The University of Michigan (U-M) this week welcomed Princess Zahra and representatives from Aga Khan University (AKU) campuses in Pakistan and Kenya. Senior leadership from both universities signed a Memorandum of Understanding to expand ongoing collaboration.

The visit builds on a joint effort to use data science to improve health outcomes in under-resourced settings in sub-Saharan Africa. The collaboration began in 2019 and was formalised via a Memorandum of Understanding in 2021. The project has already yielded positive results in strengthening health systems, informing health policy, utilising technology to promote health equity, and empowering women.

“Partnership is powerful,” said Princess Zahra, who is an AKU Trustee. “The AKU/U-M Collaborative Platform for Improving Health builds on what is already a highly successful partnership between two institutions with common values and unique strengths. I look forward to seeing our faculty members continue to work together to deliver new tools and insights that can improve health in Africa, Asia and beyond.”

In the early stages of the formal partnership, U-M and AKU joined together to launch the UZIMA-DS data hub. This Kenyan-led initiative 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 among African youth: poor health outcomes in mothers and children, and depression and suicide ideation among adolescents and young adults.

“As we witness the evolution of our partnership, it becomes clear that this collaboration is being led by African researchers, who are taking the lead in addressing the pressing health challenges within their own communities,” said Joe Kolars, director of the U-M Center for Global Health Equity.

UZIMA-DS, otherwise known as the Utilizing Health Information for Meaningful Impact in East Africa through Data Science programme, aims to empower African researchers by providing the necessary support, resources and training to further their efforts to enhance the health and wellbeing of people throughout Africa. Funded by a US$6.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the initiative is now in its third year and recently received a second NIH grant to leverage AI models to improve colorectal cancer diagnoses in Africa.

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.

Alongside Princess Zahra, the AKU delegation included President Sulaiman Shahabuddin; Provost Carl Amrhein; Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies, Salim Virani; Chief Advancement Officer, Zahra Somani; Global Chief Innovation Officer, Shaukat Ali Khan; Director of the Institute of Human Development, Amina Abubakar; and Director of Global Engagement, Fareena Feroze.

“The visit of Princess Zahra Aga Khan and the distinguished AKU delegation is a testament to the enduring bond between our institutions, founded on shared values and a common vision for a better world,” said U-M President Santa Ono. “This historic celebration is not only an opportunity to honour our past achievements but to set a course for an even brighter future of partnership and collaboration.”