A new platform to improve health research and education in Africa

A new platform was set up by the European Commission with researchers from Belgium, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Mali, Spain and Switzerland

Titled ‘AFRICA BUILD’, the project aims to set up excellence centres supported by advanced information and communications technologies (ICT) with the overall aim of building research networks between cooperative health projects based in Africa.

The project is funded in part with almost EUR 2 000 000 as part of the ‘Building sustainable capacity for research for health in Africa’ sub-programme of the Seventh Framework Programme’s (FP7) ‘Health’ Theme. From August 2011, AFRICA BUILD partners have been laying the groundwork for setting up these sustainable networks of health researchers, educators and workers.

The project will run until 2014, and the hope is that ICT can provide support for building an open and collaborative platform. The excellence centres set up as part of AFRICA BUILD will be focal points for sharing best practices and new methods of education and training. They will be the hubs of the project, employing specialised workers and purchasing ICT equipment that will be used for initiating e-learning courses on health, medical informatics and ICT.

The project also aims to encourage the use of advanced ICT developments such as cloud and mobile computing. The thinking is that African countries should be able to gain access to supercomputers and large software systems to store information and to access and use open source software.

Pilot projects born out of the AFRICA BUILD initiative will also use advanced ICT to deal with some of the most pressing health problems beleaguering many African countries, such as AIDS.

Collaboration is also a cornerstone of the project; AFRICA BUILD will set up a volunteer network that can participate in medical informatics research and development (R&D) projects and offer distance learning courses in partnership with existing African aid projects.

To kick things off, the researchers have already carried out a series of ambitious cloud computing experiments, namely clinical database integration, and supercomputing for bioinformatics and access to open source software tools or medical image processing.

Using just a laptop and a mobile phone connection, researchers in Burundi, a central African country with little ICT infrastructure, have already managed to access databases and perform complex bioinformatics calculations on MAGERIT, a supercomputer based at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in Spain.

This early result bodes well for the future of the project and indeed for the future of collaboration between Europe and Africa, not to mention the potential for the use of ICT to foster better health care.

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