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Leading the Way in Public Health AI, Collaboratively

April 1/2022

By Elaine Smith

DLSPH is leading an ambitious, interdisciplinary effort to train a new generation of public health practitioners in artificial intelligence.

“This is the first certificate and training program like this in Canada and perhaps worldwide,” says Laura Rosella, associate professor of epidemiology at DLSPH and project lead of the AI4PH (Artificial Intelligence for Public Health) Training Platform. “It is a major leadership opportunity for Canada. A lot of people around the world will be looking at AI4PH to see if they can create something interesting within their own countries.”

Laura Rosella in blue top with arms folded leaning against cement wall outdoors

Prof. Laura Rosella

DLSPH will lead the ground-breaking six-year effort to design and deploy the platform, a pan-Canadian initiative that includes mentors from 12 universities across the country. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is funding the project, which was announced March 31 by the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Canada’s Minister of Health, and the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

The interdisciplinary team features experts in public health, computer science, biostatistics, epidemiology, equity, ethics, policy and engineering. They’ll assist future public health AI specialists in meeting demands for real-time data processing, analysis and visualization and tapping into emerging sources of data (e.g., social media) to gain a better understanding of what is happening in the population.

“We’re the host institution for AI4PH platform activities,” Rosella says, “but it’s important to emphasize this training program is being co-led by a team from across Canada with the goal of building public health AI capacity across the country.”

The program will allow hundreds of trainees and professionals to participate in a certificate program,  training workshops, graduate studies and placements with government and other public health partners. These interns will soon form the vanguard of public health AI in Canada, says Rosella, and will ultimately change the face of academic public health programs nationwide. She believes that eventually, AI will be a core competency covered in public health degree programs.

Rosella envisions a certificate program with three suites of courses: one focused on equity, ethics and privacy; one addressing the necessary technical skills; and another that explores public health practice and policy. The participants could be specialists in public health eager to incorporate AI into their work, or computational data experts interested in applying a public health perspective to their AI skills.

The equity and ethics component will be essential for all participants, since, as Rosella notes, “equity and ethics are core responsibilities for public health.”

“We want people at all different stages of their careers and from different backgrounds who come to this issue from different perspectives,” Rosella says. “We want them to have the opportunity to learn from each other. They will also need to know how to work effectively as members of a team, so we’ll try to foster that.”

In addition, AI4PH will allow DLSPH to offer other AI learning opportunities:

  • on-demand courses, workshops, and webinars focused on core competencies related to AI, Public Health and Health Equity; and
  • scholarships to support multidisciplinary co-supervision of Masters, PhD, DrPH, and postdoctoral fellows by our named mentors who span computer science, public health, equity and ethics.

The comprehensive platform and intensive program opens up new opportunities to advance the way AI can be used in a responsible and impactful way in Canada.