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AKU, Center for Global Health Equity partnership to deepen 2023-10-27

Friday, 2023, October 27
U-M President Santa Ono presents Princess Zahra Aga Khan with a gift of a Motawi tile during her recent visit to the Ann Arbor c

The presidents of the Aga Khan University and the University of Michigan will meet on Monday in Ann Arbor, Michigan to kickstart a new phase in the partnership between their institutions, which has already attracted more than $7 million from the US National Institutes of Health for research in predictive health and other fields in East Africa.

The visit builds on a collaborative effort to use data science to improve health outcomes in under-resourced settings in sub-Saharan Africa that started in 2019 and was formalized with a signed Memorandum of Understanding in 2021. In the early stages of the partnership, AKU and U-M jointly received a $6.5 million NIH grant to launch the UZIMA-DS data hub, a Kenyan-led initiative that is developing a scalable and sustainable platform to apply novel data assimilation and advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning-based tools to address two pressing health issues in Africa: poor health outcomes in mothers and children and depression and suicidal ideation among adolescents and young adults.

Since UZIMA’s launch, the AKU—U-M partnership has expanded to include several other large, population-level research initiatives, including the Longitudinal Study of Health and Aging in Kenya (LOSHAK) and a recently announced project to advance colorectal cancer diagnostics across the African continent using AI and machine learning technologies. The former aims to provide important data on aging in a region whose population over the age of 60 is expected to more than triple by 2050, while the latter seeks to help address the acute shortage of specialists and technology needed to address the fifth-most common cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa. These large scale projects are also funded by NIH grants, a significant achievement, given the institution's highly competitive and rigorous selection process.

On Monday, a delegation from AKU that includes President Sulaiman Shahabuddin and Provost Carl Amhrein will meet with U-M President Santa Ono, Joseph Kolars of the Center for Global Health Equity, and other eminent U-M faculty and staff.

The AKU/U-M collaboration's initial phase has birthed several pivotal joint research endeavors, with aspirations to further delve into data science applications for maternal and child health, cancer, mental well-being, aging, and the nexus of climate change and health. The subsequent phase envisions the creation of the AKUM Collaborative Platform for Improving Health, a comprehensive initiative targeting enhanced health outcomes across Africa and Asia. Through the platform, faculty and staff at U-M and AKU will collaborate to mentor early career AKU faculty, helping them to develop as researchers. Michigan will also work collaboratively with AKU to assist with the development of AKU research administrators and project management staff.

Given U-M's esteemed position as the top public research university by volume in the US—garnering a staggering $1.45 billion in research funds in the 2022 fiscal year—it stands as an ideal collaborator for fostering research proficiency at AKU. On the flip side, AKU's prowess in conducting influential health science research is undeniable. It is among the elite few institutions from lower-income nations to be ranked within the top 300 global universities in medical research by NTU Rankings. Furthermore, AKU's medical facilities in Kenya and Pakistan, serving an impressive 2 million patients annually, boast accreditations from the US-based Joint Commission International and the College of American Pathologists.

Creation of the platform will benefit both institutions, helping them to achieve their missions. AKU will develop its capacity to obtain funding for studies with the potential to benefit not only its patients but patients at other health facilities in the countries it serves, in accordance with its goal of improving quality of life in partnership with leading public and private institutions at home and abroad. Working closely with AKU, U-M will significantly enhance its ability to conduct innovative studies in Africa and Asia, helping it to achieve its goal of “advancing interdisciplinary solutions to health challenges in low- and middle-income countries through equitable partnerships.”

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