Longevity Nigeria’s Virtual Conference examines Importance of Data, Ethics in Public Health

Data is the lifeblood of the modern world, underpinning nearly every facet of our daily lives. Data is the fuel of AI and Data Science. Longevity Nigeria recently hosted a virtual conference dedicated to exploring the potential of Artificial Intelligence and Data Science in Optimizing Public Health in Africa. This event, held on Saturday, October 28, 2023, drew participants from several locations, including Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Algeria, the United States, and Canada.

At the heart of the conference, Didier Coeurnelle, Co-chair of HEALES, underscored the pressing need for more comprehensive data collection in Africa. He noted the decline in life expectancy experienced in Europe and the United States during the pandemic, emphasizing the necessity for improved statistical insights and data analysis to gauge the pandemic’s effects on life expectancy in Africa.

Dr. Ebere Azuma, President and Co-founder of Love Your Menses, highlighted the ethical imperative in handling health data. She articulated, “we have to prioritize ethics over data and actively root out human biases from infiltrating algorithms. African participation in this process is essential; we cannot rely on other nations to instruct Africans on the matter.” Neil Sahota, an Artificial Intelligence advisor to the United Nations, emphasized the significance of recognizing bias in data, particularly unconscious bias. He pointed out that, at present, we are only harnessing roughly 20% to 30% of AI’s potential value. Furthermore, he highlighted a crucial distinction between AI and traditional software – the essential need for domain knowledge.

Brenda Ramokopelwa, CEO of TAFFDS, stressed the significance of data protection. She emphasized that while commendable data protection laws exist on paper, challenges emerge in their application and enforcement. Allen Akhaumere, an AI expert, added that data privacy is important. He said that we have to protect patients’ identity. One of the main challenges with open-source data for healthcare is privacy. People are usually skeptical about how their data will be used

While harnessing AI solutions developed in the West offers numerous advantages, it also presents its own set of challenges. Chiraz Bensemmane, CEO of Pitch World Fast, noted the need to adapt and integrate these new AI solutions into the existing healthcare system. The goal is to devise cost-effective, efficient, and easily maintainable AI infrastructure that aligns with the African context.

Furthermore, Otse Ogorry, country director at Data.FI, said that our data systems are often fragmented. He said that these systems are not speaking to themselves. We can leverage existing health system in the health sector to actually see how we can harmonize these systems in Africa. He advised that if African government will actually put their foot down and lead the charge in their countries, they will be able to harmonize and integrate some of the existing data.

An expert in cloud computing, Alok Shankar, provided a technical solution to the data problem in Africa. According to Alok, “We need solutions that are cheap and very affordable for Africans. We can leverage edge computing. Edge devices can fit in a suitcase, and they can run the cloud remotely without internet connectivity.”

Concluding the event, Agbolade Omowole, the event’s host and founder of Longevity Nigeria, shared his organization’s future endeavour. In 2024, Longevity Nigeria will embark on a project named Oldest Living Nigerian (OLIVE), designed to celebrate healthy longevity in Nigeria. This project marks a promising step towards advancing public health in the region.

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