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Capacity-building grant trains biostatisticians in West Africa

Jun. 8, 2022, 11:21 AM

by Kristen Centers

The Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health, Vanderbilt Department of Biostatistics, and Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH) have partnered on a new program to train a cohort of highly skilled Nigerian biostatisticians to lead and supervise high-level biostatistics activities for HIV research studies in West Africa.

Biomedical HIV research is growing in West Africa, but biostatistics support and expertise lag. The Vanderbilt-Nigeria Biostatistics Training (VN-BioStat) program  will help the country build biostatistics capacity. The new program strengthens a longstanding collaboration among institutions in the U.S. and Nigeria — Vanderbilt University Medical Center, AKTH, Bayero University Kano (BUK), and Ahmadu Bello University — and is funded by the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health.

In collaborative HIV studies, there are generally clinician leaders and data managers from western institutions and West Africa. However, biostatistics leaders are rarely from institutions in West Africa.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for us to bridge the gap in biostatistics capacity in West Africa. The highly trained cohort of biostatisticians who will emerge from this program will help provide outstanding biostatistics support for scientific research in our institutions,” said Nafiu Hussaini, PhD, associate professor of Mathematical Biology at Bayero University Kano (BUK), one of the multiple-principal investigators of VN-BioStat.

Bryan Shepherd, PhD, professor of Biostatistics at Vanderbilt, and Muktar Aliyu, MD, MPH, DrPH, professor of Health Policy and Medicine at Vanderbilt and associate director for Research with VIGH, are also multiple-principal investigators.

The program will bring two Nigerian data scientists per year — for a total of 10 over five years — to VUMC to immerse them in hands-on biostatistics training for one-year fellowships. Trainees will take biostatistics courses, become members of a team of biostatisticians doing HIV research at Vanderbilt, and will be assigned to HIV research projects using data from AKTH.

“It is important that we develop biostatistics leaders in West Africa who will not be technicians, but co-investigators, principal investigators, and thought-leaders in funded HIV/AIDS research,” said Shepherd.

Many statisticians in West Africa, including those trained in biostatistics, leave biomedical research because of insufficient institutional support or critical mass. Funded training initiatives have successfully built biostatistics expertise in Southern Africa and East Africa during the last 10 years, but no such programs exist in West Africa.

The program will also host an annual workshop in Nigeria, team-taught by Vanderbilt and Nigerian investigators, to provide mid-level, hands-on biostatistics training in specific statistical techniques and their applications to HIV research. The workshops will be open to HIV researchers and data scientists from West Africa.

“VN-BioStat is a much-needed initiative that will help develop excellence in biostatistics capacity in West Africa. I am excited to work with Drs. Shepherd and Hussaini to enhance the expansion of biostatistics expertise in that part of the world,” said Aliyu.

This work is supported by the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number 1D43TW012268-01.

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