RITM, Germany strengthen health research efforts; launches Project BUKLOD
Participants of the Project BUKLOD AI and Machine Learning Training at Somerset Hotel, Alabang on February 20, 2023.

In collaboration with the Heidelberg Institute for Global Health (HIGH) and the University of Heidelberg in Germany, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) through its Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics (DEBS) facilitated the training on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) on emerging and re-emerging infectious and neglected tropical medicines as part of the Project BUKLOD initiative – Bridging the gap, Upgrading the technical Know-hows and Leveraging research Outputs and its Dissemination within the Philippines and Germany, on February 20-21, 2023 at Alabang, Muntinlupa City.

Simply put, AI is a field that marries computer and data science for problem-solving. This has become increasingly prominent among researchers, as well as machine learning. Machine learning, on the other hand, is an AI subset that deals with programming computers or machines using analytical models and algorithms – enabling computers or machines to learn from data, and eventually become capable of identifying patterns and making decisions.

The two-day training introduced participants on the use of big data and AI in global health. The training featured epidemiologist, data scientist, and Humboldt professor Dr. Joacim Rocklöv, and post-doctorate scientist on infectious diseases Dr. Marina Treskova. Drs. Rocklöv and Treskova mentored 50 health professionals and researchers from RITM, and other public and private health research agencies.

During the first day of the training, participants learned about AI methods, advanced levels of AI methods, and were oriented with a case study about climate change drivers of the West Nile virus with practicals using R. Later during the first day, participants were divided into six groups according to their research interests and expertise. The groups were tasked to discuss about how AI can assist them in the conduct of their respective researches.

A group discussing insights during the breakout session on February 20, 2023.

The second day of the training zeroed in on the dynamic infection transmission models, particularly the Susceptible, Infected, and Recovered (SIR) model. The participants also had a hands-on activity on using R for SIR models.

HIGH representatives assisting a participant during one of the hands-on activities using R.

In conclusion to the event, Drs. Rocklöv and Treskova shared their insights on how they can apply the methods they have learned in real-life scenarios. Examples include smart traps, image recognition in citizen science, and social media mining.

I hope that the training could act as a springboard for larger research and policy discussions about the use of AI and ML, as well as implementation of cutting-edge methods in combating emerging and re-emerging diseases,” said Project BUKLOD Lead Dr. Mark Donald Reñosa on how the training can help the participants advance their current reseach endeavors.

Project BUKLOD aims to forge a partnership between RITM and HIGH through stregthening of research capabilitites of early career scientists in both institutions. The AI and machine learning training is the first phase of the Project BUKLOD training series. The next phase will be a workshop focused on mixed methods for formative and implementation research. While the third and last phase of the Project will be an academic workshop on academic writing and knowledge translation.

by Anel Azel Dimaano