AFRICA – Washington University in St. Louis has joined a major international effort to advance data science, catalyze innovation and spur health discoveries across Africa.
The program is supported by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Common Fund, which will invest nearly US$75 million over five years to fund the Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa (DS-I Africa) program.
Researchers at the School of Medicine are receiving one of 19 grant awards that will support data science research and training activities in Africa.
The researchers will focus their efforts on developing new training programs in health data science in Rwanda. Faculty from the Brown School and the McKelvey School of Engineering also are involved in the initiative.
The project aims to develop a program that nurtures the development of trainees in research careers with a focus on urgent health-care issues in Rwanda, including the burden of infectious diseases, such as HIV, malaria and COVID-19, as well as chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
Applying the techniques of big data science to these issues will enable researchers to identify patterns in diseases and their prevalence in large populations and, based on these, help scientists develop new hypotheses to test with the goal of improving public health.
“Data science holds great potential for understanding the burden of disease across Africa,” said Davila-Roman, also a professor of medicine, of anesthesiology and of radiology.
The Global Health Center is joining with Washington University’s Institute for Informatics to develop the training programs and curricula that will go into the project.
“The major public health problems that we’re trying to tackle are global in nature — the COVID-19 pandemic alone demonstrates that these issues don’t care about geographic boundaries,” said Payne, also the Janet and Bernard Becker Professor, associate dean for health information and data science, and chief data scientist for the School of Medicine.
In-person and remote training options will include opportunities to build skills in applied mathematics, biostatistics, epidemiology, clinical informatics, analytics, computational biology, biomedical imaging, machine intelligence, computer science and engineering.
Mentoring and internship opportunities will help trainees harness their skills to tackle real world problems. They could, for example, apply data science concepts to medical and public health areas such as social determinants of health, climate change, food systems, infectious diseases, noncommunicable diseases, health surveillance, injuries, pediatrics and parasitology.
The NIH program in Africa has four components: a coordinating center at the University of Cape Town in South Africa; seven training centers, including the one led by Washington University; seven research hubs; and four centers focused on understanding the ethical, legal and social implications of data science research.
“This initiative has generated tremendous enthusiasm in all sectors of Africa’s biomedical research community,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, in the NIH announcement.