New AI Pioneers at CERI Tackle Global Health Challenges

Five students from AIMS, now at CERI, are leveraging AI to tackle global health challenges. Projects include studying arbovirus transmission, enhancing digital disease surveillance, predicting dengue incidence, assessing climate disaster impacts, and detecting SARS-CoV-2 variants. Their innovative work, supervised by experts, aims to advance public health and resilience.

Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the way we address global health challenges, offering innovative solutions to some of the most pressing issues of our time. In this spirit, a new group of five students from diverse corners of Africa, based at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), has embarked on their master's projects with us at CERI. Each student brings a unique perspective and a shared determination to harness the power of AI for the betterment of public health.

Carlin Foka, a spirited young man from Cameroon, had always been fascinated by the intricacies of mathematics and machine learning. His undergraduate journey at HESTIM in Morocco had laid a solid foundation, and now, as a master's student at Stellenbosch University, he was eager to apply his knowledge to real-world problems. Carlin's project, supervised by Dr. Houriiyah Tegally, aimed to uncover the climatic and environmental correlates of arbovirus transmission in Africa using a phylodynamic framework. "This project is a great opportunity for me to apply my passion for mathematics and machine learning to tackle real-life problems related to healthcare," he said, his eyes gleaming with determination.

Haingo Andry from Madagascar was equally enthusiastic about his project, which focused on enhancing digital surveillance for infectious diseases through large language models. Registered in the MSc. in Mathematical Sciences program, Haingo was drawn to the challenge of applying cutting-edge NLP techniques to address global health issues. "I chose to do this project as it presents a valuable opportunity to deepen my practical skills in Natural Language Processing," he explained. "The challenge of applying cutting-edge language models to address a global issue, such as infectious disease surveillance, is intriguing." Under the guidance of supervisors Joicy Xavier and Dr. Houriiyah Tegally, Haingo was set to push the boundaries of AI in healthcare.

Olivier Adjagba, a dedicated AI student at AIMS South Africa from Benin, finds his research interests perfectly aligned with CERI's goals. His project, which aims to explore the geographical links between environmental factors and population density on dengue incidence prediction, merges his passions for AI, healthcare, and climate science. "I chose this project because my research interests involve using AI to address challenges in healthcare, climate, and agriculture," Olivier shares. "This topic combines two of them—healthcare and climate." He develops a Deep Learning model using Convolutional LSTM to make the prediction across both time and space. With Dr. Houriiyah Tegally and Prof. José Lourenço as his mentors, Olivier is ready to make significant strides in understanding the impact of climate on disease transmission.

Aness Chelfat, now registered for an MSc in Mathematical Sciences at Stellenbosch University, has a keen interest in the intersection of technology and societal impact. His research focuses on quantifying large populations following climate disasters using satellite remote sensing imagery. "I chose this research topic because it is challenging and new to me. I love learning and exploring new areas, which I find exciting," Aness says with a smile. "But more importantly, this research could help others, adding value to my studies and allowing me to contribute to society." With the expertise of Dr. Houriiyah Tegally and Dr. Moritz Kraemer, Aness aims to develop innovative solutions for disaster response and management.

Lastly, Aurel Agbodoyetin, deeply affected by the global disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, is driven by a strong sense of purpose. His work, titled "AI-enhanced Classification and Early Detection of SARS-CoV-2 Variants for Timely Public Health Response," aims to address the urgent need for effective strategies against emerging infectious diseases. "We have all felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives, communities, and the global economy," Aurel reflects. "This experience has highlighted the critical need for robust strategies and tools to effectively combat emerging infectious diseases." Under the supervision of Dr. Joicymara Xavier and Dr. Houriiyah Tegally, Aurel's research promises significant advancements in public health responses, potentially mitigating the impact of future pandemics. His work represents a proactive approach, ensuring society is better prepared for future health crises.

As these students settle into their projects, the importance of their work resonates through their dedication and the innovative ideas they bring to the table. Each student, with their unique background and motivation, contributes to the collective goal of advancing knowledge and creating a healthier, more resilient world.

From left to right: Aness Chelfat, Ny Haingo, Olivier Adjagba, Carlin Foka and Aurel Agbodoyetin

News date: 2024-07-08