NIH awards nearly $75M to catalyze data science research in Africa

October 26, 2021

New program will establish data science research and training network across the continent

The National Institutes of Health is investing about $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, the NIH is issuing 19 awards to support research and training activities. DS-I Africa is an NIH Common Fund program that is supported by the Office of the Director and 11 NIH Institutes, Centers and Offices.

Awards will establish a consortium consisting of a data science platform and coordinating center, seven research hubs, seven data science research training programs and four projects focused on studying the ethical, legal and social implications of data science research. Awardees have a robust network of partnerships across the African continent and in the United States, including numerous national health ministries, non-governmental organizations, corporations, and other academic institutions. 

“This initiative has generated tremendous enthusiasm in all sectors of Africa’s biomedical research community,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “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 African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) in collaboration with Wits- Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience & the MRC/Wits Public Rural Health and Rural Health Transitions Research Unit, Nairobi, IBM Research (Nairobi and Johannesburg), and Vanderbilt University Medical Centre have been awarded part of this grant to address the combined impact of the rising burdens of infectious and non-communicable disease (multimorbidity).  Project MADIVA (Multi-morbidity Action through Data Insights and Visualisation for Africa) will develop data science tools and methods for integrating and using large, heterogeneous and fragmented data to solve problems in research, public health, and treatment. Through dashboards developed in the project, researchers will access available data sources to plan further research, and clinic administrators and public health practitioners will make treatment choices and public health interventions.  MADIVA will also build skills in data science, support masters and doctoral degrees, and postdoctoral training opportunities. The project’s primary research sites will be the APHRC-led Nairobi Urban Demographic Surveillance System, Kenya (a highly urbanized site), and Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, South Africa (a predominantly rural site).

In addition to the Common Fund (CF), the DS-I Africa awards are being supported by the Fogarty International Center (FIC), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), the National Institute of Allergy 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), the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the NIH Office of Data Science Strategy (ODSS). The initiative is being led by the CF, FIC, NIBIB, NIMH and NLM.   

More information is available at https://commonfund.nih.gov/AfricaData.

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About The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC): The African Population and Health Research Center is the continent’s premier research institution and think tank, generating evidence to drive policy action to improve the health and wellbeing of African people. Our mission is to generate evidence, strengthen research capacity and engage policy to inform action on population health and wellbeing. www.aphrc.org

About the NIH Common Fund: The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports a series of exceptionally high-impact, trans-NIH programs. Common Fund programs are managed by the Office of Strategic Coordination in the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives in the NIH Office of the Director in partnership with the NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices. More information is available at the Common Fund website: https://commonfund.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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