How artificial intelligence and big data are fighting COVID-19 in Africa


TORONTO, Aug. 11, 2021 – With a scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines in many African countries and the rise of new variants of concern, a collaboration led by York University is using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data to define public health policies and interventions to contain and manage the spread of the virus in Africa.

The Africa-Canada Artificial Intelligence and Data Innovation Consortium (ACADIC) is playing a pivotal role in providing locally nuanced analysis of data to inform public health decision making, as well as vaccination rollout strategies.

ACADIC brings together an interdisciplinary team of data scientists, epidemiologists, physicists, mathematicians and software engineers, as well as artificial intelligence, disaster and emergency management, clinical public health, citizen science, and community engagement experts. It is leveraging big data and AI-based techniques in nine African countries with experts from 11 different countries – Botswana, Cameroon, Canada, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

These techniques help identify and analyze emergent COVID-19 hotspots and outbreaks, and develop strategic, highly targeted and staged delivery plans for vaccines to priority areas. The team is also using ongoing monitoring to enhance COVID-19 testing to ensure public health interventions are equitable and effective.

Half of the world’s doses of vaccines have been secured by a handful of economically developed countries, but most African nations have received very few and continue to prepare and test their vaccination campaigns for when sufficient vaccine doses are made available.

A defining challenge is to develop local strategies that will reduce the number of COVID-19 cases even as variants of concern circulate amidst a dearth of vaccines.

Assistant Professor Jude Kong of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the Faculty of Science at York University and the founding director of ACADIC can speak to the following:

  • Making big data and artificial intelligence actionable for real-time delivery of reliable and comprehensive information to predict the spread and impact of an epidermic, and to guide governmental policies and best practice in an epidemic
  • Obtaining locally relevant COVID-19 data in Africa
  • The role of big data and artificial intelligence in understanding and intervening in pandemics
  • Big data, artificial intelligence and COVID-19 in Africa
  • The determinants of the low COVID-19 transmission and mortality rates in Africa
  • Vaccine acceptance/hesitancy across Africa
  • Vaccination roll-out strategies in South Africa

Distinguished Research Professor Jianhong Wu, director of the Laboratory for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (LIAM) in the Faculty of Science can discuss the following:

  • Incorporating AI and mathematical modelling for smart vaccination rollout in vaccine limited regions
    • AI solution of vaccine-inequality: balancing the booster program in the North and prime series in the South for global recovery

Professor James Orbinski, director of Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, can talk about the following:

  • Clinical Public Health practices in epidemics and pandemics
  • Medical issues associated with COVID-19
  • Intervention systems in disasters and health emergencies
  • Disease dynamics and modelling

Associate Professor Ali Asgary of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, and associate director of the Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid Response Simulation (ADERSIM) can talk about the following:

  • Transferring lessons learned from mass vaccination simulation to Africa
    • Disease modelling and simulation in refugee camps in Africa
    • Use of AI to model economic impacts of COVID-19 in Africa


York University is a modern, multi-campus, urban university located in Toronto, Ontario. Backed by a diverse group of students, faculty, staff, alumni and partners, we bring a uniquely global perspective to help solve societal challenges, drive positive change and prepare our students for success. York's fully bilingual Glendon Campus is home to Southern Ontario's Centre of Excellence for French Language and Bilingual Postsecondary Education. York’s campuses in Costa Rica and India offer students exceptional transnational learning opportunities and innovative programs. Together, we can make things right for our communities, our planet, and our future.

Media contact:

Sandra McLean, York University Media Relations, cell 416-272-6317,