The NIH Common Fund’s Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in 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, there are opportunities to utilize data science to impact health outcomes on the continent and around the world, including in the United States.
Africa carries unique populations, genes, and exposures. Therefore, tools developed in high-income countries that are based on European populations’ data often cannot be applied in the African context. Though data science expertise exists in Africa, it is scarce and scattered throughout the continent. Health data scientists are needed to conduct policy analyses as Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) of data science research in Africa present challenges. There is a high need for clinical decision support due to a critical shortage in the medical workforce.
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. 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. Health data scientists conducting ELSI studies on data science research and its applications to public health in Africa may help impact policy on the continent. The program’s interdisciplinary teams will build on years of NIH investments in Africa to develop comprehensive strategies to address public health challenges.
The Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation program proposes five initiatives to accomplish its goal:
- 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
This page last reviewed on October 28, 2019