Michigan State University is leading an international study with collaborators to understand the relationship between physical activity and the mental and respiratory health of individuals living in three regions of Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This collaboration illustrates what private sector and higher education partnerships could do to address global challenges,” said MSU Associate Professor Leapetswe Malete, who is one of the co-principal investigators. He is also the program director for the USAID Empowered Youth program in Kenya. “This study in four vast regions of Africa is not only innovative, but it has potential application to other areas of research. It is key to enhancing much needed diversity, equity and inclusion in research, and improving access to communities that are normally left out due to geographic location and resource limitations.”
The research, funded by the National Research Foundation of South Africa, uses vocal biomarkers to assess COVID-19’s impact on well-being. Participants record a vocal sample, which will then be analyzed for vocal biomarkers—or objective, acoustic features in voice that change, such as breathing patterns, ability to hold a note or clarity of tone. Technology used for the study, developed by Sonde Health, will analyze more than 1,000 parameters within each sample to identify subtle vocal shifts over time associated with changing mental and physical health.
Moreover, researchers will examine if levels of physical activity are associated with mental and physical health during the pandemic.
Thus far, more than 1,000 participants across Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania have enrolled in the study.
In addition to MSU and Sonde Health, study collaborators include the University of Botswana, the University of Ghana, the University of Dar es Salaam and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
This study advances the broader goal of Malete’s research group in the MSU Department of Kinesiology, which is to expand international dimensions of research on positive youth development through sport, physical activity and wellbeing.
The study will also extend the size and diversity of Sonde’s vocal biobank, which will now include voice samples and health labels from people across four continents, multiple languages, ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic classes. This increasingly diverse dataset—Sonde has more than 1.2 million voice samples—provides validation of the generalization and applicability of Sonde’s statistical health models for use around the world.
“Beyond the potential global health benefits, our research study with Michigan State University and partner universities in Africa is an important milestone for Sonde, as we now expand our voice data collection and analysis to include a wide demographic of people across Africa,” said David Liu, CEO of Sonde Health. “As we continue to advance our technology, the diversity in our dataset is crucial to ensuring the accuracy and applicability of our models across any population. Ultimately, having the most unbiased dataset in the industry can help us extend our leadership position in using vocal biomarkers to monitor changes in health.”
Though in its early stages, the study has already uncovered differing mental health patterns across countries.
In addition to MSU’s Malete, fellow study leads are Dr. Dale Joachim, Sonde Health; Professor Reginald Ocansey and Dr. Clement Adamba, University of Ghana; Dr. Joyce Ndabi, University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania); Dr. Dawn Tladi from the University of Botswana; and Dr. Rosemary Muomah, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
This story includes elements of a news release, written by Dale Joachim and originally posted by Sonde Health. It is used here with permission.