Rwanda: Artificial Intelligence to Revolutionise Healthcare Systems – Minister Nsanzimana

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Rwanda sees massive potential in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to revolutionise the healthcare systems, allowing the country to bridge gaps with innovations that save lives with efficiency.

This is according to Health Minister Dr Sabin Nsanzimana who was speaking in a panel discussion themed “AI for the world: Advancing Inclusive and Equitable Use of AI” at the 9th Grand Challenges Annual Meeting on October 10, in Dakar, Senegal.

Held under the theme “Science Saves Lives”, the meeting brings together world leaders, philanthropists, researchers, and innovators to explore how the global health community can expand the frontiers of science and innovation to save and improve lives.

The Grand Challenges body in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation uses challenges — launched as open requests for grant proposals — to focus attention and effort on solving key global health and development problems for those most in need.

Artificial Intelligence, commonly known as AI, is any technology that enables machines to emulate human capabilities to sense, comprehend, and act.

Rwanda is actually considering AI as an opportunity to catch up in many areas given the scarcity of tools, trained people, and faster service delivery, Nsanzimana said while pointing at the recently adopted national Artificial Intelligence policy and data privacy and protection law as a foundation to support AI functionality.

“Rwanda is trying to become a lab for AI use on the continent to bridge the gap of the legacy of global tools inequity by adding in special personnel, diagnostic imaging, among others.”

According to him, Covid-19 brought about an opportunity for AI to grow faster than before in Rwanda, for instance, it was used to build self-screening applications, robots were used to protect healthcare workers as most exposed, and it was also used to channel messages to people.

“AI is supposed to make our lives easier and better. Covid-19 overwhelmed our health systems, so imagine where AI applications can help us anticipate our next challenge, allowing us to act early instead of reacting to something or knowing diseases before they become chronic like cancer,” he said.

He mentioned a local company, Charis AUS, that is using drones to detect mosquito breeding sites and use the same precision to target those sites for mosquito spreading, an impetus in the journey towards malaria elimination.

Juliana Rotich, Head of the Department-Fintech Solution (M-Pesa) at Safaricom and member of the AI and Ethics Board, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said that there are opportunities in Grand Challenges for the private sector to take on because they can be infused in the sustainability business models.

“The commercial interests are not only for the global north, we also have commercial interests in Africa too, we need to figure what they are as they go hand-in-hand with social interests,” she said.

Rotich added that African youth should be empowered and handed the tools they need to understand and be developers in the AI space and use them to have positive outcomes.

“We are at a very critical junction of the beginning, and the good thing about it is that we can decide the intent. As we look at the possibility of AI and its application in health, agriculture, and other sectors, the question is, what is the intent we are driving and the outcomes we seek?”

She also noted that the private sector, government, and philanthropists need to create an enabling environment to have AI work the way it is intended to.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, on October 10, announced that is investing US$30 million to support a new artificial intelligence (AI) platform in Africa. The platform will provide African scientists and innovators with the technical and operational support they need to turn promising ideas into scalable health and development solutions.

Rachel Adams, Programme Director, AI, Research ICT Africa, South Africa, said that women should be put at the forefront of developing these AI technologies and solutions because they move with social impact in mind and then it would be another step closer towards achieving SDGs.

She noted that otherwise, the world would have developers driven by competition and profitability more than livelihood impact.

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