Breakthrough Health Innovations in Africa

The Aga Khan University Institute for Human Development (IHD) hosted over 70 experts in healthcare, data science and other key stakeholders to discuss advancements and achievements towards improving health outcomes in Africa. The annual event under the UtiliZe Health Information for Meaningful impact in East Africa through Data Science (UZIMA-DS) programme also served as a platform for knowledge exchange, idea generation, capacity building and networking.

UZIMA-DS is dedicated to leveraging cutting-edge data assimilation and advanced AI/ML techniques to serve as an early warning system, with a special focus on improving health outcomes for Kenya’s most vulnerable demographics, including mothers, children, adolescents, and young adults. By combining expertise from various fields such as statistics, advanced analytics, informatics, and healthcare, the programme aims to improve the quality, efficiency, and relevance of multidisciplinary data science in health research, with a focus on transparency, reproducibility, and sustainable impact across Africa.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel!” emphasized Dr Marion Koso-Thomas, an expert in maternal and child health from the National Institutes of Health. “Through embracing leapfrogging, resource-constrained environments can accelerate the advancement of healthcare solutions, leading to improved outcomes at reduced costs.”  ​

Attendees presented on diverse topics, including machine learning models for predicting low birth weights, Early Childhood Development (ECD) surveillance, and the establishment of data resources for adolescent mental health research in Africa. Discussions also included the implementation of best practices for data science methodology and predictive models, as well as the cultivation of a robust data science ecosystem in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs).

The three-day event provided a unique platform for mentorship and capacity-building, particularly targeting early career researchers. Areas of focus included data analysis methodologies, cloud infrastructure support, manuscript and grant writing skills, and leadership development.

Local journalists also took part in the event through a data journalism training programme, which marked a big step toward improving the quality of health reporting. This initiative aims to build the capacity of local journalists to report effectively on complex health issues using data, thereby enriching the community health’s discourse. It also teaches journalists how to easily explore data sets and investigate data to find potential sources for their articles and broadcasts. This initiative marks a significant step in the evolution of journalism, where data-driven insights become integral to impactful storytelling.

Among the esteemed partners present were the Aga Khan University, University of Michigan Center for Global Health Equity, Kenya Medical Research Institute – Wellcome Trust (KWTRP), and National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The event marked a dedication to harness the power of data science for enhancing health outcomes across Africa, ultimately striving towards the attainment of ‘UZIMA’ – which is Swahili for health and well-being, for current and future generations. It stands as a testament to the transformative potential of collaborative innovation in addressing healthcare challenges and uplifting lives in the developing world.