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AI has the potential to revolutionise global and digital health in Africa. By investing in AI-led innovations


Arnold Ageta

Dakar, Senegal – Digital technologies are reshaping the way we approach healthcare, making services more accessible, efficient, and patient-centric (World Health Organization, 2021). However, as the world stands at the cusp of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution, it is imperative to ensure that the benefits of these innovations reach all corners of the globe, especially in Africa and for LMICs.

In response, today at the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting (GCAM) 2023, the Science for Africa Foundation (SFA Foundation) announced $2.4 million in funding to catalyse the equitable use of AI to improve the health and lives of Africans. The call for applications is being announced with funding support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation and the SFA Foundation’s Grand Challenges Africa (GC Africa) initiative. GC Africa awards bold projects through seed and scale-up grants that provide the continent’s most impressive solutions.

The investment will be awarded through a call for applications issued by Grand Challenges Africa, as part of a partnership of five Grand Challenges national programmes – Grand Challenges Ethiopia, Grand Challenges Senegal, Grand Challenges South Africa, Grand Challenges Brazil and Grand Challenges India. These initiatives are rooted in the belief that AI driven solutions must be locally driven, owned, and accountable to address the unique needs of the communities they serve. The funding will be awarded to researchers, implementers, governments, and technical partners in Africa.

“AI has the potential to revolutionise global and digital health in Africa. By investing in AI-led innovations, SFA Foundation is empowering Africa’s researchers and innovators to lead the way in addressing the healthcare challenges that have long affected our communities. This initiative marks a pivotal moment in African-led digital innovations, allowing us to harness AI’s transformative power for the benefit of all Africans and beyond,” said Prof Tom Kariuki, Chief Executive Officer, Science for Africa Foundation.

The global digital health landscape

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) digital health technologies are rapidly transforming healthcare delivery across the world. For example: electronic health records have streamlined the management of patient information ensuring that healthcare providers have access to vital data at their fingertips; telemedicine and telehealth have bridged geographical barriers enabling remote healthcare consultations; and Mobile Health (mHealth) apps have empowered individuals to monitor their health.

“The future of healthcare is digital – and AI will be an increasingly important tool to advance that future,” said Rebecca Distler, Strategist for AI, Data, and Digital Health at the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation. “To realise the potential of AI to improve health and well-being, particularly across the African continent, we need to equip and support local innovators – who understand how best to transform and uplift their communities – in leveraging new approaches like large language models. We’re thrilled to partner with SFA Foundation to architect that African-led vision.”​

AI’s role in African-led innovation

Africa is a continent of immense potential, but it also faces unique healthcare challenges that include a high global disease burden of 25% (WHO). By focusing on AI-led innovations, this partnership aims to ensure responsible use of AI encompassing safe, equitable, transparent, reliable, and beneficial processes are adhered to with a high level of accountability.  Emphasis is on the importance of locally driven and owned AI solutions, which are more sustainable and relevant to the needs of the people they intend to serve and are more likely to be accepted and used by local communities.

“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is committed to supporting AI-led innovations in global health. We believe that by investing in AI-driven solutions, we can accelerate progress towards achieving universal healthcare and improving the lives of women, children, and vulnerable communities. The focus on Africa is essential because it is a region where innovative approaches can have a profound and lasting impact,” said Kedest Tesfagiorgis, deputy director, Global Partnerships and Grand Challenges at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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