The NIH Common Fund’s Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa (DS-I Africa) program will leverage data science technologies and prior NIH investments to develop solutions to the continent’s most pressing public health problems through a robust ecosystem of new partners from academic, government, and private sectors. Despite recent progress, Africa carries a disproportionate share of the global burden of disease. 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. While data science applications are largely undeveloped in Africa, many of the enabling factors for a catalytic impact are already in place. 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.
DS-I Africa consists of five components that will form a unique continental network of data scientists and engineers that could be transformative, bringing together existing expertise to develop tools and applications that can be shared, adopted, and harmonized globally. An open data science platform will develop and maintain a data-sharing gateway for existing resources and new data generated by the DS-I Africa research hubs. A coordinating center will provide the organizational framework for the direction and management of the initiative’s common activities. Research hubs are intended to be recognized centers of excellence in data science fields and will advance population-relevant, affordable, acceptable, and scalable data science solutions to improve health in Africa. Research training programs will include a strong foundation in rigorous research design, methods and analytic techniques, provide interdisciplinary research experience and enhance trainees’ ability to develop novel data science solutions. Finally, the program will support research into key ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) issues that present challenges in Africa such as data privacy and ownership, cybersecurity and sensitivities concerning the use of geospatial information for research or public health surveillance.
The Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa program is made up of five initiatives that are working synergistically to accomplish the program's goals:
- Research Hubs: Advance and demonstrate feasibility of data science research and innovation to improve health in Africa
- Training: Increase capacity for data science research in Africa
- ELSI Research: Explore Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of data science research from an African perspective and contribute to policy discussion on the continent
- Open Data Science Platform & Coordination Center: Facilitate the development of a trans-African network of data scientists
- Symposia: Catalyze new collaborations, gather stakeholders, and explore the state of the field for data science research in Africa
Intended deliverables at the end of 5 to 10 years include:
- Recognized centers of excellence in data science and innovation
- Advances in policy surrounding Ethical Legal Social Implications of data science research in Africa
- New interdisciplinary collaborations and scientific knowledge improving clinical practice and health
- Demonstration of feasibility of data science and innovation to improve health in Africa
- Increased capacity to develop and advance data science tools and applications
- A unique continental network of scientists advancing data science research in Africa
Support of key partners across academic, local governments, and private sectors, is vital to advance the use of data science for health discovery and innovation in Africa. There are many potential partners with an interest in data science for health that could make this program especially powerful.
DS-I Africa Resources
Coordinating Center and Consortium Website
Open Data Science Platform
NIH hosted an online-only, Virtual Symposium Platform to launch the DS-I Africa program and encourage networking among potential applicants, with featured events that began in August 10, 2020.
To watch all past events recordings and read summary findings of the virtual symposium evaluation: