The National Institutes of Health is investing approximately $ 74.5 million over five years to advance data science, catalyze innovation and spur health discoveries across Africa. Under its new Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa (DS-I Africa) program, NIH is awarding 19 awards to support research and training activities. DS-I Africa is an NIH pooled fund program that is supported by the office of the director and 11 NIH institutes, centers and offices.
The awards will establish a consortium consisting of a data science coordinating platform and center, seven research centers, seven data science research training programs and four projects focused on study of the ethical, legal and social implications of data science research. The winners have a strong network of partnerships across the African continent and in the United States, including many national ministries of health, non-governmental organizations, businesses and other academic institutions.
This initiative has generated immense enthusiasm in all sectors of the biomedical research community in Africa. Big data and artificial intelligence have the potential to transform the conduct of research across the continent, while investing in research training will help support future African leaders in data science and ensure sustainable progress. in this promising area. “
Francis S. Collins, MD, Ph.D., Director of NIH
The University of Cape Town (UCT) will develop and manage the open data science platform and focal point for the initiative, building on previous NIH investments in the data and computing capabilities of the initiative. UCT carried out within the framework of the Human heredity and health in Africa program (H3Africa). UCT will provide a flexible and scalable platform for DS-I Africa researchers to find and access data, select tools and workflows, and run analyzes through collaborative workspaces. The CPU will also administer and support core resources, as well as coordinate the activities of the consortium.
The research centers, all of which are led by African institutions, will apply new approaches to data analysis and AI to solve critical health issues, including:
- Scientists in Kenya will leverage existing large datasets to develop and validate AI models to identify women at risk of adverse pregnancies; and identify adolescents and young health care workers at risk for depression and suicidal ideation.
- A hub in Nigeria will study SARS-CoV-2 and HIV with the aim of using the data to improve pandemic preparedness.
- In Uganda, researchers will advance data science for medical imaging as they strive to improve diagnoses of eye disease and cervical cancer.
- Nigerian scientists will also study antimicrobial resistance and the dynamics of disease transmission, develop a portable bacterial infection screening tool, and test a potential antimicrobial compound.
- A Cameroon-based project will explore ways to reduce the burden of surgical injuries and illnesses, as well as improve access to quality surgical care across the continent.
- From a hub in South Africa, researchers will study multi-disease morbidity by analyzing clinical and genomic data with the aim of providing actionable information to reduce disease burden and improve overall health.
- A project in South Africa will develop innovative solutions to mitigate the impacts of climate change on health across the region, with initial studies of clinical outcomes of heat exposure on pregnant women, newborns and infants. people living in urban areas.
The research training programs, which build on partnerships with US institutions, will create multi-level programs to develop basic health data science skills, with options ranging from masters and doctoral to doctoral degrees. postgraduate training and faculty development. A mix of in-person and distance training will be offered to develop skills in multidisciplinary subjects such as applied mathematics, biostatistics, epidemiology, clinical informatics, analysis, computational omics, biomedical imaging, artificial intelligence, computing paradigms, computing and engineering. . Interns will benefit from intensive mentoring and participate in practical internships to learn how to apply data science concepts to areas of medical and public health including social determinants of health, climate change, food systems , infectious diseases, noncommunicable diseases, health surveillance, injuries, pediatrics and parasitology.
Recognizing that data science research can reveal potential ethical, legal and social (ELSI) implications, the consortium will include dedicated ELSI research addressing these topics. This will include efforts to develop evidence-based and context-specific guidelines for the conduct and governance of data science initiatives; assess current legal instruments and guidelines to develop new and innovative governance frameworks to support data science and health research in Africa; explore legal differences between regions of the continent in the use of data science for health discovery and innovation; and investigate public perceptions and attitudes regarding the use of data science approaches for healthcare as well as the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholder groups regarding intellectual property, patents and use commercialization of genomic data in health. In addition, ELSI research teams will be integrated into research hubs to provide important and timely advice.
A second phase of the program is planned to encourage more researchers to join the consortium, foster the formation of new partnerships and meet additional capacity building needs. Through the combined efforts of all its initiatives, DS-I Africa aims to use data science to develop solutions to the continent’s most pressing public health problems through a strong ecosystem of new partners from academia, government and the private sector.
In addition to the Common Fund (CF), the DS-I Africa Awards are supported by the Fogarty International Center (FIC), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), the National Institute of Allergies and infectious diseases (NIAID), the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the NIH Office of Data Science Strategy (ODSS). The initiative is led by the CF, FIC, NIBIB, NIMH and NLM.