper data collection in the health sector and collect data that tracks consumer habits.
“Our roles as dieticians have changed with the introduction of these new technologies and now everyone has access to the internet can call themselves an expert which is dangerous.
“Only us, as professionals, have the knowledge to verify the authenticity of the knowledge AI is providing consumers.
“For me this is the most exciting time to be in my industry although many of my peers have left because the assumption is that AI will replace the work we do and that is far from true.
“We need experts to make sure the technology is effectively working for us. AI is not a threat and we can use it to improve our quality of life.
“I don’t have a degree in AI but Qina is considered the go-to role players in nutrition and technology and that is because we embrace change and we adapt to the possibilities that technology is bringing into fruition.
“AI is changing everything and is even deciding the food we eat, and my job in the face of these changes, is to make sure that the machines are working for us and not against us.”