​Collaborative Data Science Hub in Kenya Using AI to Improve Health Equity


The Aga Khan University’s broad set of collaborations with the University of Michigan (U-M) continued in February 2023 with a series of meetings in Nairobi to advance a cutting-edge data science hub that uses machine learning to improve health and care delivery in local communities.

Joseph Kolars, director of the U-M Center for Global Health Equity, led a 10-member delegation from Michigan to the Nairobi campus of Aga Khan University this month. The AKU East Africa academic leadership—with guidance from AKU’s provost Carl Amrhein—represented AKU in the meetings that included research contributors from communities across Kenya.

The meetings focused on reviewing the achievements of the partnership between AKU and U-M since the signing of an MOU​ and providing updates on the $6.5 million grant Utilizing Health Information for Meaningful impact in East Africa through Data Science (UZIMA-DS)​, which the two institutions received two years ago.

The grant aims to create a state-of-the-art data science hub that utilizes artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other emerging technologies to enhance health and care delivery in local communities. During the four-day visit, the project leads shared their progress and discussed the future of the project.

“This visit provided an opportunity for both institutions to discuss our challenges and find constructive ways to achieve UZIMA-DS goals,” said Kolars. “The many presentations on current research demonstrated a tremendous amount of progress, and a variety of workshops were also valuable for attendees to trade ideas and solutions to various challenges.”

Over 18 months the AKU-UM collaboration has developed into a substantive partnership with multiple grants and projects underway, 100+ faculty and staff are involved, and five publications and $1.82M in pending grants have been applied for. One such grant is the LOSHAK grant. The NIH grant will support pilot work to lay the foundation for future grant applications aimed at launching the full-scale Longitudinal Study of Health and Aging in Kenya (LOSHAK). The study will enrol thousands of Kenyan adults aged 45 and older and follow them for years, with a focus on key areas including Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, mental health, the health and economic impacts of climate change and air pollution, and factors influencing late-life economic well-being.

The meetings were a success, and both institutions and participants benefited greatly. The visit was organized by Dr. Amina Abubakar, Director of the AKU Institute for Human Development and co-PI of the UZIMA grant, and Farzana Karim-Haji, the Associate Vice Provost, Global Engagement Office, with support from U-M colleagues Amy Conger, Managing director of the Center for Global Health Equity, Eileen Weinheimer-Haus, Senior Project Manager with UZIMA-DS, and Akbar Waljee, Professor of Learning Health Sciences at Michigan Medicine, and co-PI of the UZIMA grant. The meetings represent the first of many more that will follow as the grant progresses and builds on the success of the foundation that has been laid.