In the next decade, rapid advances in data science are expected to transform biomedical and behavioral research and lead to improved health for individuals and populations. There are opportunities to utilize data science to impact health outcomes on the African continent and around the world.
Yet data science expertise is scarce and scattered throughout the continent. African health data scientists are needed to conduct policy analyses as Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) of data science research and clinical decision support solutions are needed due to a critical shortage in the medical workforce.
Many of the enabling factors for catalytic impact are already in place. For example, extensive mobile phone coverage in Africa has led to major innovations that could bring the clinic to the patient through data science technologies, with applications to rural and underserved populations in the United States and worldwide.
A unique continental network of data scientists and engineers could be transformative, bringing together existing expertise to develop tools and applications that can be shared, adopted, and harmonized globally.
$58 Million African Research Fund
The US National Institutes of Health has launched a $58 million initiative to advance data science, catalyze innovation and spur health discoveries across Africa. The new five-year program, Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa, will leverage existing data and technologies to develop solutions for the continent’s most pressing clinical and public health problems.
NIH has an open call for grant applications in four areas: an open data science platform and coordinating center; research hubs; research training programs; and ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) research.
- Open data science platform to develop and maintain a data-sharing gateway for existing resources and new data generated by the DS-I Africa research hubs.
- Coordinating center to provide the organizational framework for the direction and management of the initiative’s common activities.
- Research hubs as recognized centers of excellence in data science fields and will advance population-relevant, affordable, acceptable and scalable data science solutions that will improve health in Africa.
- Research training programs in rigorous methods and analytic techniques to provide interdisciplinary research experience and enhance trainees’ ability to develop novel data science solutions.
- Research into key ELSI issues such as data privacy and ownership, cybersecurity and sensitivities concerning the use of geospatial information for research or public health surveillance.
These funding opportunities are open to African organizations in partnership with private sector, government, NGO, and other research partners. Interdisciplinary collaborations will bring together data specialists, computer scientists and engineers with biomedical researchers, clinicians and other health experts.
Potential research topics could include:
- Developing artificial intelligence tools to advance decision support for mobile point of care technologies,
- Leveraging large shared health datasets to reveal disease patterns and risks,
- Computational approaches and open data sharing to accelerate discovery of new diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.
The program aims to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that will result in new software solutions and technologies, produce start-ups and spinoff companies, and partner with governments and businesses to reach scale and impact.