The National Institutes of Health (NIH) aims to give data science research in Africa a large boost by investing about $74.5 million over the next five years to help spur tech-driven medical advancements across the continent.
Through a recently launched NIH program, the money will be split among 19 different awards for various research and training activities, including the establishment of a data science center and seven research hubs as well as seven additional training programs and four projects looking to apply data science to broader research efforts.
"This initiative has generated tremendous enthusiasm in all sectors of Africa’s biomedical research community,” NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., said in a statement. “Big data and artificial intelligence have the potential to transform the conduct of research across the continent, while investing in research training will help to support Africa’s future data science leaders and ensure sustainable progress in this promising field.”
The University of Cape Town will work to develop and manage the program's data science platform and serve as the coordinating center for researchers. The NIH previously invested in the university's data and informatics work through its Human Heredity and Health in Africa program.
The satellite research hubs, all led by African institutions, will focus on a variety of critical health issues. Scientists in Kenya will work to develop AI models to identify women with high-risk pregnancies in addition to identifying healthcare workers at risk of depression.
Meanwhile, in Uganda, researchers will focus on eye diseases and cervical cancer as well as on applying data science in medical imaging and diagnostics. In Nigeria, scientists will study HIV, COVID-19, pandemic preparedness, antimicrobial resistance and more, while researchers in Cameroon will explore efforts to improve surgical care and access.
The program will also dedicate research to the ethical, legal and social implications of data science research. In addition, the NIH announced two other funding initiatives and second program phase that will focus on education and scientist retention.