New EPFL Program to drive AI4Health research across Africa

Two zebras in Kruger National Park © iStock / EPFL 2023

Two zebras in Kruger National Park © iStock / EPFL 2023

A newly launched academic exchange program gives EPFL data and computer science students the opportunity to create impactful STEM research in Africa, building expertise on the continent and at EPFL.

The new EPFL-afrICa program is designed to showcase the rich opportunities for impactful research and innovation in low-resource settings, as well as the value of interdisciplinarity in data science.

The initiative is bidirectional, where EPFL students travel south to embed their research in leading Africa-based academic institutions and humanitarian organizations, while Africa-based students travel north to intern on campus at EPFL. It aims to create inspirational, career-changing learning opportunities for students, while building technology as a public good.

The program was launched by Dr. Mary-Anne Hartley, who leads the Intelligent Global Health (iGH) research group at EPFL. She describes the field of AI4GlobalHealth as “an effort to democratize access to accurate predictive health technologies”.

As a biomedical data scientist and medical doctor from South Africa, Dr. Hartley deeply values interdisciplinarity and sees real-world experience as a powerful educational tool. “Technology should always be designed based on the needs and limitations of its environment,” said Dr Hartley, adding, “this is especially important in resource-constrained environments.”

EPFL-afrICa exchanges master students between the School of Computer and Communication Sciences (IC) and several Africa-based institutes and organizations. It has been generously funded by Fondation Jaton in Lausanne which covers students’ travel and living expenses. EPFL participants will also be supported to launch needs-based academic initiatives within their African host institutions, such as hackathons or short boot camps to develop practical data science skills where such educational opportunities are limited.

A particularly unique part of the initiative is that students will also learn how to integrate meaningful capacity-building into their research. After spending time understanding their environment, EPFL students can apply for a small grant to support a philanthropic project in their local community.

“Perhaps the student sees that buying new pulse oximeters would not only improve data quality but also directly improve care for the patient,” explained Dr Hartley. She is excited to see what the students come up with and hopes that it will provide tangible experience in how impact can be achieved through and with research, further encouraging students into the field.

Associate Professor Martin Jaggi leads the Machine Learning and Optimization Laboratory (MLO) at EPFL which hosts Dr Hartley’s research group and strongly supports the initiative. “Artificial intelligence is in the process of revolutionizing healthcare, but it's important to ensure this happens in a fair way, respecting local data ownership and equal access to AI technologies. I’m proud that EPFL can support increasing access to this important sector in Africa and position our own research and students at the forefront of this fast-emerging field”.

Already, ten Africa-based students have been accepted for funded on-campus summer internships at various host labs across EPFL, via the [email protected] and E3 programs.

Highly motivated EPFL students in Data and Computer science MSc and BSc programs can apply for an in-person externship in Africa, via this website: Available projects will range from creating predictive algorithms for maternal health in Zanzibar and running data science boot camps in Addis Ababa, to performing a master thesis on tuberculosis prediction in rural South Africa.

Author: Tanya Petersen

Source: Computer and Communication Sciences | IC

This content is distributed under a Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 license. You may freely reproduce the text, videos and images it contains, provided that you indicate the author’s name and place no restrictions on the subsequent use of the content. If you would like to reproduce an illustration that does not contain the CC BY-SA notice, you must obtain approval from the author.