Health Architecture Lab produces its First Masters Graduates
Mr Pascal Brandt and Mr Ryan Crichton are the first Masters students to graduate from the Health Architecture Laboratory (HeAL) within the UKZN/Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) Meraka Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research.
HeAL is an applied Computer Science research group established through grants from the Rockerfeller Foundation and the International Development Research Centre (DRC).
HeAL’s goal is to provide a research and development environment to apply and advance state-of-the-art computer science to impact health care in Africa. It works with several local and international organisations to provide support for practical research projects to develop architectural artefacts and software building blocks at various levels in the healthcare system.
The lab’s research is influencing the architecture of national computer systems in several developing countries, including South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Rwanda.
Discussing the work of Brandt and Crichton, senior lecturer in Computer Science, Dr Deshen Moodley, who supervised both students, said. ‘Their projects have demonstrated the exciting technologies that can be created, through effective academia-industry collaborations, to deal with social challenges facing developing African countries.’
In his thesis, Brandt investigated advanced multi-label machine learning techniques to predict HIV drug resistance from clinical records in a clinic associated with the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies in rural KwaZulu-Natal. One of the examiners commented: ‘Mr Brandt has done an excellent piece of work in describing and implementing these state-of-the-art machine learning techniques. This thesis will serve as a manual for future researchers interested in multi-label prediction.’
Brandt, who wrote his first computer programme at the age of eight, said: ‘Time management was incredibly important especially since I was working full time at Jembi, a leading African health organisation, and pursuing my masters degree simultaneously.’ He expressed his gratitude to his supervisors, Dr Deshen Moodley, Mr Anban Pillay, Professor Chris Seebregts and Professor Tulio de Oliveira, ‘for their continuous support and guidance in ensuring that my project was successful’.
‘Most importantly, I want to acknowledge HeAL for providing the financial support and learning environment for the project work,’ said Brandt.
Crichton designed and implemented an open-source middleware framework called the Open Health Information Mediator (OpenHIM; www. OpenHIM.org). The software is currently being used for national health information exchange in developing African countries and version 1.1 of the software (http://www.jembi.org/new-release-openhim-v1-1-now-available/) was recently released.
The system was implemented as the core infrastructure of the national health information exchange pilot project in Rwanda. Currently this technology is also being used to power health information exchange in several live projects in South Africa, including MomConnect, a national mobile maternal health project with the National Department of Health and a primary care data integration project with the City of Cape Town. It is also one of the core technologies of the Open Health Information Exchange (OpenHIE; www.ohie.org) initiative.
‘Both Mr Brandt and Mr Crichton have produced work of high quality and have made significant contributions to their respective fields of study,’ said Mr Anban Pillay, a lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science. ‘Their work demonstrates that an applied Computer Science research lab can produce work that is both academically rigorous and practically useful for dealing with healthcare issues in developing African countries.’
Commenting on the value of the work to the African health organisation, Jembi, Professor Chris Seebregts, the founder and Chief Executive of the organisation as well as an Honorary Associate Professor in UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science said: ‘The work has shown the value of collaborating with a university-based applied research laboratory for private organisations developing health information systems in low resource African countries. The collaboration has resulted in world-class research and software and Jembi plans to incorporate this work in future HIS projects.’
Professor Tulio de Oliveira, Professor in the College of Health Sciences at UKZN and Director of the Southern African Treatment Resistance Network, said: ‘Pascal Brandt’s research and work has been instrumental in developing new knowledge from public drug resistance databases in South Africa.’
‘These bioinformatics databases were developed in collaboration with Stanford and Belgium researchers and were published in Bionformatics and Nature, two of the top scientific journals in the field.
‘Pascal’s MSc results show that there is great potential to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to determine drug resistance profile of patients failing antiretroviral therapy in South Africa,’ said de Oliveira.
Brandt’s results were presented at a leading international conference and published in a peer-reviewed journal ‘which is a great result for a MSc project,’ said de Oliveira. ‘I hope Pascal continues his academic career as we are in great need of computer programmers who have a strong scientific background.’