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The rise of artificial intelligence: what does it mean for development?

Leebong Lee's picture

Video: Artificial intelligence for the SDGs (International Telecommunication Union)

Along with my colleagues on the ICT sector team of the World Bank, I firmly believe that ICTs can play a critical role in supporting development. But I am also aware that professionals on other sector teams may not necessarily share the same enthusiasm.

Typically, there are two arguments against ICTs for development. First, to properly reap the benefits of ICTs, countries need to be equipped with basic communication and other digital service delivery infrastructure, which remains a challenge for many of our low-income clients. Second, we need to be mindful of the growing divide between digital-ready groups vs. the rest of the population, and how it may exacerbate broader socio-economic inequality.

These concerns certainly apply to artificial intelligence (AI), which has recently re-emerged as an exciting frontier of technological innovation. In a nutshell, artificial intelligence is intelligence exhibited by machines. Unlike the several “AI winters” of the past decades, AI technologies really seem to be taking off this time. This may be promising news, but it challenges us to more clearly validate the vision of ICT for development, while incorporating the potential impact of AI.

It is probably too early to figure out whether AI will be blessing or a curse for international development… or perhaps this type of binary framing may not be the best approach. Rather than providing a definite answer, I’d like to share some thoughts on what AI means for ICT and development.

Counting the uncounted: 1.1 billion people without IDs

Vyjayanti T Desai's picture
Also available in: Français | العربية| Español
Photo: Daniel Silva Yoshisato

An estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide cannot officially prove their identity, according to the 2017 update of the World Bank's Identification for Development (ID4D) Global Dataset.

Identification matters

How do we prove who we are to the people and institutions with whom we interact? Imagine trying to open your first bank account, prove your eligibility for health insurance, or apply for university without an ID; quality of life and opportunities become severely restricted.  An officially-recognized form of ID is the key enabler – critical not only for exercising a wide range of rights but also for accessing healthcare, education, finance, and other essential services. According to the World Bank Group’s latest estimates, this is problematic for an estimated 1.1 billion people around the globe.

Addressing this most basic barrier was the rationale behind the international community’s decision to set target 16.9 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals: “to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration” by the year 2030. It was also the impetus for the World Bank Group’s launch of the Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative in 2014.

In order to work effectively towards this ambitious goal, governments and development partners need to understand the scale of the challenge – and every year the World Bank Group updates the ID4D Global Dataset to do just that. Using a combination of publicly available data (e.g. birth registration coverage rates from UNICEF) and self-reported data from ID agencies, we estimate the population without an officially recognized ID in 198 economies. In addition, we collate relevant qualitative information such as details on the agencies and ministries responsible, and the prevalence of systems which are digital (now introduced in 133 economies, but not necessarily with full coverage in each).

Sustainable Development Goals and Open Data

Joel Gurin's picture
Sustainable Development Goals. Source: http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org

The United Nations (UN) has developed a set of action-oriented goals to achieve global sustainable development by 2030. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed by an Open Working Group of 30 member states over a two-year process. They are designed to balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.

To help meet the goals, UN member states can draw on Open Data from governments that is, data that is freely available online for anyone to use and republish for any purpose. This kind of data is essential both to help achieve the SDGs and to measure progress in meeting them.
 
Achieving the SDGs
Open Data can help achieve the SDGs by providing critical information on natural resources, government operations, public services, and population demographics. These insights can inform national priorities and help determine the most effective paths for action on national issues. Open Data is a key resource for:
  • Fostering economic growth and job creation. Open Data can help launch new businesses, optimizing existing companies’ operations, and improve the climate for foreign investment. It can also make the job market more efficient and serve as a resource in training for critical technological job skills.

Tracking down Ebola with biometrics and digital identity

Mariana Dahan's picture


In the last couple of months, we saw some amazing events making the news headlines. From World Bank President Jim Kim’s outstanding lecture at Georgetown University on “Lessons from Ebola”, to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) announcement that Ebola response is moving to the next stage, one may think that the pandemic is over. That no more lives will be lost to this terrifying disease.

But voices from the scientists, who have been the first to discover the Ebola virus last year, raised above the general enthusiasm and warned the international community to stay focused. Researchers from Institut Pasteur in France fear that the virus has mutated and could have become even more contagious. The new variation poses a higher risk of transmission. This means that dozens, if not thousands, of lives could be again at risk.

And while WHO shifts the focus from slowing transmission of Ebola to ending the epidemic, the world may actually be at the verge of a new pandemic emergency. With the recent surge in new cases in Sierra Leone, the world must stay focused until we reach and maintain zero cases in each affected country.

The UN Secretary General convened an International Ebola Recovery Conference last week to advocate that recovery efforts go beyond redressing direct development losses to build back better and ensure greater resilience.

Crowdsourcing Feedback to Improve Healthcare Systems

Kidus Asfaw's picture

Co-authored by: Yvonne Nkrumah and Julia Mensah (WBIHS), and Lyudmila Bujoreanu (TWICT)

How satisfied are Uganda’s citizens with the services they receive in public health facilities? It’s a question that has important implications for Uganda’s efforts to improve service delivery and reform health systems, and one that was recently put directly to Ugandans, via crowdsourcing.

Last summer, the World Bank Group partnered with UNICEF and the Medicines Transparency Alliance (MeTA) to leverage two SMS-based platforms – U-report and mTrac – to generate real-time information from both citizens and health providers, providing critical evidence on health service delivery.

Connected and Healthy: Using ICTs to Improve People’s Health

Samia Melhem's picture

Information and communication technologies (ICTs), including mobile phones, are increasingly seen as critical tools to improve public health and health outcomes in Africa. Several experiments, including some launched almost ten years ago, are starting to show progress:
 
In Rwanda, an mHealth system dubbed TRACnet monitors epidemic diseases. TRACnet has been financed since 2004 by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and Rwanda's Ministry of Health, and has helped track HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Health workers are equipped with a mobile phone and access TRACnet through SMS menu prompts, requiring them to document and monitor the status of patients in the health clinics under their jurisdiction. The system has helped create a registry of all health workers, their patients, rural clinic locations, staffing, assets, and medical supply inventories.  Key factors in TRACnet’s success include sustained financing, scaling-up to all agents in all villages, and use by health workers in their daily work.

Co-creating a SMART Rwanda, SMART Africa and SMART World

Hon. Jean Philbert Nsengimana's picture
By Hon. Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Minister of Youth and ICT for Rwanda
Rwanda is steadily moving towards its vision of becoming an information-rich and knowledge-based economy and society, and an ICT hub in the region. This ambition is reflected in our Vision 2020, the subsequent mid-term economic development and poverty reduction strategy (EDPRS II), and the ICT Sector Strategic Plan 2013-2018.

Africa: Using ICTs for transformational development

Tim Kelly's picture

Africa is advancing by leaps and bounds in adoption and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the private and public sectors. A new report, “eTransform Africa”, shows how innovations that began in Africa – like the use of dual SIM card cellular phones or using mobile technologies for remittance payments – are now spreading across the continent and beyond.