Writers aim to benchmark state of data science in Africa
March/April 2023 | Volume 22 Number 2
Photo courtesy of Sheila MweroProject co-chair Catherine Kyobutungi speaks at the writers' retreat. “When the collection is published, I want to see something we don’t already know.”
Last December, Fogarty brought together African researchers in the fields of data science, bioinformatics, epidemiology, ethics, and biostatistics for a writers’ retreat as part of the development of a collection of scientific papers to be published in the
Nature portfolio of journals. The State of Data Science for Health in Africa Writing Project was inspired by the Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa (DS-I Africa) initiative, a NIH Common Fund program that aims to facilitate the development of a trans-African network of data scientists and increase capacity for data science research in Africa.
The goals of the collection are to provide a benchmark for the state of the field that can be used by data science and health communities to assess progress over the next several years. Importantly, the project is led by African experts and nearly all the authors involved in the project are African. Africa is “poised for a data science revolution, “ said Dr. Emile Rugamika Chimusa, Professor of Bioinformatics at Northumbria University and one of the project co-chairs. “We need more data scientists, and we need to benchmark where data science is currently.”
The writing project group first came together in the summer of 2022 to gather input on the content for the collection in terms of gaps and opportunities, emerging areas of importance, and key topics, disciplines, and challenges, as well as gather examples of research that could be featured in the collection. The December 2022 retreat in Nairobi, Kenya, was the first to take place in person since the project was founded. In addition to Chimusa, attendees included the project’s other two co-chairs—Dr. Catherine Kyobutungi, Executive Director of the African Population and Health Research Center and Dr. Kofi Amegah, Senior Lecturer of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Cape Coast—representatives from 15 writing teams, and guests from various organizations including the Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust, and the Network of African Medical Librarians.
Photo courtesy of Sheila MweroAttendees at the State of Data Science for Health in Africa Writing Project retreat in Nairobi, Kenya, the first to take place in person since the project was founded.
“It was a privilege to bring together so many diverse experts from across the continent to discuss an exciting and potentially game-changing tool for improving health in Africa,” said Fogarty’s Dr. Amit Mistry who helped facilitate the meeting. This and future workshops will aim to improve synergy across teams and iron out issues by consolidating topics or changing the type of original research intended for the various papers. While there is still a lot of work to do on the collection, as one attendee put it, “I came to the retreat with doubts but am leaving here with convictions.”
When completed, this collection will include a mix of commentary articles, scoping reviews, and systematic reviews on a wide range of cross-cutting topics. The collection will be published fully open access and the co-chairs, Fogarty, and partners will plan a variety of dissemination and outreach activities to ensure the collection reaches beyond the academic community to policymakers and decision makers across the health and digital research communities.
“When the collection is published, I want to see something we don’t already know,” remarked Kyobutungi. It should “spotlight really great work that has been hidden so far and challenge current narratives.”
The collection is expected to publish in 2024.
Updated April 7, 2023
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