May 22, 2020 | News

African Union High Level Panel on Emerging Technologies addresses innovations and emerging technologies to tackle COVID-19

The African Union High Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) held its sixth meeting virtually in response to COVID-19, seeking to analyse innovations and emerging technologies beneficial in addressing the corona virus pandemic.

In her opening remarks, the chair of the panel, Prof. Yaye Kène-Gassama said that, “If there’s a word to remember during this pandemic, it is resilience.”

The chair continued by stating that “The African continent has shown resilience in the face of the corona virus pandemic, and the current use of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and 3-D printing, which are being analysed by APET, points to the importance of harnessing these innovation and emerging technologies in shaping our society and our way of work, learning, health and communication as we work towards establishing a new normal.”

During its sixth meeting, APET members reflected on innovations and emerging technologies being used to address the needs and reach expected outcomes in various sectors of the development spectrum in AU Member States. The APET response to COVID-19 is situated in the six pillars of STISA 2024 by evaluating innovation and emerging technology needs in the following priority areas towards addressing the pandemic: (i) Eradicating hunger and ensuring food and nutrition security; (ii) Prevention and control of diseases; (iii) Protection of our space; (iv) Communication (physical and intellectual mobility); (v) Promoting living together and building society, and (vi) Wealth creation.

During discussions on education, the panel highlighted the necessity of strengthening quality assurance processes for online education in content and delivery pedagogy. The panel was of the view that current online platforms are not adequately monitored to ensure they meet accreditation standards, and this pandemic offers the continent the opportunity to fully evaluate online education curricula and delivery methodologies.

In addressing the response to health, the panel reflected on the reliance on diagnostic kits from China and the USA to support testing programs in Member States in light of production potentials on the continent.

“We are relying on using RT-PCR kits imported from [other countries] with no focus on local production. Meanwhile, there are initiatives in Ghana, Senegal, Kenya and Uganda working on these diagnostic tests.  Governments should seek to promote these innovations for their use on the continent. With flight restrictions and closed borders, it is a nightmare to import these kits and it creates an opportunity for us to utilize those generated on the continent” a panel member noted.

The panel further discussed analysing technologies related to vaccine development, to place the continent on the map in its development and use. To fully expand on the potential of innovation and emerging technologies in addressing the impacts of COVID-19 on the continent, the panel initiated the development of a white paper on same with a planned open webinar. The white paper addresses recommended responses in the short-term (response), medium-term (recovery) and long term (reform).

Prof Aggrey Ambali, Acting Director, Directorate of Technical Cooperation, Programme Funding and Special Initiatives indicated that the webinar would showcase innovations and emerging technologies that Africa should consider harnessing to survive the pandemic as well as adjust to the new normal paradigm, post-COVID-19.  “This webinar is expected to bring together field experts, policymakers and relevant stakeholders and particularly advocate for local innovations and technology domestication to address challenges on the continent,” he said.

The meeting validated the enhanced role of APET in engaging Member States through provision of technical advice, dissemination of APET reports on emerging technologies and organizing dialogues, conferences, webinar series and capacity strengthening platforms of policy and decision makers through the Calestous Juma Dialogues.  The next meeting of APET will take place in June this year, to validate the White Paper for publication.