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In BMC proceedings

BACKGROUND : Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms, increasingly deployed in public health, utilize robust data systems as a critical component for health emergency preparedness. Yet, Africa faces numerous challenges in the availability, analyses, and use of data to inform health decision-making. Countries have limited access to their population data. Those with access, struggle to utilize these data for program improvements. Owing to the rapid growth of mobile phone ownership and use in the region, Africa is poised to leverage AI technologies to increase the adoption, access and use of data for health. To discuss and propose solutions for responsible development and adoption of innovations like AI in Africa, a virtual workshop was organized from the 21st to 24th June, 2021. This report highlights critical policy dimensions of strengthening digital health ecosystems by high-level policymakers, technical experts, academia, public and private sector partners.

METHOD : The four days' workshop focused on nine sessions, with each session focusing on three themes. Discussions during the sessions concentrated on public and private sectors, the academia and multilateral organizations' deployment of AI. These discussions expanded participants' understanding of AI, the opportunities and challenges that exist during adoption, including the future of AI for health in the African region. Approximately 250 participants attended the workshop, including countries representatives from ministries of Health, Information and Technology, Developmental Organizations, Private Sector, Academia and Research Institutions among others.

RESULTS : The workshop resolved that governments and relevant stakeholders should collaborate to ensure that AI and digital health receive critical attention. Government ownership and leadership were identified as critical for sustainable financing and effective scale-up of AI-enabled applications in Africa. Thus, government is to ensure that key recommendations from the workshop are implemented to improve health sector development in Africa.

CONCLUSIONS : The AI workshop was a good forum to deliberate important issues regarding AI for health in the African context. It was concluded that there is a need to focus on vital priorities in deploying AI in Africa: Data protection, privacy and sharing protocols; training and creating platforms for researchers; funding and business models; developing frameworks for assessing and implementing AI; organizing forums and conferences on AI; and instituting regulations, governance and ethical guidelines for AI. There is a need to adopt a health systems approach in planning for AI to reduce inefficiencies, redundancies while increasing effectiveness in the use of AI. Thus, robust collaborations and partnerships among governments and various stakeholders were identified as key.

Ibeneme Sunny, Okeibunor Joseph, Muneene Derrick, Husain Ishrat, Bento Pascoal, Gaju Carol, Housseynou Ba, Chibi Moredreck, Karamagi Humphrey, Makubalo Lindiwe


Africa, Artificial intelligence, COVID-19, Digital health, Healthcare innovation