Pictured here: Dr. Jude Kong
Using AI to improve health throughout the Global South
The success of a 2021 agreement between York University and the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa to tackle COVID-19 across Africa, has led to a grant expanding the scope of the project and extend it throughout the Global South.
The memorandum of understanding led to the creation of an international consortium of experts in disease modelling, artificial intelligence (AI), clinical global health; disaster management; veterinary health care; citizen science; community engagement; participatory research; software engineering; AI governance; policy; and sex, gender intersectionality, and decolonization.
“We started with little seeds and they are growing,” said Jude Dzevela Kong, the Executive Director of both the Africa-Canada Artificial Intelligence and Data Innovation Consortium (ACADIC) and the newly formed Global South Artificial Intelligence for Pandemic and Epidemic Preparedness and Response Network (AI4PEP). Jude is also an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, the project lead for‘ and a member of Canada’s National COVID-19 Modelling Rapid Response Task Force.
“The initial project, funded by IDRC and SIDA, led us to help African countries manage the spread of COVID-19 to avoid catastrophe and now, with a bigger grant, to do our work on a larger scale.”
This effort, says Kong, is grounded in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. “SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being), SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals) are the foundation of what we are doing,” Kong noted. “We rely on timely public health, resilience and inclusion and equity for success. This is a bottom-up endeavour, not one that is top-down, and we use artificial intelligence and the resulting data as the catalysts. Our overall vision is to decolonize healthcare.”
In fact, the initial effort extended beyond South Africa to include nine African nations: Botswana, Eswatini, Cameroon, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The ACADIC, under Kong’s leadership, has successfully delivered locally nuanced analyses to monitor COVID-19 predict resurgences; identify and analyze emergent hotspots and outbreaks; identify individuals at higher risk of infection; stratify patients; identify gendered vulnerability and develop strategic, highly targeted and staged delivery plans of vaccines in priority areas. ACADIC is also doing ongoing monitoring to enhance testing and development to ensure that public health interventions are equitable and effective. Their models are the official models used by governments in their interactions with both local and national policymakers.
Many of our team leaders also lead their respective national COVID-19 advisory committees or modelling task forces,” said Kong. “The experience of our team leaders, their community partners, and their detailed understanding of national and local context, constraints and opportunities, have each been core to the success-to-date of the ADADIC Consortium.”
This success has created an opportunity to expand the scope of the network. Kong has just received a five-year, $7.2 million grant from IRDC to support A14PEP “to generate and strategically position evidence on how responsible AI solutions can improve prevention, preparedness and response within public health systems to emerging and re-emerging infectious disease outbreaks.”
“This is what can happen when your University supports you,” said Kong.
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