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New NIH grant projects will use data science to promote equity in injury and surgery in sub-Saharan Africa

A new program from the National Institutes of Health has granted almost $75 million to establish a data science research and training network across Africa with the goal of solving some of the continent’s most pressing public health issues.

The grant will fund projects throughout the continent. Scientists in Kenya will develop AI models to identify women at risk for poor pregnancy outcomes; in Nigeria, a hub of researchers will study COVID-19 and HIV to improve pandemic preparedness; in Uganda, researchers will advance data science for medical imaging, improving the diagnosis of eye disease and cervical cancer. In South Africa, researchers will study multi-disease morbidity and create a hub to mitigate health impacts of climate change.

“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, in a public 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.”

Two of the funded projects involve the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. The first, Harnessing Data Science to Promote Equity in Injury and Surgery for Africa, is a collaboration between the University of Buea in Cameroon, UCLA, Berkeley Public Health, the Cameroonian Ministry of Public Health, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cameroon, and the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Just over $1 million will be dedicated to the project.

A second and related project, which strengthens the pipeline for interdisciplinary trauma research in Cameroon, is run by Berkeley Public Health professor Alan Hubbard and the University of Buea, with Berkeley Public Health professor of epidemiology and biostatistics Sandra McCoy a project partner.

These two projects are intended to address the burden of deaths from injuries in Africa, focusing on the reduction of morbidity and mortality due to trauma and injury in Cameroon through data science.

The overarching goals are to use “big data” to decrease the burden of injuries and surgical diseases through improved surveillance, prevention, and treatment and to improve access to quality surgical care in Cameroon and other sub-Saharan countries.

To reach their goals, the partners will implement two research projects, conducted in Cameroon, South Africa, and Uganda, and focused on improving trauma outcomes, tracking health equity, and building capacity through training.

“Both projects have a central goal to train local scholars in order to create a sustainable platform for data science research in Africa,” said McCoy.

“Together, these awards will continue Berkeley Public Health’s legacy of supporting young scholars globally, will strengthen our relationship with the University of Buea and other community-based and academic organizations in West Africa, and will expand our provision of high-quality, online quantitative training thorough our On-Campus and Online MPH program,” she said.