•The foundation also called on countries to step up funding to make the research and development (R&D) of health and development innovations easier and faster
•Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, called for the world to spend at least US$3 billion more every year on global health and development R&D in order to close the critical gaps in funding for neglected diseases.
The Gates Foundation is investing US$30 million (Sh4.43 billion) to support a new artificial intelligence (AI) platform in Africa.
The foundation said this 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.
“It is a step towards ensuring the benefits of AI are relevant, affordable, and accessible to everyone—particularly those in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)—and that these critical tools are developed safely, ethically, and equitably,” the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said in a statement.
This is one of the new initiatives to support locally-led innovation the foundation and its partners announced on Tuesday in Dakar, Senegal, at the ongoing Grand Challenges Annual Meeting.
The foundation said it will continue to work closely with technical partners and governments to further advance the platform and identify opportunities to jointly advance the use of AI for health and development.
Five Kenyan start-ups participating in the Dakar meeting were recently awarded Sh71 million to scale up their innovation to use ChatGPT to improve education and healthcare.
The foundation said the responsible and safe use of AI-driven large language model technology can help solve some of the world’s toughest health and development challenges.
At the meeting, the foundation also called on countries to step up funding to make the research and development (R&D) of health and development innovations easier and faster, and to make the next generation of scientific and technological breakthroughs relevant and accessible to all.
Data shows that while overall health R&D funding is increasing, only about two per cent is directed toward diseases that affect the world’s poorest people, the Gates Foundation said in a statement.
In 2020, the annual funding gap for product development targeting poverty-related and neglected diseases was estimated at US$2.6 billion.
Addressing more than 1,400 scientists, policymakers, and donors attending the annual meeting, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, called for the world to spend at least US$3 billion more every year on global health and development R&D in order to close the critical gaps in funding for neglected diseases.
“New health technologies have the potential to save millions of lives, but R&D funding is going in the wrong direction,” said Gates. “Donors need to step up their commitments to ensure health innovations reach those who need them more quickly, so more lives can be saved."
Moussa Balde, Senegal’s minister for higher education, research and innovation said over the past two decades, global investments in a pipeline of innovative solutions helped reduce childhood deaths under five by half.
“But lifesaving innovations still take too long to reach those who need them and are not always designed with equity from the start. Grand Challenges Senegal continues to invest in the country's brightest scientists and innovators, and we are pleased to be part of this global network of Grand Challenges partners investing in locally led solutions to ensure innovations, including in health, education, and agriculture, benefit everyone equally.”
Launched in 2003, Grand Challenges, the foundation’s flagship innovation programme, focuses attention and funding on pressing global health and development problems that affect the world’s poorest people, using open calls for proposals to crowdsource potential solutions.
“What started as a single program funded by the Gates Foundation and its partners has grown into a family of initiatives and partnerships across national borders, fields of study, and sectors that catalyze research, products, and partnerships to save and improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people,” said Kedest Tesfagiorgis, deputy director, Global partnerships and Grand Challenges at the foundation.
Grand Challenges is supported by the governments of India, China, Brazil, the United States, and Canada, as well as a growing number of countries in Africa, including Ethiopia, Rwanda, Senegal, and South Africa.
Since 2003, partners have invested US$1.6 billion to support more than 3,800 projects in 118 countries—from new strategies to improve gut health in moms and children to reinventing the toilet for improved sanitation to reimagining drug discovery research for malaria, tuberculosis, and neglected tropical diseases.