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Harnessing artificial intelligence to transform health in Africa

Thursday, February 2, 2023

AI is the ability of machines or computer systems to perform tasks that simulate human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages

1 February 2023, NAIROBI, KENYA — The Science for Africa Foundation (SFA Foundation) is today announcing a new $300,000 grant from the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation to map the policy gaps in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data science, identify the research and development (R&D) goals of AI and opportunities for global health from an African perspective. The aim is to build public trust and develop contextualized policies to support the implementation of AI and data science in the continent.

AI is the ability of machines or computer systems to perform tasks that simulate human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. AI systems ingest large amounts of data, analyse it for patterns, and uses the patterns to predict the future. AI and data sciences for global health focus on strengthening health systems and delivery across Africa, including point-of-care, diagnosis and advancing research based on real time data, etc.

“With this grant, we provide an opportunity to close the policy gaps in AI and data science across our continent and to focus investment to maximise on the promise to transform healthcare in Africa and for better global health governance,” said Dr. Uzma Alam, SFA Foundation Senior Programme Officer, who oversees the grant.

The AI and data science grant seeks to achieve meaningful outcomes for AI global health governance from an African perspective through:

  • Convening scientific leaders and policymakers: The SFA Foundation will convene AI science experts and policymakers 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 will engage policymakers early on, including them in the convenings to promote ownership and adoption of policies and frameworks that will emerge as a result of the grant.
  • Public engagement for trust: Given its simulation of human intelligence, the SFA Foundation’s AI and Data Science grant will also engage communities and public to build trust and enable participation in research and uptake of research outcomes within communities.
  • Defining a strategic direction: The above activities will be underpinned by a strategic framework developed and guided by a steering committee comprising researchers and policymakers who are based in Africa.

The Patrick J. McGovern Foundation grant will be implemented over a one-year period under the auspices of the SFA Foundation’s Science Policy Engagement for Africa (SPEAR) programme. SPEAR intersects scientific prioritisation and policy, which are critical components for the SFA Foundation, that facilitates science, technology and innovation to inform policy making across the continent. SPEAR convenes a cross-section of stakeholders beyond technical experts and policymakers to drive holistic understanding and integration of scientific knowledge. It is through SPEAR that the SFA Foundation envisions the unification of the scientific community and policymakers to ensure laws, policies and guidelines are evidence informed and use the most up-to-date data and information for Africa’s development.