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Artificial Intelligence for Global Health: new programming to connect responsible AI to key health challenges

IDRC is pleased to announce new research programming: Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Global Health (AI4GH), which will focus on catalyzing and scaling AI research for epidemic and pandemic preparedness and response and for sexual, reproductive and maternal health.
A row of seated pregnant women at a prenatal care centre in Nigeria.
IDRC/Andrew Esiebo
AI offers opportunities to improve sexual, reproductive, and maternal health, as well as pandemic preparedness.

The AI4GH initiative was among the key projects announced by the Canadian government at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda on June 25.

IDRC will invest CAD15.5 million in AI4GH in applied research, knowledge mobilization and capacity strengthening in the Global South. The calls for research are expected to include countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The first call for research proposals launched in July 2022.

“As the world emerges from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the potential for advanced technological solutions to reshape the global health landscape has never seemed greater,” says Dominique Charron, Vice-President, Programs and Partnerships. “IDRC is excited to build on its deep experience in both AI and global health with new research programming that seeks innovative, gender-responsive and responsible uses of AI to find solutions to healthcare challenges in low- and middle-income countries.” 

The use of AI is transforming health system planning and how health services are delivered across low- and middle-income countries today. When implemented using people-centred and rights-based approaches, AI can create efficiencies and improve health outcomes from public health monitoring to point-of-care services. AI also offers potential to support pandemic and epidemic preparedness, recovery and response.  

Despite the promise of AI to improve global health, there are important ethical, legal and social implications that, if not appropriately managed and governed, can translate into very real risks. The AI4GH program will promote the responsible use of AI in health systems and services while mitigating risks and harm — notably to groups that are disadvantaged and marginalized.  

The new AI4GH program builds upon IDRC’s existing work on AI; sexual, reproductive and maternal health; and infectious disease response, such as AI for Development Africa, the Global South AI for COVID programs and Innovating for Maternal and Child Health in Africa.