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University of Maryland School of Medicine Institute of Human Virology researchers receive $6.5 million to create African big data hub designed to address public health and pandemic preparedness

Grant and Award Announcement

Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM)’s Institute of Human Virology (IHV), a Global Virus Network (GVN) Center of Excellence, have received $6.5 million from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to streamline big data collection in Nigeria and South Africa in addressing public health needs of the COVID-19 and HIV pandemics.

The U54 grant, named INFORM Africa, was awarded in September 2021. As one of seven research hubs in Africa, INFORM Africa will serve as an NIH Data Science and Innovation Research Hub (DS-I Africa) to support data science and innovation training programs in Africa, promote research on the ethical, legal, and social implications central to health research and innovation in Africa, and establish an open data science platform and coordinating center. The funds also establish a Data Management and Analysis Core to collect and evaluate both existing and new data assembled for the Research Hub. Researchers of the INFORM Africa grant will work with public and private sectors led by Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria (IHVN), in collecting information to better understand the many variables impacting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“By utilizing large datasets on HIV and SARS-CoV-2 from two of Africa’s largest and most affected countries, INFORM Africa will be able to provide new and unique insights on the relationships about both viruses’ mobility, as well as their impact on each other, so that governments across Africa can better respond to these current epidemics and future threats,” said grant co-awardee Alash’le Abimiku, PhD, Professor of Medicine, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Executive Director of the International Research Center of Excellence, IHVN. “We look forward to addressing the longstanding challenge in Africa in lacking the capacity to secure, curate, and analyze high-quality, large datasets.”

INFORM Africa will focus on three research projects. One project will study the impact of how SARS-CoV-2 spreads by studying human movements. The second project will focus on where the virus is distributed and how it may mutate to form new strains that may change its behavior. The last project will look at the interplay between factors such as location, spread, and population demographics, as to how it effects the twin pandemics (SARS-CoV-2 and HIV).

“Faced with a new highly infectious agent, and poor health infrastructure, IHV and UMSOM have engaged colleagues from the Maryland Transportation Institute and University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Transportation Technology Laboratory at College Park, led by Dr. Xiong, to facilitate the proposed data-driven research,” said the grant’s other co-awardee Man Charurat, PhD, MHS, Professor of Medicine, and Director of the Division of Epidemiology and Prevention, Research and Global Director of Ciheb, at University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute of Human Virology. “This partnership will ensure optimal management of data streams and development of appropriate tools and workflows for innovative data analytics that will transform biomedical and behavioral research and improved health across Africa.”