Author : The African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD)
Type of publication : White paper
It is important that the pandemic is tackled recognizing that this is not only a health crisis but rather a multisectoral challenge, resulting in a disruption in the daily lives of people from education to livelihoods and from agricultural production to supply-chain and trade bottlenecks. Tackling the pandemic, therefore, calls for a multi-sectoral approach to ensure all sectors and areas impacted are adequately addressed. Further, the pandemic demands the expertise of multi-stakeholders to adequately tackle the impact and support the recovery of the African continent. The AU High Level Panel on Emerging Technologies proposes taking a three-pronged approach to the COVID-19 crisis that focuses on responding in the short-term; planning for long-term recovery; building resilience for sustainability. Recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health crisis but is disrupting every aspect of life, APET is working synergistically with AU member states to take a multi-sectoral approach across areas that include employment and livelihoods, finance and investment, enterprise development, gender, youth, and evaluation and education and skills. Additionally, APET recommends the response, recovery, and resilience-building efforts of AU member states to be socially inclusive, gendered and targeted to the needs of the marginalized who have been hit hardest by this pandemic.
Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) and knowledge systems play a key role in enhancing development and resilience of countries to shocks or crisis in many ways. The response to COVID-19 in Africa has shown how countries are working in some areas, but also where they could be improved. APET posits that there is a need to embrace people-driven knowledge, multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary knowledge partnerships and application of research to promote innovations. These are essential, not just in pursuing development, but also as a safety net for the continent’s gains and contributions to the AU Agenda.
From the COVID-19 pandemic experience, it is important to note that investments in research and knowledge systems in Africa are important not only for onward future development efforts, but also in safeguarding the progress on development that has been made so far by AU member states. To make these investments work for Africa, there is the need to work towards more adaptive and multifaceted knowledge systems that can better cope with unexpected circumstances, like pandemics, which require rapid social and technical innovation.
Harnessing Innovation and Emerging Technologies in Addressing the COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa
In Africa, the coronavirus pandemic has arrived at a time when the continent’s Member States are making efforts to build systems that promote science, technology & innovation (STI) in line with three agendas: the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024), the AU Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Knowledge systems, innovation and emerging technologies are critical for the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa. Firstly, the behaviour change expected to combat the coronavirus pandemic and develop resilience systems in countries mainly relies on both formal and informal medical, social, and economic knowledge. And secondly, the pandemic is quickly reshaping how people think about our knowledge systems, as well as how African countries can repurpose scientific knowledge, innovation and emerging technologies to be more adaptive towards unprecedented pandemics and other disasters.
Smart technological breakthroughs, tracing, and tracking systems are critical, as are technologies that improve analytical and decision-making processes. However, research and development and scientific advances require international collaboration between the private sector, scientific community and research universities and governments. Advanced and emerging economies can play a leading role; philanthropic health care organizations can prove indispensable. Scientific breakthroughs should be focused on the identification, prevention and protection, and cure of such pandemics. These endeavours should also address climate change, a great contributor to widespread health threats. Often, wealthier countries are more likely to invest in and utilise innovation and emerging technologies. In less conservative settings, more often in the western world, the early adopters of emerging technologies and innovations are mostly the youth who are abreast with scientific advancements and readily use them even before regulatory issues are addressed. In African settings, these populations are relatively few, perhaps due to technology illiteracy, and innovators are often reliant on private sector interests particularly in ideas with business potentials.
The slow adoption of innovation and emerging technologies in Africa has been attributed to limiting regulation on the continent. However, the state of emergencies that pandemics bring ultimately require faster processes for regulatory oversight of emerging technologies that mitigate these emergencies. In a rapidly evolving world where technologies are being developed daily, it is important that African regulations keep up the pace without compromising on standards. For instance, rapid diagnostic tests developed in some member states to support the massive screening exercises of COVID-19 still required approval from regulators as it pertained to human lives. However, this had to be done at a faster rate than normal. Effective utilisation of best practices could expedite review processes or technologies developed to address issues such as this pandemic, where some regulatory processes can be skipped based on previous knowledge. An added advantage is the use of technologies like Artificial Intelligence to support data modelling, where the effects of the technology utilisation can be measured while mimicking real-life conditions.
Another issue of concern is intellectual property namely patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. It is imperative to ensure that seeking the good of a country by offering innovative tools required in times of urgency would ultimately not lead to the loss of intellectual properties. These rights of innovators need to be protected while the official processes for obtaining patents or copyrights are pursued. Technologies like Blockchain can be utilised in protecting intellectual properties and securing copyrights of technologies and innovations being utilised. Digital contents will be noted as a digital transaction in a decentralised ledger, which will ensure that each content creator will obtain their royalty distribution and protect their works. These outlined challenges are not for a lack of policies, as the continent does not lack adequate frameworks or policies to address these challenges in harnessing emerging technologies. Limiting factors have often been in the implementation of these frameworks effectively and their adoption by AU member states.
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