October 28, 2021

Data Science collaboration to improve health in Kenya garners NIH funding

The University of Michigan is a collaborating partner in a $6.5 million NIH-funded project to establish East Africa's first data science hub, using cutting-edge tech to improve health and care delivery.

Amina Abubakar (left) of Aga Khan University, Kenya, and U-M Professor of Internal Medicine Akbar Waljee are leading the project.

The Aga Khan University (AKU) in Kenya will lead the effort with U-M support. UtiliZing health Information for Meaningful impact in East Africa though Data Science (or UZIMA-DS) will be the first-of its kind initiative in the region, harnessing artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other emerging technologies to improve health and care delivery in local communities.

Professor of Internal Medicine Akbar Waljee, who was instrumental in forging a partnership with AKU earlier this year, will serve as co-PI for the grant with Professor Amina Abubakar, Director of the Institute for Human Development at AKU.

"I am honored to be working with Professor Abubakar and her colleagues at AKU who share my passion for leveraging AI and machine learning to impact health equity and improve people's lives," said Waljee, MD, MSc.

Waljee and Abubakar received initial seed funding for their partnership from the U-M Center for Global Health Equity, and the data science platform in UZIMA-DS builds on foundational work of several multi-disciplinary groups in Ann Arbor focused on leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) in low-resource settings: Michigan Integrated Center for Health Analytics and Medical Prediction (MiCHAMP); e-Health & Artificial Intelligence (e-HAIL), facilitated by U-M Medical School Office of Research and the College of Engineering; as well as the Veterans Affairs Center for Clinical Management Research in Ann Arbor.

The UZIMA-DS project will initially seek to leverage data science to proactively avoid adverse outcomes in maternal and newborn health and mental health. Through machine learning, an application of Artificial Intelligence (AI), they seek to identify creative solutions to aid health service providers and policy makers within resource constrained environments.

“Early identification and intervention are critical to a good prognosis in all health conditions.  However, in many low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) there is a dearth of tools that can be used for early identification of women, children, and young adults at risk of poor physical and mental health,” said Abubakar, PhD.

The Aga Khan University will implement the project through its Institute of Human Development (IHD) and its Medical College. Collaborating institutions include the University of Michigan, Kenya Medical Research Institute Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KEMRI/ WTRP), and the University of Ottawa.

The grant is part of the larger NIH Common Fund “Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa” program, that aims to leverage data science technologies 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.

"Being able to then translate these emerging technologies for use in East Africa will empower communities to put data to work for better health,” Waljee said. “Moreover, it will provide a potential blueprint for utilization in other settings around the world.”