U-M expands collaboration with Aga Khan University


The University of Michigan welcomed Princess Zahra Aga Khan and representatives from Aga Khan University’s campuses in Pakistan and Kenya on Oct. 30.

Senior leadership from both universities formally signed a memorandum of understanding, powered by a $900,000 gift from AKU to U-M to expand ongoing collaborative efforts.

“Partnership is powerful,” Princess Zahra Aga Khan said. “The AKU/U-M Collaborative Platform for Improving Health builds on what is already a highly successful partnership between two institutions with common values and unique strengths.

“I look forward to seeing our faculty members continue to work together to deliver new tools and insights that can improve health in Africa, Asia and beyond.”

Princess Khan is the daughter of the Aga Khan, a spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. The U-M Center for Global Health Equity organized the delegation’s visit.

Photo of President Santa J. Ono presenting Princess Zahra Aga Khan with a gift of a Motawi tile.
President Santa J. Ono presents Princess Zahra Aga Khan with a gift of a Motawi tile during her recent visit to the Ann Arbor campus. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

“The visit of Princess Zahra Aga Khan and the distinguished AKU delegation is a testament to the enduring bond between our institutions, founded on shared values and a common vision for a better world,” President Santa J. Ono said.

“This historic celebration is not only an opportunity to honor our past achievements but to set a course for an even brighter future of partnership and collaboration.”

The visit builds on a collaborative effort to use data science to improve health outcomes in underresourced settings in sub-Saharan Africa. The effort started in 2019 and was formalized with a signed Memorandum of Understanding in 2021.

The joint efforts have yielded significant strides in strengthening health systems, informing health policy, utilizing technology to promote health equity and empowering women.

In the early stages of the formal partnership, U-M and AKU joined together to launch the UZIMA-DS data hub. This Kenyan-led initiative is developing a scalable and sustainable platform to apply novel data assimilation and advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning-based tools to address two pressing health issues among African youth: poor health outcomes in mothers and children, and depression and suicide ideation among adolescents and young adults.

UZIMA-DS, or the Utilizing Health Information for Meaningful Impact in East Africa through Data Science program, aims to empower African researchers by providing them with the necessary support, resources and training to further their efforts in enhancing the health and well-being of people throughout the African continent.

Funded by a $6.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the initiative is now in its third year and recently received a second NIH grant to leverage artificial intelligence models to improve colorectal cancer diagnoses in Africa.

Since UZIMA’s launch, the AKU/U-M partnership has expanded to include several other large, population-level research initiatives, including the Longitudinal Study of Health and Aging in Kenya.

“As we witness the evolution of our partnership, it becomes clear that this collaboration is being led by African researchers, who are taking the lead in addressing the pressing health challenges within their own communities,” said Joe Kolars, director of the Center for Global Health Equity; the Josiah Macy Jr. Professor of Health Professions Education, and professor of internal medicine and of learning health sciences in the Medical School; and professor of health management and policy in the School of Public Health.

The AKU delegation included Princess Zahra Aga Khan; Sulaiman Shahabuddin, president; Carl Amrhein, provost; Salim Virani, vice provost for research and graduate studies; Zahra Somani, chief advancement officer; Shaukat Ali Khan, global chief innovation officer; Amina Abubakar, director of the Institute of Human Development; and Fareena Feroze, director of global engagement.


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