Women Deliver Conference 2023 : IPAR explores ways of deploying responsible AI to improve women's health

The Women Deliver Conference (WD2023) is one of the largest multi-sectoral gatherings aimed at advancing gender equality. Co-created by women community advocates, civil society, multilateral governments, the private sector, philanthropic organizations and youth, representing communities facing systemic discrimination around the world, WD2023 brought together approximately 6,000 on-site advocates and over 200,000 online advocates from diverse fields in Kigali, Rwanda, from July 17 to 20. The conference focused on the theme of "Spaces, Solidarity and Solutions" and addressed, among other issues, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and gender inclusion.

With sexual and reproductive health and rights at its core, the conference drew on intersectional feminist principles to address the complex issues affecting girls and women, from climate change to gender-based violence to unpaid care work. Its goal was to identify and engage participants in collectively implementing evidence-based solutions.

Represented by its Research Director, Dr Laure Tall, IPAR gave a presentation on Wednesday July 19 on the theme of "Catalyzing feminist and responsible evidence-based artificial intelligence to improve women's health", at a session organized by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) on the sidelines of WD2023.

The aim of this session was to explore how research can be leveraged to catalyze the responsible development and deployment of AI innovations to advance maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights through health system strengthening in low-income, developing and transitional countries. Responsible AI means innovations that are ethical, respect human rights, are inclusive, equitable and contribute to environmental sustainability". In sum, the session aimed to provide participants with a better understanding of the challenges and issues associated with AI in women's health, as well as possible solutions and opportunities to address these challenges through research.

According to the WHO, maternal, sexual and reproductive health indicators in low-income countries are not keeping pace with other health indicators. Maternal mortality levels are far from reaching the target of MDG 3 (Good health and well-being). In addition, it is reported that the prevalence of child marriage and teenage pregnancy remains high, and there are significant gaps in access to contraception, safe abortion and post-abortion care, as well as sexual and maternal health education.

AI, a powerful lever for advancing gender equality

During her talk, Dr Tall highlighted that "The time needed for gender equality is now estimated at 136 years". However she did offer some insights on how to avoid waiting so long. According to her, "if we don't want to wait 136 years, we need to effectively and responsibly harness the power of AI, a lever for bridging the gap".

She also pointed out that "current data do not provide a complete picture of women's health, particularly in the countries of the South". Dr. Tall emphasized the need for disaggregated data, stating that "disaggregating data is not as simple as counting men and women." She further explained that "data collection for AI also requires intersectional approaches."

"Artificial intelligence (AI) has shown promise in improving the delivery of information and services related to maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rightsFor example, chatbots and telemedicine have proved acceptable and practical in a variety of contexts," she added.

The use of AI however, entails risks that need to be mitigated, warned the IPAR Research Director, pointing out the potential risks and drawbacks of AI use, particularly regarding privacy and confidentiality, giving rise to serious concerns. It is essential, she says, to "protect vulnerable women and girls from unintended consequences such as stigmatization, discrimination and intimate partner violence".

The session was moderated by Samuel Oti, Senior Program Specialist, IDRC, and attended by Kathryn Toure, Regional Director, IDRC Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa.

In addition to Laure Tall, Research Director, Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale (IPAR), Senegal, the session also featured the participation of Dr. Noor Sabah Rakhshani, PHC Global (Pakistan), Dr. Rosalind Parkes-Ratanshi, Institute of Infectious Diseases (Uganda), Dr. Cintia Cejas, Instituto de Efectividad Clínica y Sanitaria (Argentina) and Dr. Nadine Sabra, Global Health Institute, American University of Beirut (Lebanon).