Guest post by Laura K. Povlich, PhD, Program Director at the NIH Fogarty International Center (FIC) and Tiffani B. Lash, PhD, Program Director for the NIH National Institutes of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB). They co-coordinate the DS-I Africa program with assistance from a trans-NIH Working Group that includes Patricia Brennan, RN, PhD, Director of NLM; Roger Glass, MPH, MD, PhD, Director of FIC; Joshua A. Gordon, MD, PhD, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health; and Bruce Tromberg, PhD, Director of NIBIB.
Advances in data science and data ecosystems that support the mission of the NIH are reshaping biomedical and behavioral research. Enhanced international data ecosystems not only have the potential to support improved healthcare and public health domestically but could also be transformative in low- and middle-income countries. As a step in realizing this potential, the NIH Common Fund established the Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa (DS-I Africa) program.
The purpose of this program is to leverage data science technologies and prior NIH investments to develop solutions to the continent’s most pressing medical and public health problems through a robust ecosystem of new partners from academic, government, and private sectors.
Building off the success of a virtual symposium in 2020, the NIH recently invested over $74 million over five years to support 19 DS-I Africa awards that will conduct research and training activities across the continent. The DS-I Africa Open Data Science Platform and Coordinating Center, led out of the University of Cape Town, will catalyze and support the unique continental network of health data scientists, innovators, and researchers that work across the DS-I Africa program. This award will coordinate the 19 awards as a collaborative research consortium that benefits from shared resources and knowledge. Additionally, the Open Data Science Platform will develop into a scalable gateway that aims to lower some of the barriers to collaboration by democratizing access to data and tools.
The DS-I Africa consortium includes African-led multidisciplinary and multisectoral research hubs with projects in several important areas such as anti-microbial resistance, SARS-CoV-2, climate change, mental health, multi-disease morbidity, and more. Research training programs will build the next generation of African health data scientists and innovators. Lastly, research projects on the ethical, legal, and social implications of health data science from an African perspective are a key component of DS-I Africa and will further the policy discussions of these issues on the continent. The consortium will expand throughout the life of the program with the goal of bringing in new partners through pilot projects and possibly other funding mechanisms.
We are excited to see the DS-I Africa consortium grow and to stay apprised of opportunities to connect with other data science communities around the world. Many funding organizations see the potential for data science to transform medicine and public health in Africa, and we hope additional investments will have a synergistic effect in strengthening the health data science ecosystem in Africa. For more information about the DS-I Africa research studies visit the Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa Funded Research page.
In addition to her work at the NIH FIC with DS-I Africa, Dr. Povlich also co-coordinates Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa), which is another NIH Common Fund program. She earned both a BSE in Materials Science and Engineering and a PhD in Macromolecular Science and Engineering from the University of Michigan. Dr. Povlich was previously a Science & Technology Policy Fellow for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Dr. Lash is the Program Director for the NIH Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Tech and Advanced Technology Platforms initiative, NIH Technology Accelerator Challenge and the NIBIB Point of Care Technologies Research Network. Her research portfolio includes Point of Care Technologies and Digital Health, both with the goal of developing biomedical technologies through collaborative efforts that merge scientific and technological capabilities with clinical need. Dr. Lash has been selected as a science policy fellow for both the AAAS and the National Academy of Engineering. Dr. Lash earned her PhD in Physical Chemistry from North Carolina State University