Bolstering data science and global health research training in Africa

View of data scientist's hands working at laptop
A data scientist at work

October 27, 2021—Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health are leading a new collaborative effort to increase training opportunities in data science research in five African countries. They will work with colleagues at Heidelberg University to help develop a training hub at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), South Africa, that will also serve researchers at partner institutions in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda.

The new program is one of 19 funded through a $74.5 million awards program from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to advance data science research on the continent. The awards were announced by the NIH on October 26, 2021.

“Data science has the potential to generate fundamentally new insights on the drivers of global health in Africa, but the realization of this hinges on the availability of a critical mass of highly trained health data scientists on the continent,” said principal investigator Wafaie Fawzi, Richard Saltonstall Professor of Population Sciences, and Professor of Nutrition, Epidemiology, and Global Health. “We are fortunate to be able to bring together a multidisciplinary team of researchers and expert faculty from across Harvard and partner institutions to advance training in the methods of data science and then leverage this training to address policy-relevant global health questions.”

The training program builds on existing partnerships with institutions in the Africa Research, Implementation Science, and Education (ARISE) Network. Launched in 2014 by the School under the leadership of Fawzi and the Harvard-affiliated Africa Academy for Public Health, the network currently has 21 member institutions from nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The research team leading the new program aims to develop a critical mass of health data science researchers in Africa who can address policy-relevant questions in two key global health research areas: health systems strengthening; and food systems, climate change, and planetary health.

To that end, the program will train mid-level and senior researchers at UKZN to work as educators and principal investigators leading independent research. There will also be a training program for junior researchers within the ARISE Network and a new master’s degree program in health data science at UKZN, as well as short courses, regular seminars, and symposia.

Amy Roeder

Photo: BBC/Courtesy of NIH