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Data science potential for Africa examined during NIH virtual symposium

September / October 2020 | Volume 19, Number 5

Digital map of Africa. Image by iStock.
Image by iStock

By Susan Scutti

Data science holds enormous potential to spur health discoveries and catalyze innovation in Africa and is the topic of a new $58 million NIH funding initiative. A virtual symposium and networking platform was launched to foster collaborations across disciplines, sectors and geographies in the hopes of cultivating quality applications for the program. It contains videos of keynote addresses and panel discussions, technical grant application advice, chat rooms, networking bulletin boards and other features.

The Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa (DS-I Africa) program is intended to encourage interdisciplinary partnerships that bring together data specialists, computer scientists and engineers with biomedical researchers, clinicians and other health experts. The program aims to create a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that will result in new software solutions and technologies, produce start-ups and spinoff companies and partner with governments and businesses to reach scale and impact.

More than 1,700 registrants participated in the virtual DS-I Africa forum, with more than half coming from Africa. In his keynote address, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said the continent is witnessing an incredible time of growth and change. “Africa is very well situated to play an increasingly significant role in this area of scientific opportunity,” he said. “We want to see partnerships that go beyond the traditional academic research arena, partnerships that connect up with government, with the private sector and with NGO partners. We want to be sure that this is focused in a way that solves health challenges in Africa in a sustainable way.”

DS-I Africa Virtual Symposium Platform:
Virtual Networking Room

Screen capture of a virtual networking room on the DS-I Africa Virtual Symposium Platform shows access to 6 networking tables.
Image courtesy of Knowinnovation

NIH had originally planned to hold the DS-I Africa
conference in Kampala. The virtual networking
platform
paid tribute to traditional Ugandan musical
instruments.

Collins noted that the NIH has been helping to develop research capacity throughout Africa in preparation for the coming decade, when rapid advances are expected to transform biomedical and behavioral research and lead to improved health care.
This African-led data science initiative is intended to build on previous large-scale NIH collaborations on the continent, including the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) program, the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the Health-Professional Education Partnership Initiative (HEPI). H3Africa advanced genomics capacity and research partnerships, while MEPI and HEPI strengthened and expanded training for doctors and health care professionals.

DS-I Africa is an NIH Common Fund program guided by a working group led by the Office of the Director, Fogarty, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

DS-I Africa Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs)

Applications for DSI-Africa opportunities are due in late 2020 with projects slated to begin in September 2021. The four unique categories of funding are:

More Information

Resources and publications related to the article Applicants urged to find diverse partners for new NIH DS-I Africa program:

Resources and publications related to the article Research hubs will harness innovation to advance African data science discoveries:

Resources and publications related to the article Unique methods needed to train African data scientists:

Resources and publications related to the article Conducting ethical data science research in Africa:

Resources and publications related to the article Leveraging data ecosystems to foster African research networks:

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