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Using AI and data against the pandemic: New projects in Global South

March 26, 2021
Can artificial intelligence (AI) help predict COVID-19 outbreaks and ease lockdown restrictions? Can new innovations keep campuses open and support contact tracing? Can AI support victims of gender-based violence related to COVID-19 lockdowns? These are just some of the questions the CA$12.65 million Global South AI4COVID Response Program seeks to answer.
Circles painted on the ground beside stalls selling food to ensure people shopping adhere to social distancing rules during the coronavirus lockdown in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.
Atul Loke/Panos Pictures

The Global South AI4COVID Response Program (originally known as the COVID-19 Global South AI and Data Innovation Program) is co-funded by IDRC and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The eight selected projects will be funded over a 24-month period and cover a diverse range of issues across Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa.

The projects will mobilize multidisciplinary consortia who will use AI and data science to combat the negative impacts of COVID-19 and strengthen health systems to improve pandemic response. Overall, the initiative aims to deepen the understanding of governments, AI practitioners, and the public on how to develop and scale responsible and evidence-based AI and data science approaches that support COVID-19 response and recovery in developing countries.

The initiative is particularly concerned with ensuring that these projects are gender responsive and culturally appropriate, community specific, and based on local needs and contexts. It also aims to inform policies that support and build trust in AI and data science responses to epidemics and mitigate potential harms. Finally, it will aim to strengthen the capacity of health systems in developing countries to respond to epidemics using AI and data science techniques.

“These projects should inform policies that support and build trust in responsible, inclusive, artificial intelligence and data responses to COVID-19,” says IDRC President Jean Lebel. “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.” 

The response to the funding call in June received 314 submissions, of which 153 eligible proposals were evaluated by an independent panel of experts. The panel shortlisted 20 proposals and IDRC and Sida selected the final eight projects based on overall scores and the thematic and geographic distribution of the projects. To ensure that these projects are ultimately able to inform policies at all levels and build trust in AI and data science responses, they were also selected for their gender responsiveness, cultural sensitivity, community focus, and local considerations.

"Eight months into the global pandemic, COVID-19 continues to affect lives right around the world", says AnnaMaria Oltorp, head of Sida’s Research Cooperation Unit. "Sida is pleased to collaborate with IDRC on this important opportunity for technology and data researchers in low- and middle-income countries to help address the current challenges nimbly and to stay on top of future outbreaks.”

Overview of the eight projects: