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AI deployed to fight Covid-19 in Africa


Canada and Sweden fund projects to respond to ongoing pandemic and future disease outbreaks

Artificial intelligence is being harnessed to combat Covid-19 and other future pandemics in Africa and elsewhere in the Global South.

Funders from Canada and Sweden are supporting 11 projects deploying AI to fight disease. Eight of the projects will target Africa, of which all but one will be led by Africa-based institutions. 

Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency will fund the projects to the tune of CA$12.65 million (US$9.76m). 

Uganda’s Makerere University will carry out pandemic surveillance and also use AI to analyse radio conversations to gauge public perception of Covid-19 in the country, and the effectiveness of public health messaging.  

The Kenya-based African Population and Health Research Center will host two projects: one using AI to study Covid-19 data to support health and economics policy in Kenya and Malawi; another to set up a coordinated pan-African Covid-19 data system.

The Social Science Academy of Nigeria will use AI to examine the impact of Covid-19 on gender-based violence, while the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Senegal will research social and political obstacles to the use of AI for health interventions in Senegal and Mali.

The University of Rwanda will work on a project to harmonise data to predict and understand the impact of Covid-19 and other infectious diseases. The University of York in the United Kingdom will work with partners in eight African countries to design a dashboard to predict Covid-19 trends on the continent.

The projects will not only build capacity to target the current pandemic, however. “We also anticipate that they will strengthen health systems in developing countries and improve the ability to respond to all kinds of epidemics in the future, using AI and data science techniques,” said IDRC president Jean Lebel, in a statement.