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Artificial intelligence (AI) and Data Science

Uncovering AI and data science policy gaps in global
health: An African perspective

Data, Policy and Open Science | Science Prioritisation & Policy Engagement for Africa (SPEAR) | Artificial intelligence (AI) and Data Science



Artificial intelligence (AI) and Data Science are emerging from the African ecosystem across sectors. The potential of these cutting-edge technologies to advance Africa’s development goals is immense. AI has the potential to promote Africa-specific development through “leapfrog” technologies, introduce efficiencies, lower costs and/or add value to existing technologies, products and services.

To realise this potential, strong governance and policy frameworks must be developed alongside R&D, not introduced later as afterthoughts. Evidence-driven policies aligned with developmental goals must be contextually applicable at the country, regional, continental and global levels; they must be flexible, diverse, equitable, inclusive and stakeholder-owned. Additionally, trust must be established and nurtured among all stakeholders -- the absence of it will thwart the scaling and adoption of technologies.

SFA Foundation’s SPEAR programme is convening African stakeholders and other partners to discuss and understand the AI and data science policy gaps that exist in global health from an African perspective. It focuses on, but is not limited to, genomics, clinical trials/drug development and epidemics/pandemics, while considering country-level policy needs.

The AI and Data Science initiative seeks to improve AI global health governance from an African perspective by:

  • Convening scientific leaders, private sector players, civil society representatives and policymakers from across Africa's regional blocks to understand the existing policy frameworks, and to identify where there are gaps or pre-existing policies and frameworks that can be adapted continentally and nationally. This includes identifying R&D priorities to focus investment in areas that can drive development and impact.
  • Policy engagement: In collaboration with strategic partners, the SFA Foundation is engaging policymakers and decision-making bodies to promote ownership and adoption of policies and frameworks that will emerge because from these initiatives.
  • Public engagement for trust: Because AI simulates human intelligence, the SFA Foundation’s AI and Data Science initiative is engaging communities and the public to build trust and enable participation in research and uptake of research outcomes within communities.
  • Exploration of the benefits and challenges of utilising data science and AI in global health, taking into account ethics and governance issues.
  • Providing a platform for sharing best practices, innovative approaches, and lessons learned in implementing data science and AI initiatives in global health.
  • Identifying knowledge and research gaps to foster collaborations among academia, industry and government.

How will science policy engagement drive impact:

  • If R&I is to deliver maximum impact and positively change the lives of African people and societies, findings from Africa led R&I research programmes should be translated into recommendations that can be implemented within policy and practice in Africa.
  • Contribute to efficiency and effectiveness within programmes through best practice.
  • Ensure the right questions are formulated, asked, and answered through an African lens.
  • Highlight gaps and key points of evidence within context and in an accurate manner to facilitate comprehension and use.
  • Promote shared understanding, trust and collaboration for meaningful work that drives change regionally and globally
  • Place African experts and policymakers at the centre of science-led policymaking processes in Africa
  • Place contextually relevant data and perspectives at the centre of science-led decision-making process in Africa.

Activities being implemented by SPEAR

Artificial intelligence (AI) and Data Science policy gaps from an African perspective. The African STI landscape is witnessing the emergence of AI and Data Science across various sectors. However, for these technologies to have their full positive impact, it is crucial to develop trust among stakeholders and formulate contextualized policies that support their implementation in the region. This grant aims to address these areas by:

  • Convening African stakeholders to examine and comprehend the policy gaps in AI and Data Science in global health from an African perspective, focusing on but not limited to genomics, clinical trials/drug development, and epidemics/pandemics.
  • In collaboration with African partners, identifying the research and development goals of AI and data science for the betterment of global health from an African perspective.
  • Engaging the public on AI and Data Science policy

" If scientific results are not shared broadly, then the societal benefits are significantly limited. We have a responsibility to ensure that policymakers have access to the best, relevant and up-to-date knowledge available. To achieve Africa’s sustainable development goals, it is critical that policy decisions are informed by contextually relevant evidence”. - Uzma Alam, SPEAR programme lead.