EARTH,SKIESOCEANS ANDInsights from selected, outstanding African women scientists
Publications Economic Commission for Africa P.O. Box 3001 Addis Ababa, EthiopiaTel: +251 11 544-9900 Fax: +251 11 551-4416 E-mail: email@example.com Web: www.uneca.org© 2022 United Nations Addis Ababa, EthiopiaAll rights reservedTitle: Earth, Oceans and Skies - Insights from selected, outstanding African woman scientists. Material in this publication may be freely quoted or reprinted. Acknowledgement is requested, together with a copy of the publication.The designations employed in this publication and the material presented in it do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.Design: Dilucidar.com
iContentsForeword iiiAcknowledgements viIntroduction viii1. Agriculture, food security and climate change 11Leader par excellenceSegenet Kelemu (Ethiopia) 12Nutrition championMaria Andrade (Cabo Verde) 24Advancing insect scienceIsabelle Adolé Glitho-Akueson (Togo) 32Livestock health and wealthAlsácia Atanásio (Mozambique) 40Speaking the language of treesAster Gebrekirstos (Ethiopia) 46Data for food securityCatherine Nakalembe (Uganda) 542. Health 63Demystifying genetic disorders Habiba Bouhamed-Chaabouni (Tunisia) 64Casting light on immunology Judith Sedaminou Gbenoudon (Benin) 70Undying dream Faith Osier (Kenya) 78Saving infants Uduak Okomo (Nigeria) 86Leading voice Aminata Sall Diallo (Senegal) 94Quest for better therapies Priscilla Kolibea Mante (Ghana) 102Health vanguard Francine Ntoumi (Republic of Congo) 110Instinct to nurture Folasade Ogunsola (Nigeria) 118
Economic Commission for Africaii3. Earth, oceans and skies 129Shining star Merieme Chadid (Morocco) 130Young star Zara Randriamanakoto (Madagascar) 140Ground-breaker Evelyne Isaack Mbede (United Republic of Tanzania) 148Health and wealth Hassina Mouri (Algeria and South Africa) 154Creating a water atlas Fadji Zaouna Maina (Niger) 162Bedrock for blue economy Chandani Appadoo (Mauritius) 1684. Materials science 179Light innovation Tebello Nyokong (Lesotho and South Africa) 180Brilliant lightGihan Kamel (Egypt) 192 Engineering for Africa Florence Uphie Chinje (Cameroon) 202Special (posthumous) mention 211
Earth, Oceans and SkiesiiiForewordWhy study stars? Why count and name the sh in the ocean? How about insects? What lurks within the fascinating geology of Africa? What messages do trees rings hide? Can we save our infants, cure incurable diseases, understand our genes, secure the health of our animals? Can we nd cures in our traditional knowledge and biodiversity? Can the humble sweet potato nourish Africa? How about humankind’s fascination with light? How do we nurture talent and create more scientic leaders?Insights into these and many more fascinating questions, articulated by selected outstanding African women scientists, lend this book its rather unusual title, Earth, Oceans and Skies. This name is betting of a publication written within a globally transformative period, a time when the world has been forced to rethink its present and to reimagine its future.Compelling factors include the slow progress in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations in 2015. Moreover, while the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has further impeded progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, it has made their realization even more necessary and urgent. Thus, the declaration by the United Nations General Assembly of a decade of action and delivery for sustainable development (2020–2030), aimed at accelerating attainment of the Goals.Produced as part of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) project to champion the decade of action and delivery, Earth, Oceans and Skies metaphorically unies two issues: science and gender, as a mighty, transformative force in every aspect of our existence. It is a book with multiple goals, the rst being to pivot growing efforts to mainstream science, technology and innovation into socioeconomic development in Africa. Second, this publication aims to recognize and celebrate the often onerous efforts by numerous women in forging pathways and overcoming gender biases in many elds. It also aims to motivate and empower young girls and future leaders, who are currently observing from the sidelines of structural gender imbalances. Ultimately, the perceptions in this book will enable more women to enter and thrive in the world of science, as a way of achieving the continent’s overall ambition of achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls.The scientists featured in Earth, Oceans and Skies are exemplars who have been selected through an informal, yet rigorous process. Presented as condensed autobiographies, the stories in Earth, Oceans and Skies create a mosaic of individual journeys interwoven with the historical, political and social economic contexts that inuence the science, technology and innovation endeavour in Africa.
Economic Commission for AfricaivTheir narratives oblige us to shift our gaze, to look beneath the statistics, global narratives, policy-making rhetoric and dominant discourses. We discern diverse motivations into science: giftedness, natural curiosities and inquisitive minds; empathy for human suffering; an innate instinct to nurture, to serve, to solve, to save; the stimulation of herding sheep in the scenic vistas of Lesotho, with its tall mountains and narrow valleys; growing up in a beautiful Algerian village and its rocky mountains; a childhood in rural Ethiopia that led to early awareness of the disconnect between agricultural labour and yield; legendary water problems in the Sahel; a disconcerting visit to a gynaecologist at a tender age; a book gift; serendipity; motivating parents and nurturing communities; deance and rebellion against culture; and negative beliefs on women and science.The scientists take us with them along their scientic journeys, which are intricately intertwined with personal, family, national and global scenarios, as well as moments of triumph and frustration. They conde in us how they have thrived by seizing opportunities, remaining focused, refusing to be bowed, believing in themselves and their missions, daring to dream, to ask the big questions, venturing beyond their comfort zones into uncharted waters, taking risks, remaining grounded and because of mentorship and numerous helping hands. Many are now paying forward that debt, by nurturing other scientists, women included.The testimonies of success, motivation, dedication and distinction in Earth, Oceans and Skies will inspire women and girls to pursue careers in science, technology and innovation, or any other dreams that they might have. These stories also provide intuitions for mechanisms and frameworks to identify, nurture and retain scientic talent – female and male.Beyond what statistics show, the scientic accomplishments presented in this publication provide alternative perspectives and indicators of the contribution by Africa to the global knowledge hub. They reveal rising institutional strengths, capacities, output and impact across scientic and developmental elds.Thus, Earth, Oceans and Skies demonstrates a return on investment in science, technology and innovation in general, and in women scientists specically. This book leaves us with no doubt that women are capable of excellence in science and as scientic and institutional leaders. From the lab to the eld, across the continent, the globe and indeed the universe, African women are shining strongly.On the ip side, Earth, Oceans and Skies decries a dearth of support and appreciation of science and scientists in Africa. A key message in this publication is that investing in and recognizing scientists in Africa should become a non-negotiable commitment. We are strongly reminded of changing global scenarios and priorities, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which are obliging international science funders and development partners to refocus their support inwards, to the disadvantage of Africa. Moreover, the old adage holds: charity begins at home, and the onus for more homegrown investments for science, technology and innovation has never been more real. Indeed, reducing over-reliance of African researchers on external funding will be the ultimate trump card for science in Africa.Commendably, as demonstrated in this publication, several African countries have made progress, for example by establishing research funding agencies. But such pooled resources need to be boosted to accommodate investment-intensive initiatives, for example vaccine development. Further, while the emphasis by local and international funders on applied research with societal impact is justied, a balance is necessary. Investments in basic sciences, as the foundation for strategies, technologies and solutions, must not be compromised. This will also enable the continent’s scientists to follow their intellectual curiosities, to participate in the excitement of scientic discovery and augment their contribution to the global scientic hub. The prestige and legitimacy of African scientists will be enhanced within the international scientic communities and, in turn, their ability to access the global reward system, which includes resources, knowledge and recognition.
Earth, Oceans and SkiesvIt is our hope that Earth, Oceans and Skies will invigorate Africa and the rest of the world, to do more to harness the potential of women in science.“Moreover, allocations must be made for strategic interventions in institutional, technical and human capacity, for example scientic infrastructure and equipment, and training and rewarding of scientists. Combined, these shifts will enable us to harness the massive brainpower of Africa; to turn a vicious cycle of intellectual wastage into a prosperous one where talent is harnessed, lives are saved and economies are built.Earth, Oceans and Skies also throws down the gauntlet to scientists to communicate, lobby and create awareness for improved research uptake, knowledge-based policy and decision making. Scientists need to become role models and champions, lending their voices and actions to bring about a revolution in science teaching and training; to close the innovation chasm between research and markets; and to demystify science among the public, to build popular support.This publication offers valuable insights on thought leadership: the bravery, boldness, audacity and determination needed to bring forth big ideas. It also emphasizes the need for women scientists to become part of the movement of change, to embrace their right and responsibility to think and theorize from their distinctive geographical and sociocultural perspective.It is my hope that Earth, Oceans and Skies will invigorate Africa and the rest of the world to do more to harness the potential of women in science, to consolidate gains, undertake proper tracking and monitoring, and accord them, alongside their male counterparts, their due recognition in the scientic universe.At ECA, Earth, Oceans and Skies is just the beginning. We acknowledge that many other commendable women have not been included in this edition but are nonetheless noteworthy and deserving of celebration in their countries, communities and cohorts. Therefore, it is vital for us to continue this publication, in some form or another, to recognize and celebrate more women from across the continent who are frontrunners in development, in harnessing talent and in nurturing leadership.Moreover, in 2022, ECA aims to enhance the capacity of member States to positively reimagine gender dimensions in their economic and digital transformation as a signicant result area. This could include introducing and revising policies and programmes to reduce the gender digital divide, building on previous progress. With concerted efforts, we can break the cultural and institutional barriers that women and girls continue to face in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and training.Ameenah Gurib-FakimFormer President of Mauritius
Economic Commission for AfricaviAcknowledgementsThis publication, Earth, Oceans and Skies, was compiled and written by Liz Ng’ang’a, including interviews, research and synthesizing of content from primary and secondary sources. The team is grateful to Vera Songwe, Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, for spearheading the ECA Championing the Decade of Action initiative, which served as the conceptual basis for the selected African women scientists to articulate the impact of their work on the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.Mercy Wambui in the Strategic Planning, Oversights and Results Division provided coordination and supervision of the project in collaboration with Keiso Matashane-Marite, Syed T. Ahmed, Hannan Mohammed, Snober Abassi and Gonzaque Andre Rosalie in the Gender, Poverty and Social Policy Development Division.The team is indebted to Thokozile Ruzvidzo, former Director of the Gender, Poverty and Social Policy Development Division, for her support and guidance right from the project’s inception. Much appreciation goes to Edlam Abera Yameru, Acting Director of that Division, for her tremendous and thoughtful inputs and to Said Adejumobi, Director, Strategic Planning, Oversights and Results Division, for his commitment to the production of this publication.The development of Earth, Oceans and Skies beneted from massive inter-divisional support from across ECA. We acknowledge the following colleagues for their involvement at various stages of the project, including ensuring availability of resources and the attainment of key production milestones: Chigozirim Bodart and Aida Opoku-Mensah (Ofce of the Executive Secretary); and Charles Ndung’u, Ali Todaro, Sarah Mokeira, Orlando Crosby and Sanoma Kellogg, from the Publications and Conference Management Section. Irene Onyancha, Rofaida Elzubair and Loic Samuel Amoni Koona from the Knowledge and Library Services Section facilitated the publication’s visibility at Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.Gratitude goes to the ECA communications staff at the Commission’s headquarters and in the subregional ofces. They include Sandra Nyaira†, Aristide Somda, Ernest Cho Chi, Sophia Denekew, Abraham Tameru, Minilik Demissie, Eskinder Tsegaye, Houda Filali-Ansary, Sitra Youssuf, Tahirou Gouro Soumana, Lavender Degre and Didier Habimana. Many thanks to colleagues in the wider United Nations family and members of the United Nations Communications Group, including Sandra Macharia and Zipporah Musau (Africa Section, Department of Global Communications), for amplifying Earth, Oceans and Skies.
Earth, Oceans and SkiesviiThank you to the scientic and research and development communities for embracing this project with interest, enthusiasm, encouragement and inspiration; and for their invaluable intuitions. We gratefully acknowledge: Mohamed Hassan and Max Paoli of The World Academy of Sciences; Peter McGrath, InterAcademy Partnership; Tonya Blowers, Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World; Tom Kariuki, Science for Africa Foundation; Juliette Mutheu-Asego, Communications 4 Impact Africa; and colleagues at the Network of African Science Academies. Sunday Ekesi, Baldwyn Torto, Komivi Senyo Akutse, Elfatih Abdel-Rahman, Samira Mohamed Faris, Theresia Estomih Nkya, Merid Getahun, Solveig Haukeland and Brian Mwashi, all of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology. Julius Ecuru and Valine Moraa, BioInnovate Africa Programme; Moses Osiru and Sakina Mapenzi Kahindi of the Regional Scholarship Innovation Fund of the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology; and Pearl Amina Karungi, Next Einstein Forum.Danny Coyne and Bernard Vanlauwe of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture; Monica Parker, Vivian Atakos and Nathan Ronoh of the International Potato Center; An Notebaert of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture; Catherine Onyango, World Agroforestry Centre, and Tasia Asakawa, formerly of the International Brain Research Organization. Malik Maaza, National Research Foundation Africa Chair in Nanosciences and Nanotechnology, South Africa; and Gail Cobus, Institute for Nanotechnology Innovation, Rhodes University, South Africa.Meshack Kinyua and Aïssatou Hayatou both from the African Union Commission; and James Oladipo Ayodele, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.Mohammed Yahia, Springer Nature, Africa and the Middle East; Ochieng Ogodo, Scidev.Net; Linda Nordling, Editor, Research Africa; Sara Bakata, The EastAfrican.And, thanks to Carolina Rodriguez, Atenaga Collins Otega, Bongani Sebele, Danielle Ferreira, Gökberk Tektek, Mandy Kabasa and Susana Matus of Dilucidar Pte. Ltd. for their support for this project and for design and layout.
Economic Commission for AfricaviiiEarth, Oceans and Skies is a book that sets itself apart by deviating from predominant models of presenting scientists. Most such accounts are staged from the author’s perspective, resulting in the creation of often highly coloured, larger-than-life personas, obscuring the excitement of scientic discovery. In contrast, we have aimed to accord agency to the scientists themselves and to acclaim their science. Thus, Earth, Oceans and Skies is autobiographical, where the scientists tell their own lives as they see themselves and their existence in the world of science. We recognize and embrace the subjectivity of autobiography; indeed it is in the biases of this approach that the strength of this book lies. The self-history, self-portrayal and self-analysis of our narrators form a prism that allows us to see how their journeys mirror, not just the scientic world, but our societies and our own lives. In their self-reection we see not hyperbolic individuals but relatable achievers. These stories take us to the centre of the scientic enterprise, submerging us in a world far more immediate than we would have imagined. While the selection of the scientists featured in this book was informal, effort was taken to ensure a thorough, demographically, geographically and disciplinarily representative nomination and winnowing process. We used a funnel model to facilitate commendation from multiple sources, including academies of sciences, professional and academic networks, grant-making organizations, research institutions, ECA subregional ofces, and by word of mouth and through desk-based research. We compiled an initial list of about 100 worthwhile candidates. We then applied a selection criterion that balanced factors such as contribution to scientic elds and to the global knowledge hub, impact on socioeconomic development, policymaking, capacity-building and thought leadership, on a regional and international scale.The scientists featured in Earth, Oceans and Skies include pathbreakers and torchbearers; the rebels and the daring; the down-to-earth and the sky-reachers; the prominent and the gems under the radar; the risk-takers and the judicious. The list is composed of astronomers, entomologists, geologists, chemists, climatologists, crop and animal specialists, medical and health researchers, among others. Against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic, we held online conversations with the scientists, which we complemented by extensive research. But, while the research, translation, synthesizing, writing and packaging are ours, the essence of the stories in this publication belongs to the scientists. We have merely given life to their words and their thoughts; helped to illuminate and attribute meaning to their journeys; and worked to transform their self-conceptualization into form. We are Introduction
Earth, Oceans and Skiesixgrateful to have collaborated with these amazing women in creating Earth, Oceans and Skies through what we hope has been a mutual process of discovery, regeneration and rejuvenation. We believe that these narratives, categorized into the ve chapters below, will inspire and challenge in equal measure. Chapter 1: Agriculture, food security and climate change, consists of stories of six scientists: Maria Andrade (Cabo Verde); Segenet Kelemu (Ethiopia); Aster Gebrekirstos (Ethiopia); Alsácia Atanásio (Mozambique); Isabelle Adolé Glitho-Akueson (Togo) and Catherine Nakalembe (Uganda), who have contributed to the elds of plant breeding and food biofortication; plant pathology, biosciences and insect sciences; dendrochronology; animal parasitology; integrated pest management; and geoinformation and remote sensing.Chapter 2: Health, features eight scientists. Two of them: Judith Sèdaminou Gbenoudon (Benin) and Faith Osier (Kenya) are working on malaria, with research on the development of a vaccine, the disease’s immunology, and improved treatment options. Two scientists, Aminata Sall Diallo (Senegal) and Priscilla Kolibea Mante (Ghana), are advancing the ght against two neglected diseases; hepatitis and epilepsy. Two scientists are frontrunners: Habiba Bouhamed Chaabouni (Tunisia) in medical genetics, and Francine Ntoumi (Republic of Congo) in public health research and capacity strengthening. Folasade Ogunsola (Nigeria) is contributing to the institutionalization of infection prevention and control approach in health care in Africa. And Uduak Okomo (Nigeria), is conducting research on newborn health and the impact of infections on neonatal mortality.Chapter 3: Earth, Oceans and Skies features six scientists. Two of them, Merieme Chadid (Morocco) and Zara Randriamanakoto (Madagascar), invite us into the wonder and awe of astronomy and the exhilarating insights on some of the big questions about our universe. Evelyne Isaack Mbede (United Republic of Tanzania) and Hassina Mouri (Algeria and South Africa) are both geologists whose research is helping us to strike a balance between health and wealth in the fascinating, complex and dynamic geologic heritage of Africa. Chandani Appadoo (Mauritius), a marine scientist, allows us to dive deep into the fauna and ora of the Indian Ocean, helping translate the concept of the blue economy into a reality. Fadji Maina (Niger) is using supercomputers to create an atlas of water movement. Chapter 4: Materials science, consists of the stories of three scientists. Two of them are exploring humankind’s fascination with light. Tebello Nyokong (Lesotho and South Africa), is using laser technology and nanotechnology to address challenges in health, most notably, the development of photodynamic therapy for cancer, and safe water. Gihan Kamel (Egypt), has proven the utility of infrared microspectroscopy in biomedicine and bioarcheology. And Florence Uphie Chinje (Cameroon) has inuenced materials engineering in her country and across Africa. The Special (posthumous) mention section includes ve scientists: Gita Ramjee (8 April 1956–31 March 2020), who was a Ugandan-South African scientist and researcher and Chief Scientic Ofcer in HIV prevention at the Aurum Institute in Johannesburg, South Africa. Margaret Mungherera (25 October 1957–4 February 2017) was Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at Mulago National Referral Hospital in her native Uganda. Karimat El-Sayed (10 December 1933–2019) was a distinguished Egyptian academic and crystallographer with a long career in physics and the scientic education of women in Arabic-speaking countries. Patricia (Pat) Berjak (29 December 1939–21 January 2015) was a prominent South African scientist and world leader in the study of seeds. Wangarĩ Muta Maathai (1 April 1940–25 September 2011) was a Kenyan social, environmental and political activist and the rst African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
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111. AGRICULTURE, FOOD SECURITY AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Economic Commission for Africa12Leader par excellenceSegenet Kelemu (Ethiopia), is the Director General and Chief Executive Ofcer, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology. Her name is often mentioned among the global greats; her accolades, for her scientic contributions and institutional leadership, are a mile long. They include: the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science International Award in 2014; recognition in 2018 by Bill Gates, as one of ve “Heroes in the Field”; Woman of the Decade in Natural and Sustainable Ecosystems award by the Women Economic Forum, in 2018; the TWAS Prize for Agricultural Sciences (2011); being featured in “the Mind of the Universe” documentary series; a 2019 College of Agriculture Alumni Fellow of Kansas State University, United States; and 2019 Science Honoree of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, United States. But her true distinction is her single-minded devotion to excellence, to what African women and African-led science can do for the continent and indeed for the world. This is a testament to her ability to embrace her entire existence, fundamentally shaped by her humble, rural upbringing, and to triumph above odds. She is also a brave, bold and determined advocate for Africa to embrace both its right and its responsibility to think and theorize from its distinctive geographical and sociocultural perspective.
Earth, Oceans and Skies13It takes a villageI would describe my path to becoming a scientist and an institutional leader as a long march but a great journey. It all started in Finote Selam, a lush green village in western Ethiopia, where I was born. Although my family was extremely humble, I had a very happy childhood. I was imaginative, always pushing limits and boundaries. My desire to do things differently and my curiosity to understand why I was being prevented from engaging in certain activities would override the fear of being spanked. In my village, girls were wedded off early through arranged marriages. But I was too rebellious, too much of a tomboy. I questioned the rules too much. As such, I did not attract any suitors. While this must have been distressful for my parents at the time, I knew all along that I was lucky. These traits were my ticket to freedom; to becoming an outstanding student; to striking a balance between having a family and a career; and to being the leader that I am today. With my daughter Finote (right), who is named aer my beloved village, during her high school graduation in 2015.That said, I was also extremely responsible, undertaking various chores such as collecting rewood, fetching water from the river, washing clothes and doing farm work. In fact, out of her seven children, my mother chose me, the middle child, to sell farm produce at the market, certain that I would negotiate the best prices and keep the money safe.The adage that it takes a village to raise a child fully applies to me. True, I loved school and was a bright student, I worked hard and I was determined, but I also had immense support all around me. My parents instilled in me a great sense of discipline, the value of hard work and integrity. They were also visionary enough to send all their children, the girls included, to school. Back then school was free in Ethiopia and my parents only had to pay for stationery. Once my older brothers had their own income, they too invested in my education.
Economic Commission for Africa14Responding to an inner callAs a child, I was extremely observant. I saw how much people in my village toiled in their farms; the back-breaking labour, especially for women. And yet, there was a constant concern on how to meet household food needs. It was clear to me that there was a disconnect somewhere and I began to join the dots at quite an early age. For example, as a young girl I witnessed armyworms and swarms of locusts wipe out crops. During high school biology classes, I started to understand the science behind agriculture. I also observed how two university students helped to improve farming in a village where they had been sent to teach. I felt an inner call to seek solutions to agricultural challenges and also recognized science as a point of intervention.Thus, although my parents would have preferred me to become a medical doctor, I chose to study science, and specically agriculture. At the time, this choice was an unusual path for girls. Indeed, when I joined Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, in 1974, I became the rst girl from my region to attend university and one of only ve girls in a class of at least 100 students. In 1979, I graduated top of the class with a BSc in Plant Sciences. It was during my undergraduate studies that I became interested in the eld of plant pathology, inspired by one of my professors. He put it very simply, telling us that, just like people, plants get sick, for example from bacterial, viral or Durum wheat (also called pasta wheat). Ethiopia is considered a centre of diversity for the variety. As a young scientist, I contributed to studies on the crop including a tenure as an in-service trainee at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Mexico.
Earth, Oceans and Skies15fungal diseases. And if this happens, then we have no food. I found this very interesting, leading to my focus on nding solutions to diseases of plants. Between 1979 and 1982, I held several positions at Addis Ababa University. Among the projects that I was involved in was one that created high-yielding varieties of durum wheat, a crop that is grown widely in the highlands of Ethiopia. I received a scholarship to undertake a master’s degree at Montana State University, United States, between 1983 and 1985. My thesis was on the inherited resistance of barley to a fungus known scientically as Rhynchosporium secalis, which causes the scald disease in the crop. I made one of the rst reports on this disease in Ethiopian barleys and contributed to the development of varieties that are resistant to the fungus. Between 1985 and 1989, I conducted PhD research at Kansas State University, United States. I developed a protocol for cloning an avirulence gene from Xanthomonas campestris pv. oryzae, a bacterium that causes bacterial blight disease in rice. From 1989 to 1992, I was a postdoctoral research scientist at Cornell University, United States, where I investigated the molecular determinants of disease development in plants. This background set me up for a career as a molecular plant pathologist.PhD graduation portrait.My interest in plant pathology, ‘the science of plant diseases’, was shaped by a professor during my undergraduate studies. “
Economic Commission for Africa16Ground-breaking sciencethat live within plant tissues in a mutually benecial relationship, without causing disease in their host. Some endophytes also enhance growth in plants and boost their ability to acquire nutrients, tolerate environmental stress like drought and salinity, and to resist insects and disease agents. We achieved many successes, one set being on Brachiaria, a grass that is native to Africa, which is cultivated as livestock fodder in the continent, and in Asia, the Americas, Australia and the South Pacic. Brachiaria is a great animal fodder because of its high-quality biomass and nutrient value. In addition, the grass tolerates extreme climatic conditions and it grows well even in low fertile soils. But Brachiaria is also affected by a range of insect pests and by fungal and viral diseases. Our aim was to develop Brachiaria cultivars that are resistant to such threats. We established methods to evaluate resistance and to understand factors In 1992, I joined the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Cali, Colombia, which is one of the 15 specialized research centres that were until recently, known as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, and now as One CGIAR. I worked at the Centre for 15 years, starting out as a senior scientist and rising to leader of the Crop and Agroecosystem Health Management programme. This was an extremely prolic time in my scientic career. My teams and I focused on tropical forages, which are plants or parts of plants that are consumed by livestock. Naturally, shortages or low-quality forages affect livestock productivity, and thus food security and livelihoods. Using cutting-edge science, we diagnosed and analysed the diseases that affect forages, especially legumes and grasses, to develop solutions to boost productivity. We also conducted research on endophytes, micro-organisms like fungi and bacteria Brachiaria is a nutritious and persistent fodder grass. Based on our research, we developed hybrid cultivars of the grass that are resistant to disease and are adaptable to environmental and climate change. Photo credit: icipe
Earth, Oceans and Skies17regulating the relationship between Brachiaria and the pests. We made the ground-breaking discovery that Brachiaria thrives in diverse environments because of a fungus known as Acremonium implicatum that lives within it, providing protection. We created the rst genetic transformation system to integrate the fungus into Brachiaria cultivars, to boost their capacity to resist disease and to adapt to environmental and climate changes. We also discovered a bacterium that can promote growth in Brachiaria. Another exciting outcome was achieved through our studies on a forage legume known scientically as Clitoria ternatea, or more commonly as the buttery pea. The legume adapts to a wide range of soil conditions and it is also resistant to drought and various pathogens and pests. These traits triggered our interest in the plant. We discovered in its seed a protein that has antibacterial, antifungal and insecticidal properties. Basically, the protein, which we named “Finotin” after my daughter Finote, acts as a natural biopesticide, with potential use not just on forages, but on other crops as well, in the eld and in storage. We also conducted research on Stylosanthes guianensis, or stylo, an important forage legume in Africa and South and Central America. We developed cultivars that are resistant to its main diseases, anthracnose, which are caused by the fungus Colletotrichum gloeosporioides. Furthermore, we produced and commercialized a range of biopesticides from micro organisms and plant products, in collaboration with private sector partners.The great thing about our work was that we were serving all the developing regions, with our scientic breakthroughs making a difference in people’s lives. As my career thrived, so did my personal life, having met my husband, also a scientist in the same institution. We were raising our young daughter in a beautiful country, with kind people, and a vibrant social life. We were happy. In 2006, I received the prestigious Friendship Award granted by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, authorized by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. This accolade is the preeminent prize that the Chinese Government confers annually on foreign experts who have made outstanding contributions to the country’s economic and social development. I was recognized for having trained numerous scientists from China in my laboratory, who were making an impact back in their country. Standing on the podium to receive my medal, as my scientic achievements were being read out, I had a moment of revelation. I needed to return to Africa to make contributions more directly to my continent. This idea had always been at the back of my mind, but in that instant it became crystal clear.Clitoria ternatea, more commonly known as the buttery pea. We found in its seed a protein that has antibacterial, antifungal and insecticidal properties. We named the protein ‘Finotin’ aer my daughter Finote. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Economic Commission for Africa18Return to Africa Fortuitously, my resolve to move back to Africa coincided with a renewed focus on science and technology inspired by the continent’s rising economic growth that started at the turn of the new millennium. Within the framework of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), African leaders committed themselves to setting up regional centres of excellence to pool their scientic, technical and nancial resources for common goals. One of the agship projects was the African Biosciences Initiative, a cluster of science and technology programmes focusing on research and development in biotechnology, biodiversity, indigenous knowledge systems and technology. Four networks were planned, covering West Africa, Southern Africa, North Africa and East and Central Africa. For the latter, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub was envisioned as a programme of the International Livestock Research Institute, which is headquartered in Nairobi. But there were signicant challenges moving the Hub from concept to implementation, due to various major political, technical and infrastructural obstacles. I was recommended as the person who could make the programme work.With His Excellency, Mwai Kibaki, former President of the Republic Kenya, when he ocially opened the Biosciences eastern and central Africa in 2010. Photo credit: ILRI
Earth, Oceans and Skies19And so, it came about that, in 2007, my family and I relocated to Nairobi, where I took over as the Director of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub. I set out with a vision founded on quality and excellence across all areas of operations. I assembled and inspired a scientic and technical team bound by a vision of advancing biosciences in Africa. I oversaw the development of infrastructure, including the construction of laboratories. We put in place strategies for resource mobilization, strategic partnerships and communications. The Hub expanded at a rapid pace, raising the biosciences research capability in the continent up to par with that in the world’s most developed countries. This enabled researchers in Africa to use cutting-edge equipment without encountering the prohibitive costs and restrictive regulations that accompany research overseas. Capacity-building and training were central to all activities. I helped to establish a new initiative, the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund, a competitive fund to facilitate access to the Hub by scientists and graduate students from African national research institutes and universities. The Hub evolved into a thriving research and capacity-building environment, fuelling optimism and enthusiasm, inspiring researchers to dream and act on the scale necessary to transform agriculture in Africa. It brought together scientists and students from national, regional and international institutions to undertake collaborative studies on neglected and underresearched elds to improve agricultural production and food security in Africa. Indeed, the Hub became one of the success stories in the continent. Following a visit to the Hub in 2009, leading philanthropist Bill Gates stated in his 2010 Annual Letter: “Segenet chose to come back to Africa in 2007 to help develop a generation of plant scientists working to end Africa’s food insecurity. I was very impressed with the teams she has put together and the work they are doing with plant breeders throughout Africa.”Between 2012 and 2013, I served as Vice-President of Programmes at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Nairobi.Pictured in one of the laboratories of the Biosciences eastern and central AfricaHub at the International Livestock Research Institute.
Economic Commission for Africa20Insects for life In November 2013, through a global search, I was appointed the Director General of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, headquartered in Nairobi. Founded in 1970 by the late internationally renowned Kenyan scientist, Thomas Risley Odhiambo, the Centre is the only institution in Africa working primarily on insects and other arthropods. As the rst woman and the second African to lead the institution, being at the helm of this Centre is a pinnacle of my dreams as a young girl; the perfect place for me to execute my ideology of scientic excellence. Insects are intricately interlinked with our lives; they are our present and our future. As the most diverse and abundant form of life on Earth, insects are a paradoxical resource. They harbour a myriad of benets and numerous challenges. They create the biological foundation for all land-based ecosystems. For example, three quarters of the world’s owering plants and more than one third of its food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce. While bees are the world champion pollinators, butteries, moths and beetles, among other insects, are also important. Insects recycle organic waste into nutrient rich fertilizers that improve soil fertility and crop yield, providing us with a clean, circular solution. Moreover, insects are an alternative, more affordable and nutritious source of food for billions of people, especially in Africa, Latin America and Asia; and for animals, including livestock and wild birds. They are also the origin of premium products that have diverse uses in the energy, industrial, pharmaceutical, food and crop protection sectors, like cooking and cosmetic oils, chitin and chitosan. In addition to honey, bees also provide wax, propolis and royal jelly. Silkworms give us silk, one of the world’s most coveted natural bres. Some insects control other harmful insects by parasitizing or preying on them. Above all, insects have a better ecological footprint and signicantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. Of all the insects in the world, only 1 per cent are pests. But still, their damage is huge. For example, mosquitoes transmit the parasites of malaria, one of the world’s deadliest diseases, which kills a child every two minutes. Mosquitoes also transmit pathogens of other devastating ailments like dengue fever, Rift Valley fever and yellow fever. Tsetse ies, biting ies, sandies, ticks and eas, among other insects, are all disease vectors in people and animals. Indeed, the list of arthropod-borne viral (arboviral) diseases and their e International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology, Duduville campus, in Nairobi, Kenya. As the Centre’s leader, I have aimed to transform it into a beautiful, pleasant and environmentally friendly home of creativity and innovation. Photo credit: icipe
Earth, Oceans and Skies21impact is extensive, and most so-termed neglected tropical diseases are transmitted by insects. In crops, a plethora of pests pose challenges for food production and nutritional security. In Africa, where agriculture is by far the single most important economic activity, the impact of insects is signicant.I am convinced that, if we really want to transform our health and food systems and safeguard our planet, we must address the insect paradox. Thus, as the leader of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, my style has been somewhat revolutionary. I have challenged and inspired my teams and our partners to set grander visions, grounded in the belief that, with good science, we can harness the wonderful potential of insects and tackle their negative impacts. And we have made great strides. For example, we have recently discovered a microbe in the malaria-transmitting Anopheles mosquito, which can block transmission of the malaria parasite from insects to people. We are now exploring how this microbe can be spread naturally among mosquitoes to limit the spread of malaria. We have generated new knowledge on arboviral and neglected tropical diseases, especially on the behaviour and ecology of insect vectors and factors such as disease risks and distribution. The socioeconomic impact of our arsenal of tsetse-control packages is evident, and we are developing new tools to control ticks and biting ies in livestock.In agriculture, push-pull, a simple intercropping technology, is a phenomenal force that is helping to improve cereal-livestock production by controlling the key constraints, including the parasitic Striga weed, stemborers, mycotoxins and soil fertility. I am delighted that technology is preempting the backbreaking hand-weeding task often reserved for women, one that I greatly disliked when growing up in the village. It is also gratifying that the technology is largely adopted by female farmers; currently, totalling 155,145. In 2017, the technology became the only readily available solution for the control of the fall armyworm, a highly Scapsipedus icipe. Widely farmed across Kenya, the cricket, which is rich in crude protein and fat, was discovered by the Centre in 2018 as a new species in science. e black soldier y, Hermetia illucens, is an ecient organic waste recycler, converting it into protein and nutrient-rich organic fertilisers. Its larvae or the proteins derived from them, can be used as components for poultry, pigs and sh feeds. destructive caterpillar that was rst reported in Africa in 2016. We continue to develop and disseminate a comprehensive package for the control of this pest. Furthermore, based on our Centre’s knowledge of their biology and modelling capacity, we supported efforts by the continent to tackle swarms of locusts that swept across several eastern African countries, starting in 2019. We have provided solutions for the highly destructive Tuta absoluta, an invasive tomato leaf miner that was detected for the rst time in Africa in 2008, which in some countries, is referred to as “tomato ebola” because of its severity. We have also found a possible solution, using banana bre, for the invasive potato cyst nematodes, thus safeguarding production of potato, one of the most important staples in eastern Africa. Our fruit y integrated pest management packages have made possible the much anticipated reaccess of produce from Africa in the European Union.
Economic Commission for Africa22The remarkable aspect of all our solutions is that they are nature-based, environmentally friendly, accessible and affordable to communities. In addition, we are ingenious in concurrently protecting and exploiting benecial insects. For instance, amid global concerns about growing threats to bees, we are generating knowledge to safeguard this vital resource, while also mainstreaming the critical role of bees as pollinators. The Centre is also a global leader in translating the reality of insects as a transformative force in reshaping our food system into a more sustainable and vibrant circular economy. Through our championship, which includes research, awareness creation, capacity-building and support for policies, in less than one decade, insect farming has increased dramatically in Africa. In the eastern Africa region alone, over 1,000 large scale and micro entreprises have been established.Across all our activities, we are responding to the increasingly urgent need to create productive employment for young people in Africa. Most signicantly, in 2015, the Centre commenced a partnership with the Mastercard Foundation to enable young men and women in Ethiopia to secure dignied and fullling work along honey and silk value chains. This collaboration continues to evolve, entering a new chapter in 2018. With the Mastercard Foundation, the Ethiopia Jobs Creation Commission and other partners, we aim to directly benet 100,000 young people, and indirectly, create opportunities for various stakeholders in Ethiopia.Capacity-building, including nurturing and mentoring young African scientists, remains close to my heart. It is gratifying that the Centre’s African Regional Postgraduate Programme in Insect Science remains a model across Africa and beyond. Moreover, the Centre has been mandated to host and manage two landmark initiatives: the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund and the BioInnovate Africa Programme, one of the most signicant innovation-driven science initiatives on the continent.Throughout my career, I have been humbled and privileged to receive numerous awards and recognitions, for my scientic research and institutional leadership. I have also made many addresses at high level forums, served on various boards and advisory panels in major global initiatives and on international juries of key science awards. In addition, I appreciate the power of partnerships. I know that my vision has succeeded because of a network of people: donors, collaborators, colleagues, policymakers, students and communities. We synergize resources and expertise, dreams and aspirations, to translate broader global visions into locally acceptable, affordable, environmentally friendly and effective technologies. I have also been privileged to have exceptional employers supporting me in balancing my personal life and work. My husband, Arjan Gijsman, was my rock and my inspiration. Being a mom to my beautiful and smart daughter Finote is my biggest achievement. She is following in her parents’ footsteps to make science serve society.I was greatly honoured to be leading icipe as the Centre celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020.
Earth, Oceans and Skies23Parting shotI nd it disconcerting that, several decades later, many of the challenges that I witnessed as a youngster in Ethiopia persist in the country and across the continent. Moreover, emerging threats, like climate change, have a special bearing on Africa. This means that we need bold and decisive actions for investment in research for development in a sustained, strategic and long-term manner, supported by enabling policies. We must also address long-standing aws in international research and knowledge systems. We need to embrace the reality that a just, equitable, peaceful and prosperous world will not be possible without inclusive processes that draw on the intellectual capacity, talent, desires and aspirations of all people, especially the most vulnerable. As a scientist and an African, I consider it both a right and responsibility to think and theorize from our distinctive geographical and sociocultural perspective, to contribute to the movement of change. Giving my acceptance speech as the 2014 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards Laureate for Africa and the Arab States. Photo credit: Fondation L’Oréal
Economic Commission for Africa24Nutrition championMaria Andrade (Cabo Verde) is Leader for Sweet Potato Breeding in Africa and Principal Scientist at the International Potato Center. In 2016, she was co-winner of the World Food Prize. Although she still considers herself to be “a small girl from a small square island”, Maria is a disruptive and transformative force in food and nutritional security in Africa. Through courage, determination and the ability to turn challenges into opportunities for innovation, she has changed the narrative and reality of sweet potato from a crop for “females and children”, to its recognition as a potent source of vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates.
Earth, Oceans and Skies25Island childI was born on Fogo Island in the Cabo Verde archipelago off the north-western coast of Africa. I am the seventh child and, alongside my nine siblings, I had a fantastic childhood exploring the island renowned for its active volcano and beautiful beaches. In the evenings, we would join other children outside to play, always winding up at the beach. My family was not well off. My mother was a housewife who baked goods like cakes for sale, and my father owned a general shop that stocked a range of items from groceries to clothes. I would often help him in the shop, gaining early, invaluable lessons about the concepts of weight, measures and cost. There was plenty of love in our home, and my parents were emphatic that a good education was the only sure way to a secure a good future. When I was 15 years old, I left Fogo Island for the rst time to attend high school in Santiago, the largest island of Cabo Verde. I lived with my older brother Braz and his family, who cared for me and shared my parents’ ethos on hard work and education.My interest in science stems from the environment in which I grew up. Historically, Cabo Verde has suffered periodic and devastating droughts and famines. The severe impact of such disasters was evident all around me as a child. At a very early age, I decided that I wanted to study issues relating to food security and poverty. I completed high school in 1978, just three years after Cabo Verde attained independence from Portugal; a time when the Government and international partners were making concerted efforts to boost education opportunities for young people. In 1980, I received a scholarship from the Africa-America Institute to undertake an undergraduate degree in agronomy at the University of Arizona in the United States. I went on to obtain a master’s degree in the genetics of guar, also known as cluster beans, from the same university. Pico do Fogo, an active stratovolcano lying on the island of Fogo where I was born. is is the highest peak of Cabo Verde and West Africa.Photo credit: Emalisa CarvalhoIn Cape Verde waiting for a scholarship to study in the USA.
Economic Commission for Africa26Initiation into plant breedingThat is how I was initiated into plant breeding, the science of changing the traits of plants to produce desired characteristics. I sharpened these skills further when, back in Cabo Verde, I took up a position in the National Institute of Agricultural Research. Between 1985 and 1989, I set up a programme to research improved varieties of cassava and sweet potato. From 1989 to 1994, I enrolled at North Carolina State University, United States, for a doctorate in plant breeding and plant physiology, focusing on sweet potato. My time in the United States was transformative, elevating a native of a small, poor island to an intellectual who was able to engage with university colleagues at all levels. I was also primed as a leader, for example through responsibility for the stewardship of student affairs. This prepared me for future interactions in the highly complex world of research and development. In Cabo Verde, as a national expert on root and tuber crops that was being implemented at the time under the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, I worked with colleagues, primarily from the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, to support national efforts to improve cassava and sweet potato yield. We made enormous progress and provided farmers with high quality planting materials, while building the capacity of national scientists and technicians.At University of Arizona, United States, where I undertook my undergraduate studies starting in 1980.
Earth, Oceans and Skies27Sweet potato superiorityThe turning point in my career came in 1996 when I accepted a position at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, as a regional agronomist within the Southern African Root Crops Research Network. The Network had been formed in response to one of the worst droughts in southern Africa, which occurred in the 1990s. Coincidentally, there was growing recognition that root crops could provide a solution to the ever-increasing food emergencies in the region, resulting from various disasters like cyclones and oods. The sweet potato is a good disaster-recovery crop. It is an extremely healthy food, a potent source of vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates. It is also a resilient crop that remains standing when all others fail; its yields may be lower, but the crop will still be available. Within two months of planting sweet potato, families can harvest the leaves, and three months later, they can reap the tubers. The premise of the Network was to enable partnering countries to undertake collaborative research to improve yields of root crops like the sweet potato. But there were several hurdles to overcome. For example, in Mozambique, at the time cassava was the main food crop, followed by maize, with sweet potato coming a distant fth. Although sweet potatoes were widely grown, they were typically cultivated on small plots of land, and the yield was constrained by insufcient planting material. Sweet potato was also considered a female crop, one that was grown by women and children and consumed by the poorest households. From the beginning, it was clear that plenty of effort would be needed to raise awareness and conduct training regarding the crop. Photo credit: BioInnovate Africa ProgrammeWith Regina Kapinga (right), who was at the time working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was funding our research; and the Irish singer-songwriter, activist, philanthropist, Bono (centre) during a eld day in Mozambique.
Economic Commission for Africa28I arrived in Mozambique in 1996, just four years after the end of the 16‐year civil war. Based at the National Institute of Agricultural Research, I supported the Government’s efforts to revive the national root and tuber crop programme, while strengthening scientific capacity to evaluate sweet potato varieties. This period coincided with an ambitious continental agenda to eliminate vitamin A and iodine deficiencies and to reduce iron deficiency anaemia. One of the approaches used was the provision of high-dose vitamin A supplements to children under 5 years of age and post-partum women. In children, the doses need to be administered every six months until the age of 5. We convinced the relevant agencies that an orange-fleshed sweet potato variety developed by the International Potato Center could complement efforts to address vitamin A deficiency. In contrast to the white-fleshed sweet potatoes that were dominant in Africa at the time, the orange variety is rich in beta-carotene, a plant-based compound that is converted into vitamin A in our bodies. Just 125 grams of the orange-fleshed sweet potato provides the daily vitamin A needs of a young child. At that time, there was limited evidence of the effectiveness of food-based approaches to tackle vitamin A deficiency. Moreover, the orange-fleshed sweet potato variety lacked the dry matter content that people were used to in the white-fleshed variety. But we were determined, and we began pilots and awareness-raising in Mozambique. In July 1999, after 18 months of trials, we presented evidence to the Government of Mozambique on the potential impact of biofortification, the breeding of crops to increase their nutritional value. Ours was the first study to prove that vitamin A levels in children and women could be increased through diet. Based on this evidence the Mozambican Government approved a strategy for combating micronutrient deficiencies that includes complementary approaches like biofortification. This decision placed Mozambique at the forefront of the concept. Since then, all documents on food security, nutrition or poverty reduction have integrated biofortification and the orange-fleshed sweet potato as part of the solution for vitamin A deficiency. Within the nutrition sector, the sweet potato variety has been mainstreamed as a technology for combating vitamin A deficiency. Most importantly, our research triggered global acceptance of the concept of biofortification. Several other studies that have since been conducted across the world have confirmed biofortification to be a cost-effective and sustainable solution. Once the crop varieties have been introduced into a community, there is little additional cost involved. In early 2000, Cyclone Eline, a devastating tropical storm hit the east coast of Africa. Its impact was felt most severely in southern and central Mozambique, with tremendous loss of life, homes and crops. We worked with humanitarian and government agencies to supply over 100,000 of the affected households with sweet potato plants, and established numerous multiplication plots. The success of this disaster response attracted more support from donors and governments for the development and dissemination of improved cassava and sweet potato varieties. This assistance enabled us to train and coordinate partners in the use of rapid multiplication techniques, with more than 1.3 million families receiving high-quality planting material. Our research triggered global acceptance of the concept of biofortication. Since then, biofortication has been conrmed to be a cost-eective and sustainable solution.“
Earth, Oceans and Skies29Excellence in breedingIn 2009, I joined the International Potato Center, where I lead the project Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health in Africa. The initiative has three subregional platforms focused on high throughput, high-quality breeding. We continue to improve the orange-eshed sweet potato varieties and to reach more farmers, while also working on the development of processed products.The Excellence in Breeding Platform of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research has been particularly benecial to us. We focus on participatory breeding whereby stakeholders are involved in selecting the most desirable traits of the crop to design proles for new sweet potato varieties. Our objective is to improve elements such as the taste, texture, acceptability to the palate and the cooking time of the sweet potato varieties. The ultimate goal is to increase adoption of the varieties by farmers and consumers. We are also taking advantage of emerging scientic tools to run more efcient and less expensive breeding programmes. We can design more robust experiments to detect variabilities in performance in the eld. For example, using drones, we can check variations in the plants’ green pigment as an indicator of drought tolerance. In the past, sweet potato breeding took eight years, but we have cut this duration in half. Moreover, sweet potato breeding has truly become a joint continental effort. We work with several national programmes, and anyone wishing to plant any of the varieties can receive them, grow and evaluate them in their own environment. The sweet potato varieties developed by the International Potato Center come in many colours: orange, cream and white. We are currently promoting the purple-eshed variety that is high in antioxidants that boost the immune system. Even so, the orange-eshed sweet potato remains my favourite. Our research has proven that the humble sweet potato can help to nourish Africa.
Economic Commission for Africa30Disruptive thinkingI have demonstrated thought leadership through the promotion of a disruptive concept, the orange eshed sweet potato, which was considered by some, especially men, to be of inferior quality. A male farmer once goaded me with the suggestion that this variety was unt for animals, let alone human beings. Being able to take such feedback in one’s stride while staying focused on promotion of the product is a mark of courage, determination and persistence. Indeed, I consider myself an innovator because I can turn challenges into opportunities for innovation. I am glad that, in addition to improving the orange-eshed sweet potato for our primary consumers, children and women, we have also developed a different variety that is more acceptable to men.Photo credit: CIP Global Archive
Earth, Oceans and Skies31Parting shotIn 2006, I received the World Food Prize, an incredible, overwhelming milestone that has opened many doors. I know that, amid the hype and prestige that comes with such an honour, it is important to remain grounded and to remember that work must continue. In any case, regardless of my international reputation, I still consider myself a small girl from a small square island. My strengths are God and my work, and I do not take anything for granted.I would describe myself as a person who likes to stand out in a crowd. I hate it when I attend an event and nobody notices me or my work. That is why I always wear orange, the colour of our flagship sweet potatoes, which, coincidentally, is my favourite colour. Outside work, I like singing and music, cooking and tending to my vast garden.Receiving the World Food Prize in 2006. Photo credit: World Food PrizeIn Cabo Verde, during the Africa Science Week.
Economic Commission for Africa32Advancing insect scienceIsabelle Adolé Glitho-Akueson (Togo) is retired Professor of Animal Biology at the Université de Lomé, Togo. She is also United Nations Educational, Scientic and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Chair in Women, Science and Sustainable Water Management in West Africa and Central Africa. She is one of the pioneer entomologists of Africa. Besides her scientic contributions, she has made it her mission to enhance insect science capacity, and to advance women scientists, especially in French-speaking Africa.
Earth, Oceans and Skies33Factors that serve me wellI was born in Benin to a Beninese mother and a Togolese father. I had a calm childhood surrounded by my extended family and, as the eldest of seven children, I was empowered by my parents to be a leader. I had the special affection of my maternal grandmother, the family’s revered matriarch, who played an important role in my life, inculcating in me a strong sense of responsibility, perseverance in the face of adversity and concern for the vulnerable. Until attaining my high school baccalaureate, I attended faith-based schools, which had a strong impact on my choices and relationships with others.In school, I liked to study and I had a competitive spirit. I was also a girl scout, which taught me to work hard without resting and to compete without worrying about injuries. I had mild dyslexia, a learning disorder that, in my case, caused difculties in spelling some words. I consider it good fortune that this condition was discovered late in my childhood, otherwise I would have been sent to a remedial school. The dyslexia made me apprehensive about dictation, but I was fortunate to have the unrelenting support of my father, who helped me to proofread and revise my work. I was a good student, motivated to some extent by the desire to please my father as he regarded my every success as his personal victory. My inspiration into science was primarily my father, who would often say that mathematics was the basis of success. This was an endorsement for me as I was especially good at the subject, along with biology and chemistry. After completing high school, I obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology in Benin. I got married in 1973 and accompanied my husband to France, where I obtained a doctorate in animal biology from the University of Dijon in 1977. Moving to France was a dramatic change. It was my rst time to be away from my tight-knit family, and I had to take care of myself and my young family in an environment that was more individualistic. Nevertheless, factors from my childhood and upbringing served me well and I rose to the challenge. Throughout my life, I have had the capacity to adapt whenever I found myself in situations that are out of the ordinary. I set my sights on a goal, and I charge like a bull towards it. If the path is not the right one, I do not go back, I simply change direction. That is how I became an entomologist instead of a medical biologist as I had initially planned. The switch was because at the University of Dijon, medical biology was open only to medical doctors. With my background as a biologist, I would have had to go to Canada for advanced studies in the eld, and I did not want to travel so far from home. But I have no regrets.In 1976, as a young university student.
Economic Commission for Africa34Insect solutionsEntomology is the study of insects and other arthropods, including those that cause diseases or spread organisms that infect people or damage crops. As entomologists, we create strategies to monitor, manage and prevent such menace. After my doctorate, I rose through the ranks of the University of Lomé to the positions of Professor of Animal Biology, specializing in agricultural and medical entomology, and Honorary Director of the Laboratory of Applied Entomology and Doctoral Training. I was also coordinator of the African network for insect research formed in 1995 under the aegis of the African Union, then the Organization of African Unity.My main scientic contributions include the generation of knowledge on mosquitoes, which transmit several diseases that have a huge impact on the economy of Togo. For example, the Anopheles mosquito transmits malaria, a disease that is endemic and the number one cause of death in the country. The primary means of malaria vector control in Togo is long-lasting insecticide-treated nets. But, insecticide resistance by mosquitoes is a major challenge. My studies in 2012 showed that treated mosquito nets are still efcient against Anopheles mosquitoes after more than 12 months. However, the Culex group of mosquitoes, which are vectors of diseases such as lymphatic lariasis, are not sensitive to long-lasting insecticide-treated nets. Further research revealed varying resistance to insecticides by Anopheles mosquitoes. These results have helped several countries in West Africa to adapt their malaria management and public-health strategies to make them more effective.Culex mosquitoes transmit the pathogens of several diseases, including lymphatic lariasis.Photo credit: Shutterstock
Earth, Oceans and Skies35One of my most exciting research projects has been on termites, a large, distinct, insect group with hundreds of species. Several termite species are pests that cause damage to crops and forest products, affect soil productivity and landscape architecture. But others are benecial, helping to improve soil quality by building tunnels in the ground, thus enhancing the penetration of air and water and adding organic matter to the soil. We conducted the rst studies on these important insects in Togo in 1990, when knowledge about their diversity was minimal. Over the past 10 years, we have increased knowledge on how termites interact with their environment. Our research has shown that the distribution of termites is driven by several factors, including landscape and soil characteristics. We have also identied four feeding groups: lower termites that consume non decomposed wood; termites that feed on dead wood, grass, leaf litter and micro epiphytes; termites that consume highly decomposed wood or soil with a high organic content; and termites that feed on soil with a low organic content. Further, we have classied about 100 species of termites, belonging to 30 genera and eight subfamilies, and recorded two potentially new species (Amitermes sp. and Eremotermes sp.). The correlation between termite species and soil quality is important in agriculture. My team continues to conduct studies in this area. In addition, we are undertaking research on repellent and insecticidal plants for use against termites that attack the structures of wooden houses.A huge amount of my work has been on integrated pest management, an approach that relies on a combination of practices to control crop pests by the most economical means, with the least possible harm to people, animals and the environment. Some of the components of integrated pest management include the use of biological control methods – the control of pests using other organisms, such as fungi, natural predators or parasites; cultural practices, like the manipulation of the crop production systems; and the selective application of pesticides as back-up.A mound of Macrotermes bellicosus, a fungus growing termite species that is known in some African countries to have nutritional and medicinal purposes.Macro image of green gram stored grain pest, pulse beetle Callosobruchus maculatus. Photo credit: Mubasil Z A/Shutterstock
Economic Commission for Africa36We have developed integrated pest management strategies for a variety of crops in Africa, including legumes, cabbage, tomatoes, vegetables, cotton, rice and jatropha. Among the products that we have created are botanical pesticides that use extracts from neem (Azadirachta indica) and papaya (Carica papaya) trees as alternatives to synthetic chemicals. These products have been employed in peri-urban areas of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. We have also developed procedures for research into and the development of synthetic and botanical pesticides that are being used by the scientic community to create new pest control products.In addition, we have generated knowledge on the biology of species of bean weevils, postharvest pests that attack crops in storage. The Callosobruchus maculatus species is especially damaging to the cowpea, with losses of up to 80 per cent of the crop. To control this pest, farmers coat their harvest with peanut and neem oils or use aromatic plants. But to achieve effective protection, huge quantities of these products are needed. We tested and conrmed the insecticidal quality of essential oils extracted from six aromatic plants in Togo. We noted that the compounds from the plants reduce the effectiveness of two parasitic wasps, Dinarmus basalis and Eupelmus vuilleti, that are known to be natural enemies of the pest. This makes integrated management of the pest complex, though not impossible, in traditional farming storage facilities. I have also conducted studies on the life cycle and reproductive strategies of the Bruchidius atrolineatus bean weevil species. This information has been useful in explaining how the species survives in stores in the absence of beans, and in determining the treatment of crops in storage. e Neem tree (Azadirachta indica). Photo credit: AjayTvm/Shutterstock
Earth, Oceans and Skies37Capacity- buildingWhen I completed my doctorate in 1977, there was limited entomological capacity in French-speaking Africa. Such capacity is still inadequate today, both in the region and across the continent, owing to a lack of awareness of entomology among students and insufcient investment in science and technology. My mission has been to boost insect science by exploring training opportunities for young scholars. With the support of the university administration, I created the rst doctoral training programme at the University of Lomé. We have trained about 60 young researchers at the master’s and doctoral levels from Benin, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Togo.In several capacities, I support the bolstering of science and technology and research for development in Togo and across French-speaking Africa. I have served as founding member of the Higher Education Syndicate of Togo, as President of the Scientic Council of the Togolese Institute of Agricultural Research and as Vice-President of the Scientic and Technical Council of the National Centre for Scientic and Technological Research of Burkina Faso. I have participated in the evaluation and orientation of research in Burkina Faso since 2018. Between 2012 and 2019, I was a member, and later President, of the West Africa Regional Commission of Experts of the Association of French-speaking Universities, which reviewed research and training policies with the universities of the region. Furthermore, through the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development, from 2012 to 2019, I was involved in the evaluation of researchers and agricultural research laboratories in Africa, Asia and Latin America.At CAMES - Conseil Africain et Malgache pour l’Enseignement Supérieur in Congo.
Economic Commission for Africa38Throughout my career, I have received great mentorship and support. My doctoral thesis director involved me in international research projects that became a stepping-stone for my career and enhanced my scientic reputation. Being a woman in a predominantly male environment can be quite challenging. I had to be extremely effective to earn the respect of students, many of whom were older than me when I began teaching. In this regard, my mentor and source of strength was Marie-Louise Salami, who was the head of the Department of Zoology at the University of Lomé. I was also exceptionally lucky to have the backing of the university administration, which gradually expanded my academic, scientic and administrative responsibilities. I have paid this support forward by mentoring other young researchers, especially women. As Chair in Women, Science and Sustainable Water Management, I have led studies in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, the Niger and Togo on the impact of agricultural treatments on the environment, especially on surface water and groundwater. About 70 per cent of the students involved in these studies are women. As a role model for young girls and a founding member of the Togo branch of the Forum for African Women Educationalists, I was one of the 10 nominees of the rst Women Leaders of Togo awards. I served as Founding President of the Togolese Women for the Promotion of Science and Technology, an association that I created. My aims were to help newly appointed female faculty members encountering harassment; raise the proles of members of the association by seeking funding and host laboratories for research overseas; help female students advance their scientic careers by granting them master’s and doctoral scholarships; and organize scientic exhibitions in high schools and research activities in rural areas. In 2018, we published a book entitled Regards croisés sur les interactions et l‘égalité femme–homme en milieu universitaire on gender equality in universities. The publication outlined actions for the creation of a peaceful environment oriented towards the building of human capacity. I have also initiated associations of women scientists in ve African universities.In my ceremonial robe as Honorary Director of the Laboratory of Applied Entomology and Doctoral Training, of the University of Lome, Togo.
Earth, Oceans and Skies39Parting shotI would describe myself as tenacious and rigorous in all matters. I like the mantra “live and let live”, an approach used by non-elite regiments during the First World War to make life safer and more tolerable for themselves on the frontline. The motto was based on minimal communication between the ghters and reciprocal acts of kindness or aggression. When I am not working, I like to travel, especially now that I am retired. I treasure most my travel to new places with my children and their families. I enjoy a good book and board games. Whatever my plans for the day are, however, I set aside some time to pray and recharge.
Economic Commission for Africa40Livestock health and wealthAlsácia Atanásio (Mozambique), Director of her country’s National Biotechnology and Biosciences Centre in the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education, forged a scientic career generating knowledge to manage parasitic worms, known as nematodes, in livestock. In 2020, she facilitated the certication of the Tete goat (cabrito de Tete), a local breed from Tete Province, on the banks of the Zambezi River, as a geographical indication, a rst in the history of Mozambique. She has also held high-level positions in capacity-building, policy and decision-making, with an impact on 26 countries in Africa and across the globe.
Earth, Oceans and Skies41Life changed I was born in Zandamela in Zavala District, south-eastern Mozambique, about 300 km away from Maputo, the capital city. Later, my family relocated to the capital’s suburbs. I am the third child in a family of ve girls and three boys. When I was 14 years old, my father, a government driver, died in a road accident. His death changed our lives completely. We could no longer afford basic living expenses or school fees. In fact, in high school, I contemplated switching to night school, so that I could work during the day to help my mother, a smallholder farmer, support our family. In April 1981, when I was in the penultimate year at secondary school, our lives took a dramatic turn. The late Samora Machel, the rst President of Mozambique, made a routine visit to our school. He asked who among the students in my class had achieved the grades needed to move into the nal year. The students who had done so were quick to spotlight themselves, but I remained silent, despite having exceeded the pass mark by far. Meanwhile, the First Lady of Mozambique and the country’s first Minister for Education, Graça Machel, was scrutinizing the school records and she noticed my outstanding performance. Our visiting dignitaries, particularly President Machel, were impressed by my performance and they were keen to know more about me. They accompanied me home where our living conditions spurred them into swift action. They bought basics for my family – beds, clothes and school supplies – and a treat for me at the shopping centre where I was allowed to choose anything that I wanted. More importantly, the President awarded me a scholarship for my studies and also provided my family with a monthly stipend. I received this support until I attained my first degree in Veterinary Medicine. The only condition was that I continued to perform well in school. The President received annual reports on my progress from the Education officials. I am proud to say that I did not disappoint him.Alsácia (third le) as a child, pictured with her family. Le to right: brother, Higino Atanásio Longamane; father, Atanásio Longamane; mother, Felismina Nhamane; sister, Cristólde Atanásio Salomão; and sister, Amarícia Atanásio; and cousin, António Nassone (standing behind her parents).
Economic Commission for Africa42Animal health focusMy interest in science started in primary school. While I was good at both natural sciences and social sciences, I enjoyed the former more. Initially, I wanted to study human medicine, but to attend medical school I would have had to relocate to the city, an unviable option due to my personal situation at the time. Therefore, I opted for veterinary medicine, obtaining the degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique, in 1989; a doctorate in veterinary sciences from the Medical University of Southern Africa, South Africa, in 2000; and postdoctoral training in molecular biology at the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil, in 2018. I started my career in 1989 as a researcher at the former National Institute for Veterinary Research of Mozambique. Between 2003 and 2005, I headed the Institute’s Parasitology Section of the Diagnostics and Research Department. As an animal doctor I contribute to human health. Many animal diseases are zoonotic, meaning that they are spread between animals and people. Furthermore, livestock keeping is a source of nutrition and income, which improves people’s health. The decision to specialize in animal parasitology, the study of the relationship between parasites and their animal hosts, was inspired by research by a colleague – Rosa Costa – which established parasitic diseases to be the main constraint to goat rearing in Mozambique. My research has generated knowledge on two major classes of parasites: helminths (worms) and protozoa (microscopic single-celled organisms). My studies on helminths have focused primarily on parasitic worms known as nematodes, enabling the design of measures to prevent and control the diseases that they cause in the stomachs and intestines of cattle and goats. I have also increased knowledge about the seasonality of helminths, which has led to more strategic use of anthelmintic medications. Other studies have been ground breaking, showing rising resistance to commonly used groups of antiparasitic drugs, thus leading to the adoption of more effective medication. These strategies are applicable in all goat-rearing regions, in Mozambique, in Africa and globally. In Angónia District, Tete Province, a major goat rearing region in Mozambique, my studies presented the rst evidence of Neospora caninum and Besnoitia besnoiti, two protozoan parasites that lead to the formation of cysts and severe lesions and cause abortions and high death rates in cattle and goats. The results formed a baseline for potential protozoan parasitic infections in cattle and goats in the country and enabled the country’s Department of Veterinary Services to improve the management of infections and diseases, including through surveillance measures. The ndings also led to research to determine the role of protozoan parasites in reproductive disorders in cattle and goats in the country.More recently, I have been involved in studies that conrmed that African swine fever, a deadly viral disease transmitted by ticks, is the most serious threat to pig production in Mozambique. In addition, our results show that mange, a parasitic disease of the skin caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei, is the main concern when pigs are permanently conned. Porcine cysticercosis, caused by the pork tapeworm, Taenia solium, is more prevalent among pigs raised in traditional, free-range systems. Working in the lab, during my career as an animal health researcher. My studies generated knowledge on two major classes of livestock parasites: helminths (worms) and protozoa (microscopic single-celled organisms).
Earth, Oceans and Skies43Geographical indication for Cabrito de TeteOne of my most signicant contributions in animal husbandry is in the certication, in 2020, of the Tete goat as a geographical indication under the 2015 Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications. This registration, made by the Institute for Industrial Property, Mozambique, with the support of the World Intellectual Property Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, was a rst in the history of Mozambique. The designation “geographical indication” identies products that possess the qualities, characteristics or reputation associated with a particular region. This certication protects the efforts of producers and the reputations of products, preserves species and establishes a relationship of trust between producers and consumers. The Tete goat is a local breed from Tete Province, which is situated on the banks of the Zambezi River in western-central Mozambique. The region is the primary goat producer in Mozambique. The exclusiveness of the goats is due to their grazing on natural pastures, especially dry grass, native apples, baobab fruit and canhú (the fruit of the marula tree) and to the geographical characteristics of Tete Province, where the climate is tropical and dry. Tete goat meat has a sweet, prolonged avour and a soft texture. It is also low in calories and cholesterol. As part of the certication process, I produced a handbook to guide adherence to the rigorous international standards required by the World Intellectual Property Organization and other entities. The publication included descriptions of products and production systems, as well as information on animal health, reproduction and nutrition, slaughtering procedures and animal and meat classication. The geographical indication certication has an impact on the livelihoods of goat farmers, who have to organize themselves into associations to implement the guidelines. The certication also facilitated export of goat meat from Mozambique to the European Union and other countries worldwide, increasing the income of farmers. Cabrito de Tete goats grazing in their natural pastures, from which they obtain their exclusiveness.
Economic Commission for Africa44Policymaking and capacity-buildingSince 2015, I have served as Director of the National Centre for Biotechnology and Biosciences, overseeing its establishment and, currently, management. Between 2013 and 2015, I headed the Directorate for Human Resources Development and Capacity Building in the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education. My key accomplishments include increasing the number of scholarships and opportunities for Mozambicans to receive postgraduate training in the country, in other African countries and abroad. From 2006 to 2013, I was mandated to set up the National Research Fund and, as its Executive Director, to form partnerships, initiate collaboration and ensure liaison with national, regional and international funding agencies. As the Executive Secretary of the Technical Council for Agricultural Research, I led the reform process that resulted in the creation of the Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique in October 2004. These roles have required leadership skills to bring together various stakeholders and build consensus. In all my assignments, I advocate for women in science, technology and innovation, for policies and strategies to increase their involvement and ensure gender equity in training opportunities. I have also mentored numerous female students and researchers in my specific area of specialization, and in other science, technology and innovation fields. In September 2020, the President of Mozambique awarded me a Medal of Merit for Science and Technology in recognition of my achievements over the past three decades. I also received the Scientist of the Year (2020) award in the Agricultural Sciences category from the International Achievements Research Center, in Chicago, United States of America.
Earth, Oceans and Skies45Parting shotIn my free time, I visit my mother and my siblings. I like music and church services. My favourite times are when I go travelling with my daughter, a medical student at the Higher Institute of Science and Technology of Mozambique. I also love cooking, especially seafood. A recent photo with my family (le to right): sister, Felismina Atanásio Longamane Langa; sister, Cristólde Atanásio Salomão; mother, Felismina Nhamane; sister, Cidália Atanásio; brother, Belarmino Atanásio Longamane.Visiting a shopping mall in Brazil, during my postdoctoral fellowship.
Economic Commission for Africa46Speaking the language of treesAster Gebrekirstos (Ethiopia), a Senior Scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), believes that it was destiny that led her into the eld of forestry. She has broad multidisciplinary interests in forests, agroforestry, climate change and livelihoods. In particular, she has pioneered the eld of dendrochronology in Africa, where this science has great potential in addressing challenges of lack of data, land degradation and climate change. Aster is passionate about working with farmers, maintaining that learning and listening to their nuggets of wisdom makes one a better scientist. She also holds various international leadership roles.
Earth, Oceans and Skies47Unique childhoodI was born in Shire, Tigray Region, Ethiopia. My family life was great. I am the oldest of seven children brought up in a loving environment. My father, who worked at a malaria eradication centre, was a dynamic and empowering person – I like to think that he was born ahead of his time. My mother got married when she was 17 years old. After having her rst ve children, my father encouraged her to go back to school to complete her studies. As such, when I started high school, I found myself in the unique position of being in the same class as my mother and having her as my friend at school. But although my family situation was stable, there was turmoil all around us because of the war in the Tigray Region in the 1980s. Moreover, the widespread drought and famine in Ethiopia from 1983 to 1985 – the worst to hit the country in a century –which was compounded by problems in the supply of food aid, had a particularly devastating effect on the Tigray Region. My family did not suffer in a major manner. True, we had difculties in obtaining household supplies and the school system was affected, but that fades in comparison to what many people went through. Memories from that time remain imprinted on my mind: terrible sights of the suffering of the internally displaced people camping around our neighbourhood. I will never forget the face of the woman who buried four of her children in one day. Gheralta Mountains in Tigray Region, one of Ethiopia’s most iconic landscapes.As a youngster growing up in Tigray Region, Ethiopia.
Economic Commission for Africa48Destiny intervenesMy journey into science started when I was 11 years old, launched by a university graduation brochure containing a picture of a woman, whom I considered to be beautiful, graduating as a doctor. I was enchanted and inspired to be like the person in the image. At the time, I did not know that the title of doctor was also awarded to holders of doctorates, so I decided that I was going to become a medical doctor. I loved school and I was an active, keen and bright child, and it was expected that I would easily attain the grades needed to go to university. Thus, the day that I received my high school results was one of the most painful of my life; to nd out that I had not even qualied for university, let alone medical school. I now believe that this turn of events was destiny. When presented with two options for a diploma course, teaching or forestry, I chose the latter despite not knowing what it entailed. I enrolled in Wondo Genet College of Forestry and Natural Resources, in Oromia Region, Ethiopia. Right from the rst moment, I was captivated by the college, which was small, still in its infancy, and set in a wonderland of green; the most exquisite place that I had ever seen. Our studies took us into the Harenna Forest in the Bale Mountains in south-eastern Ethiopia, and Konso village in south-western Ethiopia known for its cultural landscape. Having grown up in an urban area, these encounters were new and enthralling to me. I also began making the connection between the drought that I had witnessed in my childhood and environmental issues, including the role of trees. I was totally hooked, and although I had a chance to change professions after graduating with my diploma, I decided to stick with forestry. After a stint as a research assistant at the Wood Utilization and Research Centre in Addis Ababa, I embarked on a bachelor’s degree course in forestry, which I obtained in 1994 from Alemaya (now Haramaya) University. I then joined the university as a graduate assistant. Through the Netherlands Fellowship Programme, I obtained a master’s degree in tropical forestry from Wageningen University in 1998, specializing in social forestry and agroforestry. My studies focused on reforestation and its social aspects, such as participation by local communities and gender issues. I held several academic appointments, including a lectureship at Wondo Genet College. Based on my rm belief in practical, hands-on training, I established an agroforestry demonstration plot with funding from the World Agroforestry Centre. The site has since evolved and is now a model for agroforestry teaching, research and extension across Ethiopia. My MSC graduation day at Wageningen University, e Netherlands, with my supervisors.
Earth, Oceans and Skies49The secret life of treesThe major opportunity in my academic and professional career came in 2001, when I obtained a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service to undertake a doctorate at Göttingen University in Germany. This was a great period, as I had the freedom and scientic facilities to further explore the eld of forestry – and the secret life of trees. I was introduced to dryland restoration, plant-water relations, ecophysiology and dendrochronology, with which I became particularly fascinated.Dendrochronology is the science of dating trees and interpreting past events, particularly paleoclimates and climatic trends, through analysis of the tree rings that form at the end of every growth period. I was captivated by the science and by its potential application in the study of climate change and in the restoration of degraded lands. Trees are among the longest-living organisms in the world; they can survive for thousands of years. Therefore, they are living laboratories that record information about past climates, tree growth and vegetation dynamics and about community histories and their landscapes. Tree rings thus enable us to reconstruct the past, to learn about the present and to predict the future. By counting the rings, each of which, in principle, represents a year in the life of a tree, we can determine the age of the tree. Tree rings can also tell us about the frequency and intensity of past hazards, such as insect attacks and res. Taking this one step further, I used the stable carbon and oxygen isotopes in the tree rings to understand hydrological cycle, water use efciency and resilience. I have furthered dendrochronology in Africa, where this science is still in its early stages. For a long time, there was the misconception that, in tropical regions such as those in Africa, where it is mainly warm all year round, trees grow constantly and, as such, do not form rings. However, over the past few decades, this belief has been proved wrong, and it has been established that many trees in the tropics form rings. Whereas temperate climates have winter and summer, in the tropics there are dry and wet seasons, which also affect tree growth periods.Tree rings reveal the secret life of trees.
Economic Commission for Africa50After a brief tenure as a postdoctoral fellow in Sweden, I took up a joint postdoctoral position at Gottingen University in Germany, and at ICRAF, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, and at the World Agroforestry Centre, headquartered in Nairobi. This assignment truly launched my career at the intersection of forestry and agroforestry, the interaction of agriculture and trees. I studied on the impacts of climate change on trees, forests and their ecosystem services and their management options. Trees and forests are important in the mitigation of climate change, but they are also vulnerable to the phenomenon. Therefore, it is essential to generate data and increase knowledge about key aspects of climate change and its impact. Climate science in Africa is currently the least developed in the world, owing to limited human and infrastructural capacities. My strategy is to advance basic and applied research, to develop effective approaches, tools and synergies at the nexus of social, institutional and biophysical issues. The ultimate goal is to improve food and energy security, stimulate job creation and ensure sustainable natural resource management. There has never been a better time for forestry and agroforestry science, given the global recognition of a worsening situation in relation to land degradation, climate change and migration. Forestry can play a major role in addressing these global issues and in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Having witnessed the utility of dendrochronology in Europe and America, I am convinced of the potential of the science in Africa, especially in addressing the issues discussed above, either directly or indirectly.One of my main accomplishments has been the establishment of dendrochronology laboratories in Ethiopia in 2009 and in Kenya, in 2013, at the World Agroforestry Centre. In these laboratories, we conduct both research and capacity-building activities. We collect samples from living, dead and subfossil wood and use a variety of scientic tools, methods and software to analyse their anatomical structures and to characterize and measure various aspects. The lighter part of the tree ring marks the beginning of the growth season while the darker part indicates the end, when conditions were not as favourable. The width of the ring in a tree varies each year depending on the weather conditions; rings formed during drought are narrower than those created during damp years. Also, rings formed in dry years are enriched in heavier stable isotopes of carbon and oxygen compared to rings formed in wet years. We then cross-date the chronology, an important aspect that involves nding patterns between the narrow and wider parts of the rings of different trees at a site. In similar climatic conditions, the patterns in different trees should be alike. Through this process, we can piece together long, continuous chronologies. Modern scientic tools, methods and soware help us to analyse the anatomical structures of tree rings.
Earth, Oceans and Skies51Impact on AfricaIn Africa, available climate data go back just 30–40 years. Our goal is to help expand this timeframe and to ll in the gaps in the continent’s climate data. Using tree rings as precisely dated high-resolution climate proxies we put the short or scarce existing instrumental climate records in Africa into a longer perspective to best characterize the different temporal modes of climate variability. We have reconstructed 350 years of precipitation data for eastern Africa and 100 years back for West Africa.Using these data, we have reconstructed past climate conditions from the period before instrumental records began in Africa. For example, we have generated evidence of past variations in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. This is one of the most important climate phenomena on Earth, because of its ability to change global atmospheric circulation, which, in turn, inuences temperature and precipitation around the globe. The reconstructed climate data for Ethiopia can help mitigate climate and related humanitarian crises. Knowing that below and above average rainfall can occur every two to 3.8 years is valuable information that governments can use to plan for and adapt to climate shocks. Our research also extends to aspects such as the range of tree species tolerance to climatic stress, the relationship between climate and growth and the effect of a changing climate on agroforestry systems and forest development. Dendrochronology poses an effective way of evaluating the contribution of trees to carbon sequestration. In addition, we link scientic knowledge with local knowledge, for example regarding drought histories and frequencies. This information is invaluable for policymakers in the development of evidence-based plans for climate change adaptation and mitigation, including in relation to reforestation and climate change insurance policies. I am contributing to capacity-building, for example, as a guest professor at the West African Science Service Centre on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use. In collaboration with Friedrich-Alexander University, we have trained 15 PhD students across Africa.Making a presentation on the Africa RISING project, through which we have introduced farm research in various regions of Ethiopia to test high value trees and their management options.Photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu
Economic Commission for Africa52Currently, I am serving as Vice-President of the founding Board for International Union for Agroforestry (IUAF); Chair of the Environment Committee of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS); member of the scientic leadership of the Past Global Changes project (PAGES), member of the Science Leadership Council of the Mountain Research Institute (MRI); Deputy Coordinator of the Task Force on Monitoring Global Tree Mortality Patterns and Trends of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO). I have received several awards and recognitions including appointment as a Fellow of: TWAS, The World Academy of Sciences; International Academy of Wood Sciences; and the African Academy of Sciences; African Climate Award for Excellence in Research in climate adaptation and mitigation in Africa (2014); Special Award for Ground Breaking Science (2009) in a competition organized by several organizations; and Eleonore Trefftz Visiting Professorship, by the Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Technical University Dresden, Germany.Working with farmersI am passionate about working with farmers, and I lead and participate in the development of various initiatives. I promote agroforestry, the sustainable intensication of farming and the restoration of degraded landscapes, through training and community-based projects. A major challenge is that farmers needs are complex and cannot be addressed adequately in a single project. In many cases, the solutions proposed by the various development institutions are complementary, but they can also be competitive. Therefore, we need to strike the right balance to optimize the benets, for example through integrated approaches, cooperation with partners and close collaboration with the farmers. I have learnt that farmers are open and keen to adapt to new technologies, especially if they make economic sense. I have also learned to listen to their nuggets of wisdom. For example, as part of the project Africa Research in Sustainable Intensication for the Next Generation (Africa RISING), which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development, we have introduced farm research in various regions of Ethiopia to test high value trees and their management options. One participating female farmer told us that the farmers did not expect the project to reach everyone in the village at once and that they were aware that the project would end after a few years. But, if trained several farmers and introduce improved crop varieties and technologies, then others would also adopt the technology, purchasing seed and seedlings from fellow farmers. I will never forget how another farmer begged me to replace an avocado seedling that had been stolen from her backyard, showing the appreciation of trees and agroforestry by farmers. LeadershipWith the TWAS Fellowship certicate. Photo credit: TWAS
Earth, Oceans and Skies53Parting shotOutside my work, I like the Christmas period, especially making cookies. I also like travelling with my husband and experiencing and understanding different cultures. The Galapagos Islands in the Pacic Ocean are my favourite destination because they are very scenic, especially Darwin Island. I also like Australia, partly because the landscape, with its canyons, reminds me of the beautiful canyons in the Gheralta Mountains in Tigray Region. Also, I value the interaction with the indigenous people. Indeed, indigenous art has a very special place in my heart; it moves me immensely and touches me at the very core.Visiting the Twelve Apostles, the magnicent, majestic rock stacks in the Southern Ocean of Victoria, Australia.
Economic Commission for Africa54Data for food securityCatherine Nakalembe (Uganda) is an associate research professor at the University of Maryland, United States; Africa Program Director under the Food Security and Agriculture Program of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration of the United States of America (NASA Harvest); and a member of the Applied Sciences Team of the Servir initiative. Having initially hoped to study sport science at university, she has forged a career that merges agriculture, remote sensing, food security, climate change and capacity-building, with tremendous impact in Africa.
Earth, Oceans and Skies55Excelling against the oddsI was born in Makindye, one of the hills in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, where I lived with my parents and three sisters. I went to school in Katwe, the sprawling neighbourhood made famous by the Disney lm, Queen of Katwe. My father is a self-taught mechanic, while my mother has tried various endeavours from tailoring to fast food business. We lived in an old, dilapidated house that, at one point, had to be rebuilt from the inside out or else it would have come crashing down on us. We never went to bed hungry, but my parents struggled to pay our school fees. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship in high school on account of my excellent performance in mathematics. My sisters and I played badminton from an early age in programmes set up by the Martyrs Church Katwe and the Sharing Youth Centre, a non-governmental organization. My older sister ranked number one in Uganda. She won several tournaments and took the bronze medal at the All-Africa Senior Badminton Championship in 1996. I was a junior champion in the country, winning my rst tournament when I was 13, and at least 15 more events and titles by the time I completed high school. As a young badminton player receiving a trophy for winning the Manji International Tournament from the sponsor Mr Manji.With my dad, Steven Busulwa at home in Makindye, Kampala.
Economic Commission for Africa56My inspiration into science was my love for mathematics, and brilliant teachers in primary school. I also liked geography. Although these two subjects have been beautifully combined in my career, I had hoped to study sport science at university, building on a lifetime of playing badminton. But even though I was admitted into the sport science programme at Makerere University, I could not afford the tuition fees. Fortunately, a friend drew my attention to new programmes at the university, including a bachelor’s course in environmental science. I applied for that course and was accepted with a government scholarship.During my undergraduate studies, from 2003 to 2006, I was particularly captivated by remote sensing and geographic information systems and I also had a passion for conservation and forest management. This interest inspired me to conduct an independent study to map human encroachment on Mount Elgon, a massive, solitary, volcanic mountain on the border of Uganda and Kenya. Working with rangers from the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Mbale, Eastern Region, Uganda, I collected global navigation satellite systems data and generated maps from those data. After graduation, my sister, who was in New York at the time, encouraged me to apply for masters’ degree programmes in the United States. With the guidance of Connie Mutazindwa, then Education Adviser at the Embassy of the United States in Kampala, I gained admission to the geography and environmental engineering programme at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, United States. While it was fantastic to be accepted into such a prestigious institution, I once more faced the challenge of coming up with the tuition fees. To put things into perspective, my family could not afford to send me to a university in Uganda where fees were a fraction of those being charged in the United States. So, raising $18,000 over a nine-month period seemed like an elusive goal. My mother was a warrior: she went round to her friends, and also tapped into group savings cooperatives and she managed to raise the $9,000 for the rst semester tuition, while my sister supported my upkeep in the United States. But, come the second semester, we had our backs to the wall. It was clear that we could not raise another $9,000. I spoke to Edward Bower (now deceased), who at the time was Chair of the Department and narrated my story and its prospective unhappy ending – that I would have to discontinue my studies. I also outlined the classes I wished to take and he was impressed by my drive and vision. He took up my cause and managed to have the university increase my tuition fee remission to 75 per cent, enabling me to complete the programme. Scientific journeyWith my mum, Ritah Nannono Nalongo, and Professor Justice during my PhD graduation.
Earth, Oceans and Skies57Solutions for AfricaThe sheer volume of academic information, knowledge and skill that I gained during the programme, over 2008 and 2009, is astounding, as was the opportunity to move into engineering and mathematics in environmental management. But I had not had the chance to work directly on projects with a strong focus on Africa or on developing countries. In studying abroad, my goal was to learn as much as possible and then bring back the expertise and apply it to challenges in Uganda and across Africa. I realized that, to achieve this, I needed more specic training and mentorship. My quest led me to enrol in the doctoral programme in geographical sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park, United States. The programme, which I undertook between 2010 and 2017, combined my interests in remote sensing and geographic information systems, on the one hand, with natural resources and forest management, on the other. It also provided an opportunity to work in Uganda, facilitated by my doctoral adviser, Christopher Justice, who was Co-Chair of the Group on Earth Observations Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative. He connected me with the Ofce of the Prime Minister of Uganda and, as a result, I was able to conduct eld work back home. My thesis was a case study of the Karamoja region, in relation to agricultural land use, the impact of drought and vulnerability.Here, I was introduced to the reality of drought and food insecurity. Infamous for these two phenomena, the Karamoja region is described as drought-prone because of the irregularity and variability of rainfall, across the region and over the years, making crop yields unpredictable. Apart from information that I had picked up in the media, my initial knowledge of the region was minimal. Through my research, I was enlightened on the complexity of the issues in the region, including how development aid compounds the existing problems caused by the political context and the physical environment. For example, farmers are completely dependent on the farming tools and resources provided through government programmes, but they have no access to other necessities for productive agriculture, such as fertilizers and irrigation. Furthermore, food aid was almost always guaranteed, which leads to a lack of agricultural independence and resilience. The reality of the challenges faced by people in the region and their often unrewarded toil hit home. It ignited in me a drive to contribute to solutions, even if they improved the life of only one person.My goal of studying abroad was to learn as much as possible and then bring back the expertise and apply it to challenges across Africa.
Economic Commission for Africa58I published a paper on agricultural drought, which informed a disaster risk nancing programme that was being started by the World Bank. The study laid the foundation for a better understanding of how drought varies in time and space in Karamoja and its effect on growing seasons over the past 15 years; prediction of future scenarios; and the development of a method to understand and determine potentially signicant crop failure. By 2019, the programme, which closed in 2020, had reached approximately 300,000 people in the region, and reports showed that no food emergency had been declared since its start. My career has evolved over time, merging agriculture, remote sensing, food security, climate change and capacity-building. My path started with my rst appointment in 2012 as a programme assistant in the Land-Cover and Land-Use Change programme of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States. During this assignment I connected with leading scientists and a global network of practitioners. In 2015, the University of Maryland received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support a project entitled: Spurring a Transformation in Agriculture through Remote Sensing (STARS). The University was tasked with implementing the East Africa component of the project, working primarily in the United Republic of Tanzania with the country’s Sokoine University of Agriculture and the National Food Security Division of the Ministry of Agriculture. We conducted extensive eldwork, and I became even more aware of the potential of satellite-data tools for overcoming agricultural challenges. We supported the Tanzanian National Food Security Division in integrating remote-sensing data, tools and methods into its reports. We also assisted in the revival of the country’s National Food Security Bulletin. This tool, which is still operational, is based on satellite data covering the entire country. Under the STARS project, we also introduced these concepts to the Ofce of the Prime Minister in Uganda and other stakeholders during a series of high-level consultations that I led.This work inspired the creation of additional food security reports and bulletins in Kenya, Mali and Rwanda and one that covered East Africa. Another report is under development in Ethiopia. These processes have been accompanied by training in remote sensing and systems for agricultural monitoring and climate prediction and the establishment of application centres. I have worked with networks of extension agents and students, introducing them to the use of remote sensing data for agricultural monitoring and conducting analysis of refugee settlements and landslide early warning systems.With funding from the Servir programme, these activities have continued, expanding crop monitoring initiatives in Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda and in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development region. Since 2017, I have been leading the Africa component of the Harvest programme. We provide support to countries, while developing products to improve underlying methods and approaches and make data more readily available. In addition to data collection and stakeholder consultations, my main task is to lead capacity-building efforts at multiple levels. This includes training extension agents, university students and ministry ofcials in data collection, data analysis and report-writing. Working with the Harvest team, we are developing cutting-edge approaches to improve crop monitoring. Currently, I am leading the design of programmes to monitor agriculture on a larger scale in Africa, including by collaborating across borders. One example is a recent project led by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, aimed at establishing a regional food-balance sheet. The Harvest programme is leading the remote sensing component.
Earth, Oceans and Skies59Policymaking and capacity-buildingOne of the key challenges in my work is achieving a balance between science, policy and politics, because the alignment of a tool to the needs of a country does not necessarily mean that it will be adopted and used. Government institutions need to feel ownership of the tools, so that they want to invest in them directly. Sometimes, however, they do not have budget lines for technical activities, capacity-building or the leveraging of existing technological capabilities. One of my greatest moments was when I was awarded the 2020 Africa Food Prize by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. The accolade – the highest honour of its kind in Africa – recognizes the dedication of an outstanding individual or institution in leading the effort to change the reality of farming in Africa. In January 2022, I was awarded the Golden Jubilee Medal, the Highest Civilian Award in Uganda. I hope that these awards will draw attention to, as well as investment in information systems using satellite remote sensing as a solution for agriculture and food security in Africa. My wish is that they will serve as inspiration for other young women and show them that they can achieve great things.Data science is extremely important for policymaking and, ultimately, development. Photo credit: Jan Dempewolf
Economic Commission for Africa60My key mentors include Professor Christopher Justice, with whom I still interact. I consult him regularly for guidance and general discussions on the progress of my career. Among the people whom I admire is the Director of the Harvest programme, Inbal Becker-Reshef. I appreciate her vision of an end-user driven (as opposed to data-driven) initiative, her ability to balance requests from stakeholders and her clarity in articulating the capabilities and limitations of data and tools. The Harvest team makes our Africa component possible. I am inspired by the people with whom I work in Africa, who trust in our efforts and co-develop the tools and methods. I am appreciative of colleagues at the University of Maryland and the numerous partners, both individuals and institutions, that collaborate with us. I am indebted to my family for their support, especially when my twin sons were born. Without them, my career would have ground to a halt.Although my work primarily focuses on Africa, I mentor many students from across the world through the University of Maryland. I also support several individuals who have reached out to me with the aim of developing research projects with an interest in remote sensing and agriculture, or in building their own careers. I have trained countless analysts in various ministries across Africa. There are now numerous crop monitoring champions across the continent who use the various systems developed for agricultural monitoring. More recently, I have started running sessions for younger students, to talk about my career path, to foster their interests, encourage them to stick with their passions and believe in themselves. My vision is to expand this blossoming mentorship programme to reach more individuals.Speaking to students of Gayaza Primary School, Uganda, in 2021, as part my mentorship programme.Receiving the GEO Individual Excellence Award 2019 in Cambera Australia: (l-r): Stuart Minchin (Chief of the Environmental Geoscience Division of Geoscience Australia); Yana Gevorgyan (International Relations Specialist, NOAA); and myself.
Earth, Oceans and Skies61Parting shotOutside science I love music and baking, a skill that I nurtured because my sons have a sweet tooth and they love chocolate cake. I like gardening, especially growing vegetables, which is a challenging, and often frustrating task, but one that aptly reminds me of what farmers go through to put food on our plates. I am a photography enthusiast and I enjoy hiking. People around me consider me to be resilient, persistent and consistent. Indeed, one of my favourite quotations is from This Child Will Be Great, the memoir of former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It states that, if your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. I nd that it applies to my own life. As a child, it was not clear what I would be able to achieve as I had limited opportunities. In many ways, my lofty goals were far-fetched. Nevertheless, I proceeded on my journey one step at a time and found numerous helping hands along the way. I consider it my responsibility to better myself continuously at the same time as helping others to excel and achieve their dreams. In a botanical garden in Germany.Kayaking in Maryland, USA, with my son.Visiting the Great Wall, China.
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Economic Commission for Africa64Economic Commission for Africa64Demystifying genetic disordersHabiba Bouhamed-Chaabouni (Tunisia) is Professor of Medical Genetics, Director of the Human Genetics Research Laboratory, Faculty of Medicine, Tunis El Manar University, Tunisia, and Head of the Department of Congenital and Hereditary Diseases, Charles Nicolle Hospital, Tunisia. An ultra-curious child, she was inspired into science by a sensitivity towards people with health problems and by a book by Claude Bernard, a French physician and researcher who is credited with introducing the scientic method to medicine. She has been a disruptive force in medical research, medical genetics and the management of genetic disorders.
Earth, Oceans and Skies65Childhood souvenirsI was born in Tunisia, in Sousse, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, into a family of seven children; ve sisters and two brothers. I have two main memories, or as I like to call them, beautiful souvenirs, of my childhood. The rst is wonderful summer holidays spent in Sfax, my parents’ native city, where my siblings and I played with abandon all day long on a huge piece of open land covered with trees, fruit and owers. This remains my idea of paradise. The second memory is from my school days. I loved everything about school, my class and my teachers, and they all loved me right back.As a young girl, I was very curious. I bombarded my mother and my sisters with questions: What is life? How does it begin? How does it end? What about the Earth, the planets, the stars and the universe? And truly, these issues were very important to me. I would spend hours just gazing at the sky trying to imagine what was up there.My father was a great advocate of knowledge, culture and education, which he considered to be the best guarantee of liberty and independence. My generation was fortunate. Progressive education policies instituted by the Government of Tunisia at the time encouraged both boys and girls to attend school and provided nancial support for all university students. Indeed, for many years, postcolonial Tunisia maintained a reputation as a premier educator. In addition, links between Tunisia and Europe facilitated access to higher education abroad. All these elements had a favourable impact on my scientic career.As a young girl with my sisters and my young brother.
Economic Commission for Africa66Radical and disruptiveMy inspiration into science was my curiosity to understand life, in addition to two other factors. First, throughout my life, I had encountered and developed a sensitivity towards people with health problems. Second, when I sat my baccalaureate exams, I was ranked highest and for this accomplishment, my school presented me a book by Claude Bernard, a French physician and researcher, who is credited for introducing the scientic method in medicine. I found this book fascinating and it opened up to me a new possibility to contribute to alleviating human suffering while also continuing to seek answers to life’s puzzles. During my last year of medical studies at the University of Tunis, I took a course on human genetics. I was captivated by the eld, which focuses on the application of genetic principles to medical practice and covers issues like inheritance, the mapping of disease genes, diagnosis and treatment. Also, as a medical student doing rounds in paediatric wards, I became aware of the impact of genetic disorders on patients and their families. At times I saw mothers that had two or three children with a serious and incurable genetic pathology. Such encounters made a strong impression on me and underscored the need for better care for genetic disorders. As a result, I opted to specialize in medical genetics, a decision that caused much confusion within the medical fraternity. To many of them, the study of medical genetics sounded like a luxury, and the idea of a medical doctor conducting research was far too radical. I, a young person and a woman at that, was introducing a disruptive set of ideas into a predominantly male eld. But I was determined and I persevered.In hospital assessing a young child.Photo credit: Fondation L’Oréal
Earth, Oceans and Skies67Pioneering stepsMy accomplishments, working with various teams and partners, included the introduction of genetic counselling for patients and their families in Tunisia, in 1981. In the 1990s, we opened a prenatal diagnosis clinic to identify genetic disorders, and, in 1993, the Department of Congenital and Hereditary Disorders, the rst such medical facility in Tunisia, was inaugurated at Charles Nicolle Hospital in Tunis. In the 1980s, we started research activities in a dedicated unit at the Faculty of Medicine, Tunis El Manar University, which evolved into the Human Genetics Research Laboratory in 1999. We have also developed medical genetics courses for undergraduate students in medical schools across the country. We established a master’s programme in human genetics and a doctoral programme in human biology at the Faculty of Medicine. In addition, we have trained numerous clinicians in diagnostic techniques for genetic disorders, and I have supervised several doctoral students. My main achievements relate to consanguinity-related genetic disorders. Consanguinity is dened as a relation, in genetic terms, between individuals descended from at least one common ancestor, where one or two individuals are blood or biological relatives. Globally, consanguinity accounts for an estimated 10.4 per cent of the population, with the highest rates of consanguineous marriages occurring in Africa, the Middle East, and west, central and south Asia. Consanguinity increases the risk of congenital anomalies, also known as birth defects, such as heart or eye malformations that arise during intrauterine life. It also raises the likelihood of autosomal recessive disorders like cystic brosis and thalassemia, which arise when a person inherits two copies of a gene that is abnormal due to mutations or changes in DNA. In general, anyone can carry a silent defective gene, but in consanguinity the chances of receiving two mutated genes are higher because of the common ancestor. In Tunisia, consanguinity in the population ranges from 20 to 40 per cent, and patients, especially children with such challenges, do not always receive the care that they need. My goal has thus been to generate knowledge that will lead to better medical care and adequate assistance for patients, their families and the population in general, demystify genetic disorders, explain how to deal with them better, and above all, assist people to have healthy descendants.Our scientic contributions include the establishment of the genetic bases of several disorders. For example, we have advanced understanding of familial Mediterranean fever, an autosomal recessive disorder that is common in the Mediterranean basin. Initially, the disorder was In the lab, going through scientic data. Photo credit: Fondation L’Oréal
Economic Commission for Africa68not considered a common disease in Tunisia owing to underdiagnosis. Clinical expression of familial Mediterranean fever varies. It includes recurrent painful bouts of fever and various signs of inammation, for example in the abdominal lining, lungs and joints. At present, there is no known cure for the disease, and treatment targets only its symptoms. Our collaborative studies established that alterations in a protein known as marenostrin, or pyrin, which ordinarily keeps the body’s inammatory processes under control and is coded by the Mediterranean fever (MEFV) gene, is responsible for familial Mediterranean fever. We also identied the frequency and distribution of MEFV gene mutations in Tunisian patients and found them to be consistent with other Arab populations, albeit with some variations. Knowledge about the variants that cause familial Mediterranean fever is important as it will enable more specic development of genetic-testing tools. We have also increased understanding of autosomal recessive congenital cataracts, a major cause of visual loss, which are responsible for approximately one third of blindness cases in infants. Approximately 50 per cent of congenital cataracts are inherited. The categorization of congenital cataracts in relation to the genetic locus – the exact position in which the defective genes are located – and the specific genetic mutations that are responsible, are important in creating therapies for the disorder. We made the first report on an association between congenital cataracts and the heat shock transcription factor 4 (HSF4) gene. In addition, we have studied many genes associated with various genetic diseases. These include congenital adrenal hyperplasia, responsible for ambiguous genitalia, and hereditary intellectual deficiency. Our studies have estimated the incidence and spectrum of pathogenic mutations in the breast cancer 1 and 2 (BRCA1 and BRCA2) genes in early onset and familial breast and ovarian cancer in Tunisian women. Our efforts have had an impact on the management of genetic disorders in Tunisia, the rest of Africa and the Arab world. I have been part of various international initiatives related to hereditary disease, a consultant for the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Arab League. I was also involved in the preparation of the UNESCO Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, adopted in 1997. Receiving the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science (FWIS) International Award.
Earth, Oceans and Skies69Parting shotOverall, I believe that through medical genetics I have fullled my childhood desire to understand life and the universe. I know that all living beings are linked together by the thread of life: DNA. Also, I now know that, in a manner of speaking, all human beings are perpetual, because their DNA, can last eternally on Earth. In three words, I would describe myself as optimistic, passionate and sensitive to life.My quotation to live by is: “What doesn‘t kill you makes you stronger”. I am a nature enthusiast, and I am enchanted by owers, trees, forest, rivers, oceans, birds, to mention a few. I like visiting monuments, meeting people and encountering new cultures. One of my hobbies is traveling around Tunisia and I have been to almost all the country’s cities, villages and major landmarks. Abroad, I have visited over 60 countries. I am also a voracious reader, I like singing, photography and aqua hiking.Visiting the Taj Mahal in India.
Economic Commission for Africa70Economic Commission for Africa70Casting light on immunologyJudith Sedaminou Gbenoudon (Benin), Director, Laboratory for Immunology of Infectious and Allergic Diseases, University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin, believes that immunology is the be-all and end-all for understanding life. She has advanced the eld by illuminating the main mechanisms of immunity within the adaptive immune system. Sophisticated and pathogen-specic, this system is composed of specialized cells and processes. It works with our innate responses to eliminate disease-causing agents or prevent their growth. Judith has also generated vital immunological knowledge on malaria in children, inuencing strategies for diagnosis and treatment of the disease, one of the most life-threatening in Africa.
Earth, Oceans and Skies71Free spiritedI was born in Porto-Novo, the capital of Benin, to attentive, supportive parents, who encouraged my siblings and me to be free spirits. Although my father is a professor of literature and languages, he allowed us to choose our own path in life. I was not a scholarly child, choosing to conne my studying to the classroom. As such, I had an extremely playful childhood.My interest in science started when I was 12 years old, after my rst visit to the gynaecologist. I felt that women were not understood and that it was a challenge for their health issues to be assessed by male doctors. I thought that I could contribute to improving women’s health care by becoming a medical doctor. However, as I grew older, I became more interested in the development of medicine and pain relief, which led me to enrol in an undergraduate degree course in biochemistry at the National University of Benin, now the University of Abomey-Calavi. It was then that I became fascinated by the immune system. This marked the start of an exhilarating academic journey that took me to France for a master‘s degree at the University of Technology of Compiègne, with internships at Imperial College, in London, and at the Biomedical Primate Research Centre in the Netherlands. My doctoral studies, undertaken at Hamburg University in Germany, were a wonderful academic experience. My interest in science started when I was 12 years old.Colorful colonial church in the city of Porto Novo in Benin.Photo credit: Shutterstock
Economic Commission for Africa72Be-all and end-all Immunology is the science that answers questions about how the body defends itself against environmental challenges such as pathogens, the disease-causing agents like bacteria, viruses and parasites. Most importantly, immunology investigates homeostasis, the body’s ability to maintain a stable internal environment in the absence of danger, with all its cells stored and regulated harmoniously in different compartments. Immunology also explores how the body heals itself from internal or external injury and how aging affects our body and resistance to infections. In my view, immunology is the be-all and end-all for understanding life.My scientic achievements relate to the two main mechanisms of immunity within the adaptive immune system. This defence system is sophisticated and pathogen-specic and it is composed of specialized cells and processes. It works with our innate responses to eliminate pathogens or prevent their growth, and it can provide long-lasting protection from such dangers. The two main mechanisms of the adaptive immune system are cellular and humoral. Cellular immunity occurs in infected cells and is mediated by T lymphocytes (also known as T cells). Their roles include killing infected host cells directly, activating other immune cells, producing molecules such as cytokines and regulating the immune response. As part of my doctoral studies, I elucidated a subset of T cells, called regulatory T cells, that had previously been difcult to describe. These cells are silent and often go unnoticed. They control potentially overwhelming immune or inammatory responses and prevent damage to the body by its own immune response. The cells also prevent autoimmunity, a situation in which antibodies become overactive and attack the body’s healthy tissue. Working in the lab as an undergratuate student.3D illustration of B-cell and antibodies to explain the principles of immunity. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Earth, Oceans and Skies73My research has advanced knowledge on B cells, showing that, contrary to previous belief, they can be reprogrammed.“This discovery has contributed to the advancement of immunology, particularly in the control of exaggerated immune responses and autoimmunity. The knowledge is also being applied in several other elds, as these cells or the molecules that they produce can be collected and transferred to patients with various conditions, including allergies. Recently, such strategies have been applied, in an inverse manner, to cancer treatment.The humoral immune system is mediated by B cells, which produce antibodies, the immune system’s search-and-destroy battalions, tasked with nding the body’s enemies, the disease-causing agents, and marking them for destruction. The B cells produce antibodies that specically target the enemies and prevent them from entering cells, or aid phagocytes (a type of white blood cell) in identifying and destroying them. As each B cell can produce only one specic type of antibody, and due to the enormous variety of organisms that can infect the body, the immune system needs to generate vast numbers of B cells. At the time of my research, the general understanding was that B cells were committed to just the one type of antibody they produced after activation, and they could not be changed. However, we found that B cells could indeed be reprogrammed. Thus, should the challenging environment change, the B cells will respond accordingly. This knowledge is being applied in the control of B cell overreactions.Lymphocytes in the bloodPhoto credit: Shutterstock
Economic Commission for Africa74Africa-specific impactMy discovery that has had the most direct impact on Africa relates to malaria coinfections in children. Through studies conducted at the Institute of Applied Biomedical Science and the University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin, we noticed that some children suffering from malaria were succumbing to the disease very fast. These children would be admitted to hospital and in a matter of days they would slip into a coma and die. Knowing that in certain circumstances children with malaria have coinfections, we investigated the relationship between Plasmodium, the malaria-causing pathogen parasite, and the coinfecting agent. We found Although these two discoveries may not be directly applicable in Africa because our infrastructure does not allow us to translate them into solutions, I have recently started working locally on indirect application of this knowledge. For example, based on our research, we believe that the type and abundance of naturally-occurring and infection-led regulatory cells must be considered in the formulation of immunotherapies for African cancer patients. I am collaborating with the Spanish National Centre for Biotechnology to explore this possibility.Our studies have had signicant implications for the treatment of malaria in Africa.Photo credit: Riccardo Mayer/ShutterstockIn my lab.
Earth, Oceans and Skies75that children who died quickly from malaria were often simultaneously infected with Candida albicans, a pathogenic yeast. In such cases, the immune system produces high amounts of antibodies that lead to overwhelming inammation. This in turn sets off a cascade of reactions involving a blood defence system called the complement, which leads to severe anaemia, a well-known malaria complication. Malaria-candida coinfection was most common in children who had received regular anti-parasitic treatment with antibiotics. In contrast, children who had not often received modern anti-parasitic treatment against intestinal worms rarely suffered severe malaria attacks, even when they had intestinal worms. These ndings have signicant implications for the treatment of both malaria and candida. Conventional anti-candida medicine has severe side effects in children. Our results provide impetus for the development of medicine from traditional, locally available resources, which, in contrast, have minimal side effects. The ndings also ag the misuse of antibiotics and its detrimental effect on children’s immune systems, particularly in malaria-endemic areas. While they are vital and effective, antibiotics should be used with the utmost care and proper medical guidance. More recently, our studies have established that children aged between 15 and 19 years old are now susceptible to severe malaria and high malaria parasitaemia (the quantity of parasites in the blood). This is in contrast to commonly held knowledge that children under 5 years of age are the most vulnerable to malaria infection, having not developed immunity through constant exposure to the disease. However, our research shows that, thanks to control measures, exposure to malaria, and hence antibody production, have been reduced in older children as well. These results will affect the control and treatment of malaria in Africa.Speaking to the media on our scientic breakthroughs.
Economic Commission for Africa76Capacity-building and mentorshipI support women researchers in realizing their career dreams in a variety of ways, including by serving as a source of inspiration. I was one of the rst women to establish a research laboratory, at the University of Abomey-Calavi. I conduct capacity-building activities, including several popular events focusing on the writing of scientic papers and projects. Outside the scientic world, I am a member of two non-governmental organizations. The rst, the Centre for Local Economic Development, focuses on the economic and social development and empowerment of rural and urban youth in Benin. It tackles issues related to employment, training and gender. The second is an initiative afliated to the International Visitor Leadership Programme of the United States, which brings together people in academia and those with competencies in other elds for the benet of the country. Giving a TV interview.
Earth, Oceans and Skies77Parting shotMy hobbies include swimming and travelling with my twin daughters. I am also a nature lover and cherish times spent in my “haven of peace”, a piece of land outside the city. I describe myself as an immunologist with a spiritual background. Since my early childhood, I have been interested in questions about human existence, such as how we are created and our purpose. This ethos has guided my scientic journey and passion. To me, the world always looks like an immense experimental eld that continuously yields novel insights.In nature, my haven of peace.
Economic Commission for Africa78Undying dreamFaith Osier (Kenya), is Executive Director, Human Immunology Laboratory, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative; and Visiting Professor of Malaria Immunology, Nufeld Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. As a young medic in a malaria-endemic region in Kenya, she witnessed the devastation caused by the disease and the potential of scientic knowledge to create a solution. Thus a dream was born, to develop a malaria vaccine that would spare millions of families across Africa the anguish of losing a child to the disease. Undeterred, she proceeds on the bumpy road to vaccine development. She is particularly vocal on the need for homegrown investments in science and technology and the recognition of scientists in Africa as a non-negotiable commitment.
Earth, Oceans and Skies79My story’s real heroes I was born and raised in Nairobi, where I had a very pleasant childhood. Indeed, my parents are the real heroes of my story. Having grown up in rural areas where going to school was a privilege and conditions were tough, they are testaments to the transformative power of just one generation of education. The life that my siblings and I experienced was completely different from that lived by many of my relatives and peers.My interest in science started when I was a young girl. My mother had a friend who was a doctor, and my parents would often comment that I should grow up to be a medic like her. Thus, the idea of becoming a doctor was implanted in my mind quite early on. In high school I was good at science, which came naturally to me, although my mother credits part of my success to one of my friends at the time, who was my study partner and a great source of encouragement. In 1996, to my parents’ great gratication, I graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree from the University of Nairobi. My father and myself as a young girl.My father, George Christopher Osier and my mother, Miriam Ilejje Osier - the true heroes of my story.
Economic Commission for Africa80Reality dawns, dream beginsMy dream of developing a malaria vaccine began over 20 years ago. After acquiring my Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree, I set out into the world of medicine with the intention of specializing in surgery. My medical internship at the Coast Province General Hospital, Mombasa, Kenya, coincided with ethnic clashes in the region in 1997. The encounter with the traumatic nature of the casualties brought to the hospital for treatment put me off surgery. Also, I discovered that I thrived more in paediatrics and took up a position as a Medical Ofcer/Research Ofcer at the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Kili, working in the paediatrics department of Kili District Hospital, coastal Kenya, from April 1998 to July 2001. Giving a Ted Talk on malaria vaccine in 2018.Photo credit: TedTalk.com
Earth, Oceans and Skies81This tenure was transformative in two main ways. First, I became starkly aware of the reality of malaria, its intensity and its toll on Africa. Malaria is a serious disease that, although curable, is often life-threatening. It is caused by the Plasmodium group of parasites, with Plasmodium falciparum being the most lethal. The parasites are transmitted by the bite of the Anopheles mosquito, and the symptoms of the disease include high fever, chills, pain, severe malaise, headaches and vomiting. Pregnant women and children under the age of 5 are the most susceptible to malaria infections. In children, once the infection occurs, the malaria parasite multiplies exponentially. The parasites destroy the red blood cells and cause fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, anaemia and at times, convulsions and a coma that can result in death. In the 1990s, a range of factors, such as antimalarial drug resistance, the world’s over-focus on other emerging health challenges, limitations in human and nancial resources and weather changes, had caused global malaria escalation, particularly in Africa. Estimates showed that, during that decade, 270 million–480 million cases of clinical malaria occurred every year in Africa (a continent with a population of about 700 million people at the time), accounting for over 90 per cent of all malaria incidents in the world. Of those cases, 140 million–280 million were in children under 5 years of age. Although malaria is a topic covered in medical school, in Nairobi its prevalence is low and thus experience of the disease is limited. By contrast, Kili county has high rates of malaria; its diverse agroclimatic zones, land use and socioeconomic activities all contribute to an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. Peaks in malaria transmission occur after the long rainy season from April to June and the short rains from October to November. At Kili District Hospital, we would admit up to ve children with severe malaria every day, knowing full well that even with the right treatment their survival was not guaranteed. I felt helpless in the presence of mothers who had just lost their children. One day earlier they would have been feeding the child, and then, there they were, cradling its lifeless body in a cloth wrapper. I would look them and their relatives in the eye and be completely lost for words. A second awakening arose from exposure to research through interaction with a team of British scientists conducting research on malaria in Kenya Medical Research Institute in Kili. I was attracted to the immunology aspects of their studies, which aimed to understand how the human body acquired immunity to malaria. The basis of this research was the observation that children were susceptible to malaria, while adults living in the same environments were not, having developed resistance to the disease. Human beings respond to infections by making proteins called antibodies, which in turn stick to the proteins that make up the offending invader and are referred to as antigens. Antibodies will thus prevent an infection from becoming established or, if it does take hold, they will help to clear it up. This is what happens with malaria; antibodies stick to the parasite’s antigens and ultimately overcome the infection. As scientists, we aim to understand how this process occurs, to identify the important parasite antigens, and to use this knowledge to make vaccines to enable children develop resistance to malaria. Therefore, in Kili, I was in a unique situation of, on the one hand, witnessing the devastation caused by malaria and, on the other, seeing that we could use scientic knowledge to create a solution. Thus a dream was born, that one day there would be a vaccine that would protect children in Kenya and across Africa, sparing millions of families the anguish of losing a child.I went on to strengthen my skills, obtaining a master’s degree in human immunity from the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom in 2004 and a doctorate in life sciences from the Open University, also in the United Kingdom, in 2008. I have since held positions at the Centre for Geographic Medical Research at the Kenya Medical Research Institute – Coast, as a Wellcome Trust Training Fellow, a Clinical Research Fellow and a research group leader. I have also had intermittent afliations with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom, and the Burnet Institute, Australia. I am currently Visiting Professor of Malaria Immunology at the Nufeld Department of Medicine.
Economic Commission for Africa82Step by stepMy research aims to build a comprehensive understanding of antibody-dependent malaria immunity to identify potential vaccine candidates, from two angles. First, we aim to discern the Plasmodium parasite and the proteins of which it is composed. One key challenge is that malaria antigens are highly variable. To survive attack by antibodies, the parasites have evolved such that they can replicate while hidden within the cells of their hosts. They have also diversied into large protein families with thousands of variants. Thus, to identify the right proteins, we must engage in continuous testing. Fortunately, advanced technology enables us to see the malaria parasite in great denition. I started my studies investigating one protein during my master’s degree course, expanding to six during my doctoral studies and then to 36 proteins at the postdoctoral level. Now we are studying more than 100 proteins. Excitingly, we have made signicant progress in nding proteins of interest.The journey towards the development of a malaria vaccine is bumpy. It involves understanding highly evolved parasites that can replicate while hidden within the cells of their hosts.“With my research team.
Earth, Oceans and Skies83The second angle of our research aims to understand how the immune system handles the complexity of the malaria parasite. For example, if it produces antibodies, we need to identify the parasite proteins to which the antibodies are binding and the mechanisms they are using. To do this, we probe the parasite with antibodies from people who have developed resistance to malaria. Similar trials by other researchers have involved a small number of participants, focusing on small numbers of parasite proteins from relatively few samples, usually in single locations. But this often leads to inconsistent results. We managed to pack into one experiment as much malaria research as had been conducted over the previous 30 years. Our experiment involved 10,000 samples of parasite proteins collected from 15 locations in seven African countries. Using technology, we synthesized parasite proteins in a laboratory, thus recreating the malaria parasite. That small glass slide has become a powerful tool that has made it possible to gather data on more than 100 antibody responses to the malaria parasite. Currently, our studies are focused on understanding exactly what the antibodies do to the malaria parasite – how they attack it and kill it – and the quantities of antibodies that are required to achieve immunity. Our ndings indicate that antibodies kill the parasite in numerous ways and that high concentrations of antibodies are necessary against multiple parasites proteins. Therefore, studying any one antibody in isolation will not adequately reect reality. KILchip Protein Microarray.
Economic Commission for Africa84Imperative for investments in scienceMalaria remains a huge burden in Africa. Although there has been unprecedented success in malaria control since 2005, progress has stagnated in recent years. The 2020 World Malaria Report by WHO estimates that there were 229 million cases of malaria in 2019 in 87 malaria-endemic countries. Although this is a decline from 238 million cases in 2000, about 215 million of the cases, representing 94 per cent of the total, are in Africa. The disease needs to be tackled from all angles, including through short and medium-term solutions, such as long-lasting insecticide-treated nets and integrated vector management. However, in my view, vaccines are the long-term solution. For other researchers and I, the road to a vaccine is bumpy, yet my dream lives on. Although the development of a vaccine is an arduous task and requires huge investment, the potential impact is undeniable. As evidenced by numerous global examples, vaccines have helped eradicate many diseases. We can achieve the same success with malaria. I know that across Africa and other regions of the world many mothers and children, like the ones that inspired me at the beginning of my career, are waiting for a vaccine. Those are the people in my mind and in my heart. I continue my research in the hope that, one day, we will relegate malaria to the history books. It is that vision that keeps me going. The main challenges are a lack of funding and a dearth of support and appreciation for science and scientists in Africa. My teams and I are proud to have made progress in the development of a malaria vaccine in Africa. We are also honoured to have earned global acclaim for it, including several Making a presentation at the Falling Walls, on how immunology can help to unlock the key to eective vaccination. Photo credit: Falling Walls
Earth, Oceans and Skies85international awards such as the Royal Society Africa Prize, and the prestigious designation of African Research Leader by the Medical Research Council and Department for International Development of the United Kingdom. So far, the nancial resources for our research have been obtained from international sources including: Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and UK Research and Innovation; the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership; and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany.Changing global scenarios and priorities, as well as the old adage that charity begins at home, underscore the imperative for homegrown investments in science and technology. I believe that the African continent has the resources to endow its science and technology sector more meaningfully. The establishment of research funding agencies in several African countries is an encouraging step, but such funding sources need to be boosted to accommodate investment-intensive initiatives such as vaccine development. The tragedy with malaria is that the disease affects the most vulnerable in society; political leaders and decision makers generally escape its brutal effects. A contrasting comparison is the COVID-19 pandemic, whose indiscriminatory nature grabbed attention and spurred action across all systems. Probably the standard approaches we have been using to create awareness about malaria are not effective, and we need to be more innovative to rouse empathy across policy, decision-making and private sector stakeholders.Investing in and recognizing scientists in Africa should become a non-negotiable commitment. While I am grateful that my research team was hosted by the Kenya Medical Research Institute for over 20 years, securing formal positions remains a challenge. A lack of resources also disadvantages African scientists within the global scientic community. Our capacities and outputs often pale in comparison with those of international peers, relegating us to the status of “poor cousins” at the table. We have massive brainpower in Africa and thousands of jobless young graduates. We need to provide them with resources so that they can develop innovative solutions to developmental challenges. This will turn the continent’s current vicious cycle of intellectual wastage into a virtuous one in which talent is harnessed, lives are saved and economies built.
Economic Commission for Africa86Economic Commission for Africa86Saving infants Uduak Okomo (Nigeria) is a paediatrician and epidemiologist and clinical assistant professor at the Medical Research Council Unit in the Gambia, part of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her research focuses on neonatal infections. It brings an Africa-specic focus, while also generating much-needed data on this challenge, to a continent that, as of 2019, accounted for 42 per cent of the global total of neonatal deaths. This knowledge has informed policies and programme strategies at national and regional levels, contributing to attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, which specically includes the reduction of neonatal mortality as one of its indicators.
Earth, Oceans and Skies87 Greatest foundationI was born in Calabar, southern Nigeria. I am the eldest and only girl among four siblings. When I was about two years old my family moved to the United Kingdom, accompanying my father, a surgeon who was furthering his skills in that country. We lived in the United Kingdom for six years, before returning to Nigeria in 1982. My family is my greatest foundation: we were brought up to know that we were loved and treasured. We were allowed to dream and to express ourselves freely. I remember stimulating conversations with my parents and grandparents. My parents came from humble beginnings and their stories of perseverance inspired me. I also read widely – my father’s books mainly, and classical literature, which has stayed with me to this day. My parents also introduced us early to different kinds of music and my favourites remain classical music and contemporary jazz. My mother is a medical microbiologist. She married young, had all her children, and then went back to university to complete her studies. When I was in my rst year of university, she was in her nal year. Her sheer determination has been one of my greatest sources of encouragement. She also taught me how to carry myself with self esteem and dignity. My parents have always been supportive and encouraged me to have a balanced life and to pursue diverse interests. Along my life’s journey, I have also been inspired by numerous people: teachers, lecturers, supervisors, mentors, and many men and women that I have admired from a distance. As a child.As a child, with my brother Ubong, who is also a medical doctor today.
Economic Commission for Africa88Science journey My main inuence into science was primarily my parents. Being a doctor’s child, the medical environment was the rst professional space that I knew. I was attracted to it and expressed the desire to become a doctor as early as the age of 4. My parents supported my vision without putting any pressure on me to get into medicine. I obtained a medical degree at the University of Calabar, Nigeria. Studying in Africa comes with certain hitches, but I did not consider any of them to be unique or unmanageable. We always found a way: if there was a power outage indoors, we would cluster around a streetlight with our books and study. If there was no power at all, we would nd a torch, or a lantern, or a candle. Strike action and resultant university shutdowns were probably the most signicant of all challenges. My degree, which should have taken six years, lasted about nine, from 1991 to 1999. My choice of paediatrics and interest in infectious diseases were shaped by an unforgettable experience during my internship, when the only child of a colleague succumbed to a stubborn infection that would not respond to treatment. I was also interested in medical research, inuenced by my father, who always encouraged us to look beneath the surface of any scenario for underlying factors. During my medical residency, my mentor and I started conducting systematic literature reviews, a process that formed my rst introduction into research methodology and evidence-based medicine. I desired to get formal training in research but despite several offers of admission to master’s degree programmes abroad, I lacked funding. National Youth Service Corps training. As an undergraduate medical student. Ocial portrait as College Vice President and National Chair (e Gambia Chapter), West African College of Physicians.
Earth, Oceans and Skies89Move to the GambiaIn 2004, out of a desire to obtain broader geographical experience and a sense of adventure and ambition, I successfully applied for a position at the Medical Research Council laboratories in the Gambia, now part of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I started off as a medical ofcer in the Clinical Service Department but was also seconded to research projects, where I became interested in severe malnutrition and HIV. The Unit had a HIV clinic and a cohort of doctors, but all were adult physicians.I wanted to focus on paediatric HIV and, to get started, I undertook a one-month training course in Uganda, funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. My interest in this area caught the attention of a senior scientist in the Unit, who had just won a grant to set up a paediatric HIV research cohort in the Gambia. He recruited me and helped me to obtain further training in paediatric HIV in the United Kingdom. I became the only paediatric HIV specialist at the Unit and in the country. Building on the strong HIV clinical and research team at the Medical Research Council, and in close collaboration with the National AIDS Secretariat, we established a paediatric HIV/AIDS clinical and research cohort. Some of our achievements include promoting early enrolment of children into HIV care; developing strategies to ensure timely diagnosis; eliminating obstacles to the initiation of therapy; instituting measures to reduce discontinuation of therapy; and improved capacity for clinical care and research through clinical mentorship. Between 2008 and 2011, I provided specialist clinical capacity to the Gambian Government health service as a visiting paediatric HIV clinician in the Infectious Diseases Clinic at the national teaching hospital. Also, I led the team that wrote the rst National Paediatric HIV/AIDS treatment guidelines in the Gambia.At my LSTMH graduation.
Economic Commission for Africa90A major accomplishment of my work has been bringing an Africa-specic focus to neonatal infections.“My focus on neonatal infections started during my tenure as a consultant paediatrician at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital in Banjul and the School of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of the Gambia, between 2011 and 2017. Prompted by high rates of unexplained neonatal mortality (deaths of newborns within the rst 28 days after birth), I conducted an audit of neonatal quality of care and outcomes covering a ve-year period. The studies revealed neonatal infections to be one of the main causes of admissions and death. This topic became the focus of my doctorate at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and it has since remained my core eld of research. Neonatal knowledgeWith a mother whose premature baby was nursed to health in our Unit. A major accomplishment of my work has been bringing an Africa-specic focus to neonatal infections. Available data show that neonatal deaths continue to be a challenge in Africa, accounting for 42 per cent of the global total in 2019. Moreover, neonatal mortality is highest in West and Central Africa, with 31 deaths per 1,000 live births, and lower in East and Southern Africa, with 24 deaths per 1,000 live births, suggesting an unevenness in the implementation of policies and practices. In contrast to the traditional academic view of the continent as homogeneous, available data indicate the possible impact of cultural, linguistic and political factors on neonatal mortality variations across the regions. Current and regionally representative data on neonatal pathogens and their antibiotic susceptibility patterns in Africa are essential to guide therapy and ensure antibiotic availability to manage neonatal infections.
Earth, Oceans and Skies91Our studies have generated much-needed data on the causes of invasive neonatal infections (sepsis and meningitis) in the continent, revealing subregional geographical variation in the distribution of causative organisms between and within regions. Additional work has been carried out on hospital-acquired neonatal infections and antimicrobial resistance, which remain some of the major challenges in Africa. Sick newborns admitted to neonatal units in low-resource settings are at an increased risk of invasive bacterial infection due to poor clinical care practices, as well as the emerging threat of previously unreported strains of multidrug-resistant bacteria species. This knowledge has informed policies and programme strategies in several ways. For example, our data have provided evidence for the regular monitoring of endemic transmission of bacteria within hospital settings, to identify the introduction of resistant strains and improve clinical practices to reduce or prevent the spread of infection, and routine surveillance of bacterial resistance to improve clinical care, plan health system approaches and address antimicrobial resistance. We have also made recommendations to improve the quality of scientific reporting according to globally set standards, to aid comparability and maximize the use of resources and knowledge. Reviewing a patient’s x-ray during my tenure as a medical ocer at the MRC Unit Clinical Services Department.
Economic Commission for Africa92It is encouraging that Sustainable Development Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, specifically includes the reduction of neonatal mortality as one of its indicators. However, the COVID-19 pandemic could undermine gains achieved over the last three decades in maternal and newborn health. The pandemic has further burdened our health system and compounded existing challenges. Our latest research shows that in many places, neonatal mortality and maternal mortality have gone up, because of either limited access to care, or shifting of health resources to fight the pandemic. We have also observed alarming declines in the use of services and in the quality of care in health facilities. Recently, we have made proposals for local solutions to the direct and indirect challenges brought to maternal and newborn health services by COVID-19, such as funding to maintain essential services for rapid adaptation and modifications to service delivery.I deliberately aim to influence policy based on the realization that producing and publishing good knowledge on its own is not enough. Therefore, I work with the national government and other stakeholders towards evidence-based policies. But I am mindful of the fact that policymakers face challenges, key among which are inadequate finances and competing needs. I am always keen to become involved in processes that promote leadership and capacity-building; and those that stimulate discussions outside the realm of science. I also mentor other researchers, especially the younger scientists, to join the movement of thought and change. This knowledge has informed policies and programme strategies at the national and regional levels that contribute to attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 3.Contribution to policy and capacity-buildingI was one of ve winners (representing Africa) of the 2019 Elsevier Foundation-OWSD Award in Agriculture, Biology and Medicine for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World.Photo credit: Alison Bert/Elsevier Foundation
Earth, Oceans and Skies93Parting shotI would describe myself as ambitious – if I enjoy something, I keep going as far as possible; dedicated to anything that I am doing; and passionate about the things I enjoy doing. I also believe that dreams are powerful. Outside science I love music, and singing, and I used to belong to a choir. I like to read and to write poems; to travel, visiting new places and seeing new cultures and cooking. My most life changing moment was becoming a mother. It has not been easy combining a busy clinical, academic and research career with motherhood, but I enjoy every moment of it. My greatest satisfaction as a paediatrician comes from seeing the relief and joy in the eyes of a parent or caregiver when they can take their once sick newborn or child home – alive and well. As a mother, I would like to teach my child that anything is possible and that dreams can come true, and to give her a bright future, to live a life at least as good as I have, or much better. Enjoying a leisurely walk in a park during a holiday in Austin, Texas, USA.
Economic Commission for Africa94Economic Commission for Africa94Leading voiceAminata Sall Diallo (Senegal), is Professor of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, Pharmacy and Dentistry, Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar; and Special Adviser to the Minister for Higher Education, Research and Innovation of Senegal. Born into a family of eminent philosophers, economists and nanciers, she deviated from tradition by choosing a career in medicine. She has dedicated her life to the ght against hepatitis, especially hepatitis B, in Africa, where the challenge of the disease is daunting. Also, she is notable for her leadership in science, technology and innovation policymaking and capacity-building in Senegal and across Africa.
Earth, Oceans and Skies95A worthy family I was born in Senegal into a family that valued education highly. My father and brothers were brilliant and they were all university-educated. Therefore, I felt immense pressure to excel and to live up to the family name. In addition, I have always had a competitive spirit and I wanted to achieve as much as, if not more than, my brothers. My mother was a remarkable role model and a benchmark for me. She came from a large religious family; had a strong entrepreneurial and innovative spirit; and always worked extremely hard for the education of her children. In fact, she has been recognized as a business leader several times in Senegal and beyond. She has an extraordinary work ethos, strong ethics and perseverance, which she prizes above all else. My sisters have all had a good education, adeptly combining family life and career. As members of the Pulaar community, we married young, between the ages of 18 and 20, but this did not hinder our advancement and fullment, because our parents were always close by. They had a huge impact on their family and friends, and I pay them well deserved tribute for that.At university, there was a teacher, Toure MameFatou Dia, whom I admired for her ability to make us understand the working mechanisms of the human organism, the dysfunctions that lead to diseases and how to treat them. Her teaching methods and skill to keep us engaged and motivated for hours, to push us to think and reect beyond the obvious, made me want to be like her. When she passed away, my desire to become a physiologist like her grew stronger. For me, this was the best homage that I could pay to my role model.Me (front row, le) aged 3 years, with my siblings.Myself (third le), at the age of 10, with my family.
Economic Commission for Africa96Fascination with scienceI was inspired into science by my natural curiosity. In high school, I was fascinated by biology experiments. The discovery, through a microscope, of bacteria, viruses and parasites that were not visible to the naked eye was absolutely captivating. My father, a man of letters and human and social sciences, was against my entering the world of science. Indeed, my family consisted of eminent philosophers, economists and nanciers, and he wanted me to carry on this tradition. My desire to follow another path was difcult for him to take, and he was afraid that I would fail if I chose a trajectory other than the one that he had charted for his family. Nevertheless, I was determined, and I eventually wore him down, and he allowed me to take up medical studies. In 1977, I enrolled at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar to study for a degree in medicine.Medicine is a long journey, and medical school alone can last up to seven years. I faced several challenges, such as the prevailing attitude that medical science was a male domain and that women were intruders. Also, I got married during my rst year of college and had children during my undergraduate studies. Balancing my studies with the demands of family life was not easy, but my husband was supportive, and he provided a conducive environment that enabled me to thrive all round. During my medical studies, I became even more intrigued by the world of science, which I found to be marvellous and to contain many secrets. I was awed by just how much human beings do not know and the vast issues that still need to be explored. I asked myself and my lecturers numerous questions. I also realized that I was more interested in research and the discovery of the hidden causes of ailments than in simply learning how to treat the sick. Therefore, after obtaining my licence to practise as a medical doctor, I completed several certicate courses in bacteriology, virology, immunology, microbial chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology. In 1992, I began doctoral studies at Paris Diderot University (Paris 7) in France, earning a doctorate in cell biology with a focus on liver physiology. Receiving my medical degree.
Earth, Oceans and Skies97Fighting hepatitisI have dedicated my life to the ght against hepatitis, starting with my doctoral thesis. I wanted to specialize in liver and bile duct diseases and their treatment and to set up a national and regional programme to ght hepatitis. The disease is a real scourge that infects and affects African populations and kills productive adults. After my doctorate, I returned to Senegal, where I took up a position in the Faculty of Medicine, Pharmacy and Dentistry at Cheikh Anta Diop University.In 1998, I established the national hepatitis programme and research laboratory, beginning work in 1999 with the support of the First Lady of Senegal, Elizabeth Diouf. We receive patients for classic consultations and diagnoses. Besides hepatitis, a second line of research in the laboratory focuses on medicinal plants. We collaborate with practitioners of traditional medicine to conduct ethnobotanical surveys and to scientically validate selected plant species for their medical efcacy, especially in relation to cardiovascular and liver diseases.Speaking on World Hepatitis Day in 2011.
Economic Commission for Africa98My career has largely focused on hepatitis, an inflammatory liver disease caused by the viruses A, B, C, D and E. Of these viruses, the most serious are hepatitis B and C, because they can evolve and become chronic, and infected people are unable to get rid of them. The viruses stay lodged in their bodies for years and can transform into cirrhosis, a condition where scarred tissue gradually replaces healthy liver cells, or liver cancer. Hepatitis A and E are often short lived and are resolved within a few weeks of infection. But, in pregnant women, hepatitis E is extremely dangerous, and can cause death in up to 20 per cent of cases. Globally, hepatitis is responsible for about 2 million deaths per year, most of them in Africa. WHO estimates that 6.1 per cent of the continent’s population is infected with hepatitis B, with East, West and Central Africa being the most affected. There are 650 million chronic carriers of the hepatitis B and C viruses in Africa. Worldwide, hepatitis B is responsible for 80 per cent of cases of liver cancer, which is the most prevalent human cancer in Africa. Indeed, in 2010, WHO declared hepatitis the fourth global priority after HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. There are multiple modes of transmission of hepatitis, including vertical transmission from mother to child during childbirth or perinatally within the first moments of life. Horizontal hepatitis transmission occurs in different ways, for example from person to person through blood. As the hepatitis B virus is extremely resistant in the external environment, objects contaminated with infected blood are a major source of transmission. Hepatitis B is also sexually transmitted, while hepatitis A and hepatitis E are spread via contaminated food and water, causing acute infections and outbreaks in areas where there is poor sanitation and inadequate waste disposal.My most significant contribution to the fight against hepatitis is in the prevention of hepatitis B in Africa. A key element in control of the disease is the timely administration of its vaccine, to reduce mother-to-child transmission. Until 2004, WHO recommended vaccination of infants at six weeks, using a combined hepatitis vaccine, which targets more than one virus. This was a challenge because a combined vaccine cannot be administered at birth, a timing that is important for effective protection against hepatitis B. The WHO recommendation was based on the argument that vertical transmission, from mother to child, was low in Africa, at just 0.5 per cent. The source of this finding was not clear, and I felt the need to verify it. In collaboration with colleagues from other disciplines, we evaluated and modelled mother-to-child transmission of the hepatitis B virus. Our results were different from the data being used at the time by WHO, showing the prevalence of mother-to-child transmission to be 19.4 per cent. The discrepancy was because WHO had not considered several factors that could affect mother-to-child transmission. Based on our findings, a modified vaccination schedule was introduced in Africa. The hepatitis B vaccine is now administered as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours, followed by two or three more doses at a minimum interval of four weeks each time. My career has largely focused on hepatitis, an inammatory liver disease. In particular, our research ndings contributed to the modication of a modied hepatitis B vaccination in Africa. “
Earth, Oceans and Skies99African consensus on hepatitisIn Africa, the challenge of hepatitis remains daunting. For instance, the national hepatitis control programme in Senegal needs far more national and international support than it receives. In addition, there is insufcient awareness of hepatitis in the country, to warrant prioritization of the disease. Across the continent, national policies on hepatitis remain weak, and there is inadequate scientic knowledge to facilitate management strategies in chronic carriers. It is not enough to tell people that they are sick; such information should be accompanied by a solution. Treatment for hepatitis remains expensive and largely unaffordable. For example, in Senegal, a 48-week course of treatment for chronic hepatitis B and C costs about 7 million CFA francs. While there are precautions that people can take to avoid contracting hepatitis, their awareness is lacking.The onus is on researchers to raise awareness about hepatitis among policymakers, leaders and the general public. Although we have not been as vocal as we should have been, there is progress. For example, during the rst World Hepatitis Day in 2011, researchers from Africa organized an international meeting that issued a challenge to stakeholders such as political authorities, pharmaceutical companies, the private sector and medical practitioners to join the ght against hepatitis. We also set up the Africa Hepatitis Initiative, a group of experts on hepatitis with a mission to mitigate the impact of the disease in Africa through vaccination, treatment, bacteriology and prevention. It is signicant that we are working to nd an African consensus on hepatitis, adapted to our realities and contexts. We can also extend this approach to other issues. Across the continent, access to health care needs to be improved from geographical, nancial, quality and equity standpoints. Moreover, the burden of infectious, communicable and non communicable diseases keeps increasing, putting strain on the continent’s health systems. If we work together, we will nd workable solutions and make progress at a faster pace.I believe that as scientists, we must remain vocal on challenges and solutions for developmental issues.
Economic Commission for Africa100Therefore, I feel a strong obligation to be involved in advocacy and action for a more conducive research and development environment. I am a leading voice in the promotion of science education in Africa. I currently serve as Special Adviser to the Minister for Higher Education, Research and Innovation and as head of the project to reform higher education and align it with economic needs. I am also the country representative of the Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence project of the World Bank. Since 2015, I have been Executive Director of the Board of Directors of the Partnership for Applied Science, Engineering and Technology, an initiative established in 2013 by African governments and partners. Its flagship programme, the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund, launched in 2015, is a unique programme that offers competitive training, along with research and innovation grants in five priority areas identified by the Partnership as strategic economic sectors for growth and development in Africa.Policymaking, capacity-building and leadershipI believe that science must be used as a tool for decision-making and that scientists have a major role to play in supporting governments to deal with pathologies quickly and efciently. My experience of hepatitis B has encouraged me to believe that solutions to the problems in Africa are in the hands of the continent’s people. Thus, strengthening our capacity to nd Africa-led solutions is vital. As an example, in 1994, when I completed my training in hepatology at the Beaujon Hospital in Paris, I was offered a position. I turned it down because I knew that there was inadequate capacity in my area of expertise back home. My colleagues in France were bewildered by my decision and reminded me that I would not nd good working conditions in Senegal. I cannot contradict them; there are indeed difculties in terms of infrastructure and resources. However, if all the Africans who train abroad do not return home, there will be no chance of building capacity in Africa. Speaking at the 5th PASET Forum: Destination Digital Africa: Preparing our Youth for the Future, organized in 2019 by the Partnership for Applied Science, Engineering and Technology.
Earth, Oceans and Skies101I strongly believe that women have contributed greatly to development and that more progress would be achieved if more of them pursued careers in science. I have experienced rst-hand the challenges faced by women in this eld. One of the issues that I noticed early on in my career is that there are not enough women lecturers in science. Therefore, I undertook training to combine roles as a teacher as well as a researcher. I am also in charge of the Senegalese programme for youth entrepreneurship, which is aimed at socioeconomic development and the integration of young people, with strong support of the country’s Government. As part of this initiative, we have inaugurated high-tech laboratories for emerging technologies such as 3D printing, articial intelligence and robotics. This infrastructure enables young people to conduct research and prototyping before transitioning to the industrial phase. More than 3,000 jobs have been created over the past ve years. The project is expected to reduce youth unemployment from 16 to 5 per cent nationally by 2025. Visiting the Taj Mahal, India.Receiving the Golden Calabash award in 2018.
Economic Commission for Africa102Quest for better therapiesPriscilla Kolibea Mante (Ghana) is a neuropharmacologist and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Pharmacology, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana. After a serendipitous entry into neuropharmacology, she has devoted her career to the quest for plant-based therapeutic options for epilepsy and other neurological disorders. Broadly speaking, the knowledge generated from her research could contribute to harnessing the remarkable natural resources and indigenous knowledge of Africa as a basis for drug discovery.
Earth, Oceans and Skies103“Lady Diana”I was born in a small suburb of Accra, the capital of Ghana, known as Bubuashie. A fun fact is that I was delivered by my grandmother, who was a nurse. My parents were both teachers; my dad started out in the classroom before going into education administration, and my mum was an educator until retirement. My early life was spent on the school campus where my mother taught. She was renowned for being one of the strictest teachers in the school and her expectations at home were no different. Our house was full of books that took up every spare bit of space; constantly in your face. As such, whether you intended it or not, you often had your nose in a book. We were constantly taking in knowledge. I have an older brother and a younger sister, and I was the least outgoing of the three of us, focused on books all the time. My mother nicknamed me “Lady Diana” because of what she considered to be British traits. Also, I was a stickler for punctuality to the point of obsession. I was self-disciplined, planning out every single minute and aspect of my day and sticking to the agenda. Despite being such an intense child, I enjoyed sports, especially male specic ones like football. Indeed, although I had a few dolls, I was quite a tomboy.As a youngster, with my mother, Constance Mante (centre) and my sister (le) Agnes Oparebea Mante.Me, in primary school.
Economic Commission for Africa104My rst encounter with the excitement of science was through a teacher in junior high school who, with a freshly minted chemistry degree, taught us the subject with unmatched enthusiasm. In senior high school, I joined the arts class for a while, the result of a teenage whim and my dream of becoming the President of the World Bank. I had seen the ofce holder at the time on the news and I thought: “Wow, this guy has a really cool job. I would like to have it some day.” I had no idea what the institution did, just that it was a bank and that it was international, which to me meant that I had to know foreign languages. In the Ghanaian education system, to learn foreign languages, one had to be in the arts class. But, after a short stint studying geography, economics and French, I realized that I was more interested in science, and I asked to be transferred. My commitment to the sciences was sealed when I scored full marks in a chemistry test soon after joining the science class, having had barely enough time to catch up. Serendipity My research career, which now focuses primarily on the quest for plant-based therapeutic options for epilepsy and other neurological disorders, has evolved through opportunities, mentors and my instinct and passion. In general, the rst option for top-performing students in Ghana is medical school, but when I completed high school I missed out on that choice. Instead, I was offered the chance to study for a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. I consider this turn of events serendipitous, because the course turned out to be a better t for me. I found this clinical health science that links medical science with chemistry, aiming for drug discovery, production, disposal, safe and effective use, to be more exible and to have better career options. Traditional medicines on sale in a market in Africa.Photo credit: Shutterstock
Earth, Oceans and Skies105After my rst degree, which I completed in 2008, I began working as a teaching assistant in the Department of Pharmacology where I had studied. Here, I met my rst mentor, Eric Woode, a professor of pharmacology, who introduced me to the eld and specically to neuropharmacology. A subeld of pharmacy, pharmacology focuses on how drugs act on biological systems. Pharmacologists also investigate how the body responds to drugs, as well as the sources of drugs, their chemical properties, biological effects and therapeutic uses. The knowledge generated through pharmacology is applied in pharmacy to improve the preparation and dispensing of medicines for optimal therapies. Neuropharmacology delves into drugs that affect cellular function in the nervous system and the mechanisms through which the drugs inuence behaviour. The practice of pharmacy is patient-oriented. It entails rounds in hospital wards to ensure that the medicines being administered are providing the maximum benets and to rectify any side effects. Through this process, I encountered patients dealing with epilepsy and developed an interest in the disease. Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system that arises from a temporary disturbance in the messaging systems between brain cells, for example due to elevated electrical activity between neurons. This causes seizures, unusual behaviour, sensations or a loss of awareness. Epilepsy affects the quality of life of the patients and their families. Also, the condition leads to physical problems like fractures and bruising, along with the risk of premature death from seizure-related injuries, and psychological conditions. Surrounded by fear, misunderstanding, discrimination and social stigma, epilepsy affects around 50 million people worldwide, almost 80 per cent of them in low and middle-income countries. In Ghana, there are limited reliable data on epilepsy because of the stigmatization of mental health, which compromises ofcial reporting. However, estimates indicate that about 1 per cent of the country’s population lives with the condition. As is the case across Africa, many people in Ghana depend on herbal medicines based on the belief that they are natural, safer and more affordable. Historically, the therapeutic claims of herbal medicines have provided valuable clues for pharmacological investigations. Although various local remedies appear to be effective, it is useful to undertake scientic investigations to prove or disprove their efcacy and to develop standardization methods.I obtained a doctorate from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in 2013 and undertook postdoctoral training at the University of Michigan Medical School, United States, between 2017 and 2018. Since then, I have held various positions at Kwame Nkrumah University, rising to Senior Lecturer in the Department of Pharmacology. Neuropharmacology delves into drugs that aect cellular function in the nervous system and the mechanisms through which the drugs inuence behaviour.“
Economic Commission for Africa106Trees for healthMy main scientic contributions include providing scientic evidence on Antiaris toxicaria, a tree in the mulberry and g family that is common in Ghanaian forests, which is known locally as kyenkyen. The tree has traditionally been used as an anticonvulsant to prevent or reduce the severity of epileptic ts. Our research conrmed that kyenkyen possesses chemical properties that make it a candidate for the management of temporal-lobe epilepsy, the most common type of epilepsy. In further studies we found that extracts of the leaf, root and fruit of Jatropha gossypiifolia, the bellyache bush, also contain products that have anticonvulsant effects. We observed that the leaf and root are more potent than the fruit. As such, harvesting the leaves rather than the roots is more sustainable, because it can be done without uprooting the plant. My current studies aim to understand the genetic basis of epilepsy in drug-resistant patients, to develop personalized medicines that can be used in combination with the currently available drugs. Diagnosis of epilepsy is still expensive, especially in Africa. Indeed, misdiagnosis is one of the main reasons for unresponsiveness to medicines because, in many cases, patients receive speculative prescriptions. I hope to create a portable epilepsy diagnostic device to make diagnosis easier. Although various medicinal plants, like Jatropha gossypiifolia, the bellyache bush, are widely used throughout Africa, it is useful to generate the scientic underpinnings of their eectiveness and to develop standardization methods for their use.
Earth, Oceans and Skies107We have also started research on neurocysticercosis, a condition that results from ingestion of the eggs of the pork tapeworm, Taenia solium. If the larvae of this worm take hold in the brain, they infect the central nervous system and cause neurological problems, including epileptic seizures. Worldwide, neurocysticercosis is the most common parasitic disease of the nervous system and the main cause of acquired epilepsy. My interest in this research is based on the intersection of neurocysticercosis, epilepsy and neglected tropical diseases, a diverse group of tropical infections that are common in low-income populations in developing regions. The management of neurocysticercosis is difcult because available antiparasitic drugs are ineffective in preventing reinfection and relapse, and they increase the resistance of parasites to such medications. We have established that cryptolepine, a compound in Cryptolepis sanguinolenta, a shrub found in tropical rainforests in Africa, is effective in alleviating the seizures associated with neurocysticercosis. Furthermore, we have developed a novel drug delivery system based on nanoparticle formulations to help the cryptolepine molecule to cross the blood-brain barrier – the roadblock that regulates the entry and exit of microorganisms into the central nervous system. This knowledge will lead to improved antiseizure treatment and more effective management of neurocysticercosis. In recent years, I have developed an interest in depression and anxiety, two conditions that have an immense impact on Africa as a result of poor diagnosis and inadequate, and often expensive, medication. We have evaluated and established the calming and antidepressant potential of an extract from the stem bark of Maerua angolensis, a traditional medicinal plant found in West and Central Africa.My goal is for the knowledge generated through my studies to be employed across Africa. Generally, basic molecules for drug development have been obtained from natural sources. Our continent is remarkably well endowed in this sense and in terms of indigenous knowledge that would serve as a basis for drug discovery. With the right strategies, we could revolutionize the global pharmaceutical industry. I believe that mental health is vital for the general well-being of individuals, their families and communities and that neurological conditions in Africa should receive more attention. Therefore, I am a champion of mental health and deeply involved in advocacy, awareness-raising and training to mitigate and manage epilepsy, stress, depression and anxiety disorders. In the lab: my goal is for the knowledge generated through my studies to be employed across Africa.Making an address at the World Intellectual Property Organization. Photo credit: WIPO
Economic Commission for Africa108Policy and international recognitionMy main contribution to policy was as part of a subcommittee of 30 experts, commissioned in 2019 by the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, and headed by the Chief Corporate Responsibility Ofcer and Executive Vice-President of the L’Oréal Foundation, Alexandra Palt. The goal was to contribute to the report of the Gender Equality Advisory Council of the Group of Seven on the need to promote women scientists and science across Africa. I have also supported development of a policy to tackle antibiotic resistance in Ghana through consultations with the country’s Ministry of Health.My proudest achievement was being named one of the International Rising Talents by the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science programme in 2019, just six years after I obtained my doctorate. Drawing on my personal experience, I aim to support other young scientists in charting their scientic careers. I do this mainly through an exchange programme, which is primarily for Ghanaian undergraduates, that enables students to spend a summer in the United States. The goal is to enhance their cultural awareness, broaden their world view and expose them to the excitement of scientic research. The process enables us to determine their career path in science or otherwise. I am extremely pleased that one of my protégés has recently gained admission to a doctoral programme in neurosciences at the University of North Texas in the United States. International Rising Talents ceremony the the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science programme in 2019.I was among 600 international young scientists selected to attend the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, which was dedicated to Medicine and Physiology, and held in Lake Constance in Germany.
Earth, Oceans and Skies109Parting shotOutside work, I belong to a group of women researchers; we call ourselves Academics at Ease and our goal is to promote a work-life balance. My relaxation therapy is chatting with friends and with my husband. I also like watching action movies and being gripped by them. While I do not consider myself a creative person by nature, my husband, a rap music artist, encourages me to believe that I can be, at least once in a while. Occasionally, we nd an online tutorial video and become artists for a few hours. Our favourite pastimes are trying out new foods and restaurants and travelling.My husband, Linford Kennedy Amankwaa, and myself.
Economic Commission for Africa110Economic Commission for Africa110Health vanguard Francine Ntoumi (Republic of Congo), is the Founder, Chair and Executive Director of the Congolese Foundation for Medical Research; Lecturer in Immunology at the Marien Ngouabi University, Republic of Congo; Professor and Research Group Leader at the University of Tübingen, Germany. After earning a doctorate on the use of the melatonin hormone in mink production, she charted a new path in more Africa-specic challenges. Throughout a successful career abroad, she remained steadfast in her goal to return to, and contribute to socioeconomic development in the Republic of Congo. With no opportunities available she created the Congolese Foundation for Medical Research, today considered one of the most efcient institutions in public health and health research in the country. She is also leading initiatives to build capacity to tackle infectious diseases in the Central African subregion. Her dearest accomplishment is contributing to making science a female ambition.
Earth, Oceans and Skies111Greatest gift of allI was born in October 1961 in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, to very young parents – my mother was 17 years old and my father was 24 years old. I am the eldest and the only girl among ve siblings. I obtained my primary school education in France, where my parents were studying, and secondary school education in the Republic of Congo upon their return to the country. My dad came from a humble background and he believed that the greatest gift he could bequeath his children was a good education. He instilled in me the idea that I needed to go to school and to be the best. To have a better education, my parents sent me back to France where I obtained thegeneral certicate of secondary education in 1975, andthe baccalaureate in 1978 from theLycée Marie Curie de Sceaux. I earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1989 and a doctorate in 1992, from theUniversité Pierre et Marie Curie. I chose science out of sheer love of the subject; its enigma and the gratication of understanding complex issues. But I had no career in my mind. Me (extreme right) at 12 years old, with my siblings.My family.
Economic Commission for Africa112Finding my path and passionI had observed how my parents, after studying in France, had returned to the Republic of Congo to devote themselves to developing the country – my mother was a neonatal nurse while my father became one of the rst electrical engineers in the country. I was inspired to follow the same route and intended to go back home after graduation. But my doctoral knowledge, which was on the use of the melatonin hormone in mink production, was not directly applicable to the country. It occurred to me that I could chart a new path by shifting towards an Africa-specic challenge. And I zeroed in on malaria, one of the continent’s most important diseases. I have been fortunate to forge a scientic career path that helps to address Africa’s most pressing health challenges.
Earth, Oceans and Skies113To strengthen my theoretical knowledge and research capacity on malaria, I applied for a postdoctoral position at the Institut Pasteur, an internationally renowned centre for biomedical research that is headquartered in Paris. I focused on molecular immunology and epidemiology on malaria and other infectious diseases. A particularly transformative aspect was the Institut Pasteur model. I was awed by the culture of simplicity and knowledge sharing in this top institution. In particular, my supervisor, Odile Mercereau-Puijalon, was fantastic. She was intelligent, simple, humble, always smiling. She was my rst role model. I wanted to be like her. I learned that the true measure of competence is humility. When you are an expert in a given eld you should be able to communicate about it very simply. I can say that this was the point when I started to enjoy science; when my passion truly developed. After the postdoctoral training I wanted to return to the Republic of Congo. But because of the ongoing civil war taking place (1996 and 1997) in the country, it was not possible. Aware of my desire to work in Africa, the head of the laboratory I was working in at the Institut Pasteur connected me to a scientist position at the International Centre for Medical Research inFranceville,Gabon. This move coincided with a major milestone in the malaria research eld. For the rst time, the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria, an international alliance of organizations and individuals concerned with research into the disease, made a call for grants specically for African scientists. Prior to this, most of the large and ambitious grants were awarded to Northern scientists to work in Africa, but not to African scientists as principal investigators. I successfully applied for the grants, earning the distinction of being one of the rst African leaders of a Multilateral Initiative research project in 1998. Thus, I had a position as a research group leader and I was independent as I had my own grant money. Also, I was learning the difculties faced by scientists in Africa. I understood the importance of sustainable capacity-building and why it is important to train African scientists in their own home countries. I knew that one day I would leave Gabon, and that it was important to ensure continuation of the activities I had initiated. So, I made training of Gabonese students a cornerstone. This was a very exciting time for me. I trained several Gabonese and Beninese scientists in malaria molecular epidemiology who are today research leaders and academics in various institutions. In 2000, I accepted a position as research group leader at the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen, Germany. Working partly as a Georg Forster Research Fellow, funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, my focus is on nding effective targets for vaccine against malaria. This requires understanding of the immune responses by the human body against malaria parasites, using samples collected from exposed populations in Africa and analysing the host-parasite interactions. I consider fundraising skills extremely vital, even for researchers in better endowed institutions in the North and more so for those in Africa. Although I have written many successful grant applications, I wanted to gain a comprehensive appreciation of the funding scenario. Therefore, I have held tenures in funding agencies, rst in the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership in the Netherlands, as a scientic ofcer between 2006 and 2007; and then in the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria, the organization that gave me my rst big break, as the Secretariat Coordinator between 2007 and 2010, based in the United Republic of Tanzania.
Economic Commission for Africa114Becoming part of the solutionThroughout my career abroad, my goal to return to the Republic of Congo remained unwavering. In Germany, I started collaborating with scientists and training students from the Republic of Congo. Also, I was constantly reminded of the urgent need to build capacity in Africa, especially in Central Africa. For example, at international forums, whenever maps of scientic activities in Africa were presented, Central Africa was always empty. And I started to feel frustrated by this blank corridor narrative on the region. Further, I realized that I could not continue to give advice to researchers back home from outside. I needed to be there, doing my part. But I was facing serious difculties obtaining a position in the Republic of Congo. All doors seemed closed. So, I decided to return to the country and create my own opportunities.In 2008, with colleagues, we established the Fondation Congolaise pour la Recherche Médicale (Congolese Foundation for Medical Research), with the mission of contributing to the development of biomedical research in the Republic of Congo. Our focus is public health and health research, specically on tropical diseases such as malaria and on HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Today, the Foundation is considered one of the most efcient institutions in the country in terms of publications, grants and infrastructure. We receive immense support from the Government, as well as private sector institutions that contribute to our operational overheads, and international funders such as the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership and the Tropical Diseases Research/ World Health Organization. With the leading philanthropist, Bill Gates, when he visited my institution.
Earth, Oceans and Skies115One of our major achievements has been establishing the rst molecular biology laboratory at the Marien Ngouabi University, Republic of Congo. Previously, students in the University only received theoretical training and no practical skills. Further, our research results include new understanding of strains of rotavirus, the most common cause of diarrhoea, responsible for 7.5 per cent of child deaths in the Republic of Congo. This knowledge will enable us to select the best vaccine for the country. In addition, we have studied the effectiveness of preventive treatment in pregnant women. We are the only group conducting this kind of research. Further studies have been on the molecular determinants of drug resistance and virulence in Plasmodium falciparum, the malaria-causing parasite. Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, we are the only research centre with the capacity to assist the country with the sequencing of the disease’s virus. We are working closely with policymakers, for example the Ministries of Public Health, and Science and Technology, to support evidence-based decision-making. We are collaborating with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the Access To Genomenetwork.I am a member of the Steering Committee of the Data-Sharing Working Group of the COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition. Hosted by the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, the Coalition takes advantage of existing multinational and multidisciplinary expertise in running clinical trials in resource-poor settings, to aid WHO in its coordinating role in the global response to COVID-19. In this context, I was one of the 77 founding signatories of acall for action published inThe Lancetjournal in April 2020, urging international research collaboration and coordination to support COVID-19 clinical research in resource-limited countries. Currently, I am leading two large international consortiums on infectious diseases, both funded by the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership: the Central Africa Network on Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and Malaria and the Pan-African Network for Rapid Research, Response, Relief and Preparedness for Infectious Disease Epidemics (PANDORA-ID-NET). Created in 2009, the Central Africa Network on Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and Malaria is the rst regional network of excellence supported by the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership in Africa for clinical trials on HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in compliance with the standards of the International Council for Harmonization of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use and good clinical practice. The Network aims to build capacity in seven institutions in Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Gabon. As a result, we have strengthened laboratories, creating a shared platform for training doctoral students and master’s students, and provided career development fellowships to female researchers. Also, we supported a multicentre phase IV trial of a xed-dose artemisinin combination therapy for malaria. In Gabon, we have Throughout my career abroad, my goal to return to the Republic of Congo remained unwavering. In Germany, I started collaborating with scientists and training students from the Republic of Congo. Also, I was constantly reminded of the urgent need to build capacity in Africa, especially in Central Africa.“
Economic Commission for Africa116upgraded the tuberculosis laboratory, which is now acting as the national reference laboratory for diagnostics. Ongoing activities include baseline epidemiological studies for HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, neglected tropical diseases and COVID-19, as a basis for future clinical trials. In particular, we want to create a platform for rigorous clinical studies on traditional African medicines. Our objective is to strengthen pharmacovigilance, including institutional and national ethics and regulatory authorities across Central Africa, in partnership with such pan-African initiatives as the African Vaccine Regulatory Forum, African Medicines Regulatory Harmonization, and the WHO Regional Ofce for Africa.Working with national governments, public health bodies and other key stakeholders in Africa and Europe, the PANDORA-ID-NET Consortium is enhancing the capacity of African countries to detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks through a “One Health” approach encompassing human and animal (livestock and wildlife) medicine. The Consortium works with national governments to promote awareness of the importance of infectious disease control and outbreak preparedness. Also, it is developing rapid response teams and research capacity for emerging infections, before and during outbreaks.In 2018, PANDORA-ID-NET was called into action by the Republic of Congo for help in the preparedness activities against an Ebola outbreak, providing advice on local surveillance activities and diagnostic tools, organizing training on the rapid and rigorous review of research proposals in emergency situations. In the longer term, PANDORA-ID-NET will work with a complementary initiative funded by the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership and the African Coalition for Epidemic Research, Response and Training, to ensure that African subregions are better prepared to prevent, respond to and minimize the impact of infectious disease outbreaks.Addressing the media during the 10th anniversary of the Fondation Congolaise pour la Recherche Médicale.
Earth, Oceans and Skies117Making science a female ambitionInterestingly, of all my accomplishments, the one I am most proud of, and the one that seems to resonate with people most is a women in science programme that I started ve years ago. The goal is “to make science a female ambition” in Africa, and to promote gender balance in this eld. It is fascinating how this initiative reverberates with the general public as a scheme that is more than just pushing women into science. These range from parents who consider it important for their daughters, to senior level government ofcials and private sector professionals. Even though all aspects may not be clear to them, and they may not have a solution, they know it is an issue worth attention. A second aspect of my passion is science promotion. I believe that communication is important and it works. That is our ethos at the Foundation. I strongly believe that African scientists must do more to promote their work. Parting shotIn my free time, I take part in sports – my greatest pleasure is to work on my tness. In fact, I have created a tness room in my house. Also, I like to read – crime ction, mainly, like Agatha Christie and explorer and detective novels. I would like to travel more for fun. My favourite destination is New York City in December just before Christmas with the decorations and festive atmostphere. I like to roam around Times Square, losing myself in the maniacal pace and the anonymity around me. With budding women scientists from the Republic of Congo.A billboard in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, as part of my campaign: “Women in science - transmit the ambition”.
Economic Commission for Africa118Economic Commission for Africa118Instinct to nurtureFolasade Ogunsola (Nigeria), is a Professor of Clinical Microbiology, at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos. As a burgeoning academic in the late 1990s, a difcult time for Nigerian academia because of political events in the country, she chose not to be bowed. Since then, she has followed a natural inclination towards public health. Based on a longstanding interest in infection prevention and control, she is contributing to the institutionalization of this approach in health care in Africa.
Earth, Oceans and Skies119Major life lessonAs the eldest of ve children, two girls and three boys, I was born in 1958 in London in the United Kingdom, where my mother was working as a teacher while studying law. At two months old, my parents took me to Nigeria where I remained in the care of my grandmother until they returned to the country.I had an idyllic childhood. My father was a lecturer in urban geography at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and I grew up on the campus. I attended the staff school, and later, Maryhill Convent School, and had a highly active community of friends. I loved going to a theatre group on Saturdays that involved a variety of activities including piano lessons.As a student, I was good in both the arts and the sciences. However, from a very early age, I wanted to be a doctor due to an innate instinct to nurture and to make people better. As a child, I loved to play “hospital” with my dolls. My mother was determined that, like herself and my grandmother, I should attend Queen’s College, Lagos, a prestigious government-owned girls high school founded in the 1920s. I completed O levels and proceeded to A levels in the same school. In my rst year of A levels, I applied and was admitted to medical school. The idea was that I would do a one-year preliminary course and then take an examination to join the main medical course. I consider this to be the point at which I learned my rst major life lesson. Celebrating my fourth birthday.
Economic Commission for Africa120Previously, I had not had to study too hard, but I always passed exams, performing well in subjects that came easily to me and scraping passes in those that did not. As such, I was overcondent when I took the preliminary examination, and I barely prepared. The result was that, for the rst time in my life, I failed an examination. I could not believe it. Fortunately, I had the chance to re-sit it. This time, I read and revised with all my energy. I was certain that my hard work would pay off. But then I fell ill just before the exams, and I failed again. While I had thought that I would be going to medical school, instead I had to repeat the year. I was devastated. I wrote a letter to my dad, telling him that I knew that I had disappointed him and that it would never happen again. For about a month, I could not go to class because I was too embarrassed. However, one day I realized that if I carried on as I was, I was going to fail again. Therefore, I mustered the courage to go to class. I consider this happening to be a cautionary story about cockiness, a lesson that I needed to learn. It taught me that one must work hard; it strengthened me and made me more responsible. I stopped being cocky and realized that nothing is guaranteed. I have not looked back since. I also learned that no matter how bad things are, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Interestingly, my classmates do not remember that I repeated the year, which shows how we can be our own worst enemies. Our failings are not other people’s problem. I learnt one of my rst major life lessons as a young, high school student.“With a friend on our high school matriculation day.
Earth, Oceans and Skies121Academic journeyIn 1974, I joined the medical school at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University. I completed my degree in 1982 and started my house job at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, completing it at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital after I got married. I worked in private practice before commencing residency at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. I then enrolled for a master’s degree at the College of Medicine of the University of Lagos, focusing on Medical Microbiology, the science of the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases. I undertook part of the studies at University of Wales, United Kingdom, where I was offered the chance to do a PhD. At the time, the youngest of my three children was only four months old. Many people tried to discourage me from accepting the offer, and I would have succumbed to pressure, had it not been for my mother, who, based on her own experience, motivated me to accept the opportunity. My husband rose to the occasion and looked after our young family in my absence, supported by my sister-in-law and a plethora of relatives. I completed PhD research in the UK in 1994 and returned to Nigeria to write up my thesis and complete my residency. This was a challenging time. It seemed as if I was sitting examinations all the time, including my nals at the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria. I sat the national postgraduate nals and two years later, I completed those of the West Africa College of Physicians.1974: rst year in University. With my parents, when I graduated from medical school.My PhD graduation portrait.
Economic Commission for Africa122Light amidst darknessIn early 1997, I submitted my PhD thesis and nally felt free to focus on work. By 1998, I was a Senior Lecturer and part of a research team at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos. This was a difcult time in Nigeria because the country was under a military dictatorship. The universities were beginning to have nancial problems. Gradually, I understood that the world had cut us off. We were blacklisted, and grants were no longer coming in. When I looked to the future, I saw nothing, just darkness, but I told myself that I was not going to sit idle or to leave the university. I looked for options. I asked one of the professors for research equipment, but he said that he had none to spare. He then offered me a broken water bath – a device used to incubate biological samples – and a microscope, which I repaired. This allowed me to maintain a level of research. Another hurdle resulted from my decision to confront a senior professor about what I considered to be gender-insensitive behaviour towards me. Although he apologized, I suffered the consequences. For a year or two, I was excluded from certain research activities and meetings, and I could not travel to academic events outside Nigeria. With colleagues in the lab.
Earth, Oceans and Skies123What saved my career was my idea to start a seminar series for the residents at the college. I envisioned the forum as a fun space for mutual learning. Starting with just four people, we quickly built up our quorum to 20 participants. Through one of the residents, I connected with a team at HarvardUniversity in the United States, leading to an invitation to participate in a training event on HIV/AIDS in Senegal. The 10 days of the training was a period of sheer joy, an opportunity for me to dive back into laboratory work. I also realized that the participants, including those from Nigeria, were part of a well-established network, and I was the only newcomer. Therefore, I started discussions on how the University of Lagos could join the network. I was told that it would be possible if I wrote a research proposal on HIV/AIDS. I had never written a research proposal before, and I had no clue how to do it. Back in Nigeria, somebody suggested to me that, to obtain background information on HIV/AIDS, I could talk to a pastor who was running a church in an informal settlement on one of the beaches in Lagos. On my rst visit to the area, I found a thriving community composed primarily of sex workers. As soon as they realized that I was a doctor, they started to consult me on medical issues. Thus, my visit turned into an impromptu medical clinic, and by the end of the day I had decided that the focus of my proposal would be HIV/AIDS research in that location. Writing of the proposal was a transformative process, in which I involved a mix of microbiologists, virologists and public health professionals. I cannot think of a more thrilling moment in my life than when, after months of doubt and self agellation, I received news that the proposal had been successful. One downside, however, was that, in my naivety, I had not included budgets for an honorarium to cover my time or for overheads; I was using my family’s car and resources for the research. But I was just elated to have written a proposal, and a successful one at that, and to nd a way out of the research slump that I had been in. Every morning, I woke up with a spring in my step. I was joined by a young doctor, a risk-taker, who decided to work with me in the wooden clinic that we set up in the beach settlement. We loved our work and the community embraced us. It was one of the best times of my academic life. We were getting results in our research, while having an impact on people’s lives. We set up a family clinic and introduced antenatal care. We linked up with the local government and community health extension workers and established a revolving fund for drugs with contributions from the community.
Economic Commission for Africa124We generated plenty of knowledge about HIV/AIDS, on testing the different types of the disease and the trends in the informal settlement. Our most important research was a large community-based study related to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of cellulose sulfate vaginal gel in preventing HIV transmission. For me, the value of the exercise was not the results, but the experience that I gained in running a clinical trial. The sheer level of detail required changed my attitude and made me a better researcher. It made me realize how interested in public health I was, even though I had trained as a microbiologist. In collaboration with researchers from Australia, we also developed strategies to identify Clostridium difcile, a bacterium that is the leading cause of healthcare-associated diarrhoea globally. We also conducted research on resistant strains of the bacterium in Africa.With the end of the military dictatorship in Nigeria, grants started to ow back into universities. Among the several that I received was one from the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Between 2000 and 2011, I was principal investigator of the AIDS Prevention Initiative in Nigeria at the University of Lagos. I headed a randomised double-blind study on microbicides for HIV/AIDS prevention, funded by UNAIDS through Family Health International, USA. We had outreach posts in 15 locations, and we needed to make payments to participants, but we were facing difculties in obtaining the funds from the university system. Due to the previous funding downturn, the university did not have the right structures in place to administer grants. The institutional regulatory body had not managed a clinical trial like ours before and it revealed itself to need reorganization. New policies and system were needed to make the Finance Department more grant-friendly. A grant management ofce was later set up through a funding opportunity and and resourced with trained personnel. Throughout the project, I was audited on a regular basis. With the support of my husband, an auditor by profession, my project documentation was always audit-ready. 3d illustration of Clostridium dicile bacterium. We developed strategies to identify this bacterium in Africa. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Earth, Oceans and Skies125Infection prevention and controlCurrently, the main focus of my work is infection prevention and control, a practical, evidence-based approach that prevents patients and health workers from being harmed by avoidable infection or as a result of antimicrobial resistance. I have a longstanding interest in this eld. I was a founding member of the Nigerian Society for Infection Control in 1998; I am a member of the Global Infection Prevention and Control Network, facilitated by the World Health Organization; and Chair of the Infection Control Africa network a member of the Global Infection Prevention and Control Africa Network.In Africa, some of the things that we need to do to improve health are simple. We must use our experience to change behaviour from a cultural point of view. Our goal is to institutionalize infection prevention and control as an integrated instrument of health care. I believe that infrastructure and programmes for the approach should be built on a set of core components that include guidelines, training, surveillance and multimodal strategies for implementation, monitoring and evaluation. One component of my work is the application of infection prevention and control measures relating to antimicrobial resistance in hospitals and communities in Africa. We are training health-care workers, creating specialists and establishing community associations, starting in West Africa. We are also involved in advocacy, to encourage governments to employ the approach. Furthermore, in partnership with the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, I have supported efforts to control outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola.The COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for infection prevention and control more evident and enhanced my condence that Africa can craft its own solutions. When the pandemic started, I was part of the Lagos State strategic thinking group. We designed plans at various levels and a series of scenarios for the pandemic. One innovative idea was to establish oxygen pods where patients who did not necessarily need to go to an intensive care unit could access oxygen.I am a member of the steering committee on COVID-19 infection prevention and control of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Since February 2020, we have trained thousands of health-care workers and trainers of trainers in seven countries: Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Our goal is to enable them to be creative, so that they can respond better to emerging needs. We have developed contextualized COVID-19 guidelines and generated knowledge on issues related to the disease Currently, I am the Director of the Centre for Infection Control and patient Safety and our overarching goal is to generate data that will drive evidence-based interventions, policy and future positioning of Africa.With Landry Cihambanya, Technical Ocer, WHO/Regional Oce for Africa, Infection Prevention and Control, during a training on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Abuja, Nigeria.
Economic Commission for Africa126LeadershipDespite the challenges that I have faced in a male-dominated environment, I have been able to rise through the academic ranks within the University of Lagos. My major accomplishment was becoming the rst female Provost of the university’s College of Medicine in 2013. My leadership style in this capacity has been shaped by something that I once heard on television: in leadership, it is good to know yourself well, both your strengths and your faults. I have been deliberate about the type of leader that I want to be, and I have brought a female touch to the role of Provost. One of the constant struggles faced by the College is power outages. My approach was to send advance messages about such events, so that the community could plan better, with less disruptions. I calculated the duration of the outages, how much diesel we would use for the generators and how much more we could afford to use. We increased the availability of energy within the College. In 2017, at the invitation of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, I became Deputy ViceChancellor, in charge of development services. Thanks to my great team, I have been able to pursue my academic work and continue to do research. My greatest contribution as provost was developing the research capacity of young academics at the College of Medicine through a grant from the National Institute of Health Bethseda USA called Building research and Innovation in Nigerias Science. My team trained over 1,000 young academics and we developed 45 star researchers. Senior academics learnt to be better mentors. This grant has had a multiplier effect and increased exponentially the number of grants attempted and awarded at the College of Medicine as well as improved research infrastructure.Portrait marking my appointment as Deputy Vice Chancellor Development Services, University of Lagos.In my oce as Deputy Vice Chancellor. I consider my appointment to be a milestone for myself and other women in the academia.
Earth, Oceans and Skies127Parting shotI have been a member of the physicians mentoring programme since 2019 where I support young female physicians. I have been honoured to receive several awards and recognitions including the Federation of European Microbiological Societies Overseas Research Scholarship in 1993, the Keystone Symposia Global Health Travel Award in 2010, Medical Women’s association of Nigeria Distinction in Medicine Award in 2013 and the Distinguished Alumni Lof the Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria in May 2017.In my free time, I like to sing, both choral music and opera. I read and I watch movies. I also love to travel. I enjoy cooking exotic, creative dishes.
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Economic Commission for Africa130Economic Commission for Africa130Shining starMerieme Chadid (Morocco), is an astronomer, explorer and astrophysicist at Côte d’Azur University, France. At 12 years old, to the disbelief of all around her, she proclaimed that she wanted to become an astronomer. Since then, she has charted an amazing path, making groundbreaking discoveries in stellar physics, the study of the formation and evolution of stars. In 2005, she became the rst astronomer to establish an observatory station in the heart of Antarctica. But, while she believes in big ideas, is self-condent, audacious and a risk-taker, she remains rmly grounded and realistic, aware that support for basic research in space and astronomy is tremendously competitive.
Earth, Oceans and Skies131Defining momentI was born in Casablanca, Morocco, the sixth of seven children in a modest family. My father was a blacksmith, and my mother was a housewife. I had a wonderful childhood. I was a curious child, fascinated by the many wonders of life like the alternation between day and night, the seasons, and even the shining of the stars. When I was 12 years old, my brother gave me a book that dened the rest of my life. It was by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler, and it was about the laws of planetary motion. Published in the seventeenth century, the book described the planetary system, its movement around the sun and other physical and astronomical phenomena. From the moment that I read that book, I told my family, my teachers and indeed anyone who cared to listen, that I was going to become an astronomer. This proclamation was met with disbelief because nobody in my community knew anything about astronomy. My family wanted me, their academically gifted child, to enter a classical profession like medicine or law. However, I was committed to my decision, and I was sure that my life would be exciting and full of adventure. Kepler’s laws of planetery motion.Photo credit: www.atomstalk.com
Economic Commission for Africa132Astronomy: wonder and aweAstronomy is one of the oldest natural sciences in the world. It is the study of all extraterrestrial objects, that is, those existing outside the Earth or its atmosphere, such as the solar system that consists of our star, the sun, and the objects that orbit it, the Moon, galaxies, planets and comets. Astronomy also investigates and explains the origin and evolution of the phenomena associated with such objects, like supernova explosions, gamma rays, quasars, blazars, pulsars and cosmic microwave background radiation. Historically, astronomy was used to measure time, mark seasons and navigate oceans based on predictions about the positions of the sun, the Moon and the planets, while stars have helped people to navigate the Earth by lighting up the night sky.Today, beyond inspiring us with magnicent images of the sky, astronomy promises us answers to the big questions of life and revolutionizes our thinking by showing us the immensity and complexity of space. Through astronomy, we can put Earth into perspective and perceive a fundamental sense of our place in an unimaginably vast and exciting universe. To make their observations, astronomers require cutting edge technology and are constantly pushing the limits of instruments, processes and software. For instance, the invention of the telescope and the discovery of the laws of motion and gravity in the seventeenth century revealed that the Earth was round. In the nineteenth century, photography and spectroscopy, the study of the wavelengths of the light that extraterrestrial objects emit, made it possible to investigate the composition and motion of stars from afar. Astronomy is thus a cornerstone of science, technology and innovation progress. Its discoveries have broad application in numerous elds, such as optics and electronics, computers, communication satellites, mobile phones, global navigation satellite systems, remote sensing, solar energy and magnetic resonance imaging.Image of variable stars.Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Povich
Earth, Oceans and Skies133Arrival in stellar physicsThe road to becoming an astronomer was not easy. With no model to follow, I made my own way. I was fortunate that, at the time, public schools in Morocco were free, enabling families like mine to send their children to school. I also started educating myself about astronomy, including by reading second-hand books. I learned that to be an astronomer I needed to study mathematics and physics, and these two subjects became the focus of my undergraduate degree at Hassan II University in Casablanca, Morocco, which I completed in 1992. I then decided that, to advance my studies, I needed to go to France. This decision triggered three sets of challenges: family-related, nancial and academic. My father could not understand how I could leave my country to go to another to study. He also knew that nothing was going to stand between me and my dream of becoming an astronomer, so he conceded. It was difcult to go against my parents’ wishes, but I moved to France in 1992, nding myself in a new environment with different traditions. Unlike me, all the other students on the master’s course already had training in astronomy. I also lacked funding. To remedy these challenges, I took private lessons and worked part-time. In 1993, I graduated, with excellence, from the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, France, obtaining the degree of Master of Advanced Studies in Astronomy. Radio telescopes and the Milky Way at nightPhoto credit: Han Maomin/ Shutterstock
Economic Commission for Africa134I conducted my doctoral research in astronomy and space, an exceptional experience that also marked my arrival in stellar physics, the study of the formation and evolution of stars to understand the evolution of the universe. Most of our knowledge of the universe is based on the observation of stars: their life cycles; their distribution in space; how they group into clusters and galaxies; their effects on the surrounding gas and dust; their properties; how their energy is linked to the evolution of galaxies; and their interactions. Our lives are intertwined with the stars. All stars form in great clouds of gas and dust, and they all begin their life with roughly the same chemical composition. About three quarters of a star’s mass at birth is hydrogen, one quarter is helium and about 2 per cent consists of elements heavier than helium. The basic elements found in stars and the gas and dust around them are the same as those that make up our bodies, showing our connection with the cosmos. Most of the chemical elements in the periodic table are synthesized in stars. Owing to nuclear fusion, stars shine brilliantly for millions or billions of years and then die. Stellar physicists try to reconstruct the life cycles of stars, while analysing their differences.As a doctoral student registered at the Paul Sabatier University, France, in 1993, I persuaded the Director of the Haute-Provence Observatory, an astronomical observatory located in south eastern France, to allow me to conduct my research at the facility. This was an absolute rst for a doctoral student. Thus, I wrote my thesis in a highly stimulating environment where I was able to observe stars and interact with numerous astronomers from across the world. I made the groundbreaking discovery of hypersonic shock waves and explained that the origin of this phenomenon was in RR Lyrae stars, which are extremely important in astrophysics.RR Lyrae stars are prototypes of variable stars. The brightness of this group, as seen from Earth, uctuates periodically. RR Lyrae stars are among the standard candles, a class of object of which the luminosity (the total amount of electromagnetic energy) is known. RR Lyrae stars are easily recognizable from the shape of their light curves, which are the graphic representation of their light intensities over periods of time. It is thus possible to determine how far away they are and to use them to x the cosmic distance scale, an indicator of the distances of other celestial objects. RR Lyrae stars are also witnesses to the universe at a young age, as they are members of the Population II stellar group, which comprises the oldest stars and clusters. This group of stars was likely created from interstellar gas clouds that emerged shortly after the Big Bang, from which the universe is believed to have originated. They are relatively rich in hydrogen and helium, but poor in elements heavier than helium, which had not yet been created at the time of their formation. RR Lyrae stars are pulsating variables, which means that their brightness varies owing to a physical change within them, such as the periodic expansion and contraction of their surface layers. Understanding the origin of these variations, or pulsations, is important for constructing theories about the evolution of stars. It allows us to study the interior structure of stars, particularly their temperature, density and pressure, and the structure and evolution of nearby stellar systems. My doctoral ndings contributed to explaining the Blazhko effect, an enigma related to irregular variations in the light curves of RR Lyrae stars on timescales of tens to hundreds of days. The physical origin of this effect has been a puzzle ever since its discovery over a hundred years ago. A planetary nebula in the mildly northern constellation of Lyra.
Earth, Oceans and Skies135an icebreaker ship, seeing only sea, ice and the sky, can take two weeks if the weather is favourable. Otherwise, it can take several months, or it can be unsuccessful all together. When you make land, the loading of the extremely heavy cargo on to giant trucks and the journey to the heart of Antarctica can last a month or two. Installation of the observatories can then extend another three to six months.Our endeavour in Antarctica has been a great success. We have installed TANGO – the Tibet and Antarctica Network Ground Observatories, composed of several identical low-cost robotic telescopes, such as PAIX; the Photometer AntarctIca eXtinction, which I designed, developed and installed in the heart of Antarctica.PAIX is the rst robotic polar photometer which owes its success to very specic techniques of observations on the highest icy plateau in Antarctica, with extreme human and climatological conditions. Characterized by a continuous multi-colour photometric homogeneity, without interruption due to the terrestrial rotation effect, during six months and with a high photometric accuracy. The Observatories are a novel, lowercost way of improving astrophysical knowledge and understanding of the universe. Indeed, they have been conrmed to be scientically and nancially competitive with space missions. The robotic technology enables us to Installing the TANGO – the Tibet and Antarctica Network Ground Observatories.Human and scientific featMy most signicant human and scientic accomplishment has been the establishment of an observatory station in the heart of Antarctica, one of the highest, coldest, uninhabited and inaccessible places in the world. I was the rst astronomer to achieve this feat. The observation of stars from the ground is often interrupted by the cycle of day and night. In the heart of the Antarctic, the night lasts 6 months, and there is low atmosphere turbulence and low pollution levels. Therefore, it is possible to study the stars continuously and to obtain high-quality images.By 2005, when I made my rst expedition to Antarctica, I had amassed 15 years’ worth of experience in various academic institutions and at the French National Centre for Scientic Research and had amassed extensive experience as an astronomer. Indeed, while working at the European Southern Observatory, I was one of the rare female members of the team that installed the Very Large Telescope facility in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. But, an expedition to Antarctica is incomparable, completely unmatched. It is a high-risk, physically and mentally challenging venture that takes my team and me halfway across the Earth on a voyage lasting up to six months. Crossing the Antarctic Ocean in
Economic Commission for Africa136make observations from anywhere, from the ofce or at home, and to collaborate with other scientists across the world. The facility has allowed us to make precise observations and to gather top-quality data, thereby discovering several new phenomena, further illuminating the Blazhko effect. One of our key ndings, before establishing the facility, was that RR Lyrae stars are nonmagnetic. This discovery proved wrong the models of the Blazhko effect that indicated that RR Lyrae stars and their pulsations required strong photospheric magnetic elds – the forces surrounding the surfaces of the stars affecting their interiors, atmospheres and immediate environments. We have also generated data on the causes of pulsations in such type of stars, investigating changes around their radius, as well inwards and outwards movements on their surface. This knowledge will contribute to theoretical debates on Asteroseismology, the study of oscillations in stars. We have also investigated metallicity in the RR Lyrae stars, where we found a metal-rich group that appears to be a unique species class.However, the most striking nding is the rst detection of the gravity waves in the standard candles of the Universe thanks to PAIX. For the rst time, I discover the gravity waves in the standard candles of the universe, which give the stars the potential to undergo both gravity and pressure modes. I provide an excitation mechanism resulting from the coupling of pressure waves that probe the atmosphere and gravity waves, which probe the radiative core, thus giving a direct access to the core of the star. This breakthrough is signicant because for several decades, through ground-based and space observations, there has been a search for oscillation modes whose restoring force is gravitation. Indeed, today, the detection of any gravity wave signal in the Sun, the most observed and best-known star to human beings, is still a highly contentious issue. My discovery of low frequency modes completes the studies to advance the theory of stellar evolution and thus, a better understanding of the universe. Beyond progress for stellar physics and astrophysics, is important on a continuous time coverage of six months; and without our technological advances in polar robotization we would not be able to work on the ground in such a hostile environment.Finally, this breakthrough underlines the importance of ensuring long-term sustainable development of fundamental research.e Globular cluster NGC 6362 observed using PAIX robotic telescopes that we installed in Antarctica.
Earth, Oceans and Skies137Policymaking and thought leadershipAstronomy and space science in general are important in Africa, as they are fundamental in addressing such critical challenges as climate change and food security and in developing technologies for satellites, forestry, cellular communications and trafc control, to mention but a few applications. I am encouraged that astronomy is gaining more recognition in Africa. One major example is the Square Kilometre Array, an international initiative to build the world‘s largest radio telescope, hosted partly in South Africa. I support the promotion of astronomy in Africa in several ways, including through collaboration with universities from Africa. I contribute to policymaking and thought leadership in astronomy as Chair of Scientic board of UNESCO. I am also Vice President of one of the scientic bodies of the International Astronomical Union, a large, highly inuential global organization in which many strategic deliberations take place and decisions relating to the eld of astronomy are made. I was committed to my decision, and I was sure that my life would be exciting and full of adventure.“Speaking at the second edition of the #HerDayForHer Masterclass, co-organized by Moroccan and Canadian institutions.Receiving the Woman of the Year in Science award from Regent’s University, London, UK, in 2015.
Economic Commission for Africa138I believe that big ideas come when you listen to your intuition, when you have self condence and audacity and when you are curious and you persevere. I consider myself an extreme astronomer and a risk-taker. Some might say that my head is up in the stars, but I keep my feet on the ground, aware that support for basic research in the eld of space and astronomy is tremendously competitive. It takes constant lobbying to obtain the necessary resources. As a leader, I need to motivate, mentor and guide my team, especially in challenging expeditions, but it is also tough to leave my family behind each time that I go. My daughter Leyla, 18 years old, and son Felix, 17 years old, are very proud of me, as is my husband, Jean Vernin, an astrophysicist and source of encouragement for me. I am constantly tested as a leader, and I have undertaken training in leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, United States. I also mentor others to become leaders. For example, in 2008, I was selected by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader, and I use this platform to inspire young people in Africa to enter the eld of astronomy. I also make presentations on leadership at conferences and give lectures. Receiving the Ocer of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite, bestowed by His Majesty Mohammed VI, the King of Morocco, in 2013.
Earth, Oceans and Skies139Parting shotOutside work I love to travel. I also love the sea. One of my favourite moments is when I take my sailing boat out and go diving, or when I do aquatic sports with my dog Scott. I like good food, especially Moroccan cuisine, and African dance and music, particularly the style known as Gnawa from the south of Morocco. When I consider my humble origins – a woman in a male-dominated eld and a Moroccan in a world of geopolitical inequality – and realize how far I have come, I see hope for all children and for everybody who has a dream and is willing to work hard for it and to push relentlessly. Everyone can be a shining star. One of my proudest moments was planting the rst Moroccan ag in Antarctica in 2005, which was indeed also the rst African ag.With my dog Scott.Sailing.
Economic Commission for Africa140Economic Commission for Africa140Young starZara Randriamanakoto (Madagascar), is an astronomer at the South African Astronomical Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa. Her research focuses on the formation and evolution of young massive clusters of stars in different galaxy environments, and surveys of radio galaxies to explore the evolution of active galactic nuclei. These studies will contribute to understanding of the evolution of galaxies. She believes that, although the benets of astronomy might not always be evident, it has signicant impact on our lives. Thus, she is dedicated to promoting astronomy in Madagascar and across Africa.
Earth, Oceans and Skies141Early lifeI was born in Antsirabe, the second largest city in Madagascar, located about 160 km away from Antananarivo, the capital. I am the middle child, with an older brother and a younger sister. My siblings and I are the first generation in my family to obtain a university education. My mother was a secondary schoolteacher, while my father is an electrician. Although there were times when we struggled to make ends meet, we had a good upbringing. My parents have always been very supportive, even though they do not fully understand my academic and professional choices, especially astronomy. Science was a natural choice for me. From about the age of 9, I developed a love for mathematics and science, which intensified when I came top of my class. I was amazed that I could achieve such a feat, and it really gave me the confidence to work hard at science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In 2004, I joined the University of Antananarivo, Madagascar, to study for a bachelor’s degree in physics, which I completed in 2006. In 1987, at a Girl Guides camp in Fandriana, a city about 60km away from Antsirabe, my hometown.With my siblings back in June 1995 during the celebration of Madagascar’s Independence Day.
Economic Commission for Africa142Path interruptedIn 2007, I obtained an Honours degree in energetic physics from the same university. My plan was to work in renewable energy to help address the decit in this sector in Madagascar. However, my graduation coincided with a major development in Africa. In 2012, South Africa, alongside Australia, won the bid to host the Square Kilometre Array, an international initiative to build the world‘s largest radio telescope. Radio telescopes help us to observe the naturally occurring radio waves that come from stars, planets, galaxies, clouds of dust and molecules of gas. Visible light astronomy is based on what we see with our eyes, but it does not tell us the full story about distant terrestrial objects. Each object in the cosmos gives off unique patterns of radio emission that allow astronomers to conduct studies at various wavelengths and frequencies, thereby obtaining more comprehensive information. Radio astronomers may study emission from gas giants, blasts from galaxies or even the ticking signals of a dying star.In its bid to host the Square Kilometre Array, South Africa collaborated with eight African countries, one of them being Madagascar. This process included capacity-building initiatives and funding grants for students to study in South Africa. I was among those selected for the training. In 2008, I enrolled at the University of Cape Town, where I rst obtained an Honours degree in astrophysics and space science, and a master’s degree in astronomy, before commencing doctoral research. In the library of the South African Astronomical Observatory, in 2013.Photo credit: Bruno LetarteIn June 2011, when I received my master’s degree in astronomy at the University of Cape Town.
Earth, Oceans and Skies143Probing stars and galaxiesMy major scientific contribution relates to young massive clusters of stars. Through my doctorate, undertaken between 2011 and 2015, I focused on probing the formation and evolution of the most massive star clusters in the universe. These are dense aggregates of young stars that constitute the fundamental building blocks of galaxies. I demonstrated the impact of the host galaxy environment on the properties of young massive clusters. Galactic environments have been shown to have a significant impact on the evolution mechanisms of young massive clusters. This is the case right from their birth until they are destroyed or become progenitors of present-day globular clusters. Our studies showed, for the first time, that there is a close correlation between the brightness of young massive clusters and the star formation rate of their host galaxies. This research facilitated the detection of young massive clusters in obscured environments. Also, we studied these star clusters in hosts with star formation rates (the mass of stars produced in a year) that were higher than in most previous studies.I continue to conduct research on young massive clusters in different galaxy environments. Since 2015, as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, I have expanded my research interests, scrutinizing radio galaxies in deep, wide-field surveys. Galaxies are believed to have in their centre a supermassive black hole; a great amount of matter packed into a very small area, which is responsible for the active galactic nuclei, one of the most energetic phenomena in the universe. We explore the evolution of these active galactic nuclei to advance knowledge on galaxy evolution in general. To achieve this goal, we search for dying radio galaxies. These are elusive sources that are difficult to detect owing to their fast spectral evolution, yet they provide valuable insights on the final stage in the evolution of a radio galaxy.An image of the young star cluster Westerlund 1 taken with the ESO/Wide Field Imager. Most stars in the cluster appear reddish in this image due to interstellar dust and gas. Photo credit: ESO
Economic Commission for Africa144 Thoughts on astronomy When I accepted a postgraduate scholarship in 2008, I did not fully comprehend how transformative the opportunity to study astronomy would be for me and my career. I believe that I am in the right place at the right time. We are making a signicant contribution to the Square Kilometre Array. We are producing, analysing and testing early data from the South African MeerKAT telescope to demonstrate what to expect from future studies and how to ensure that the data obtained are useful and informative. I have developed extensive skills in the analysis of data and images from facilities like the Hubble Space Telescope operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States; the Very Large Telescope in the Atacama Desert in Chile; the Gemini North Telescope, located in Hawaii, United States; the Very Large Array in New Mexico, United States; and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope in India. I am convinced that science, technology, engineering and mathematics are elds in which Africa should make signicant investment. I want to use my experience to help improve the quality of education in these elds in Africa, as a way of contributing to achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. I engage in awareness-raising and outreach in relation to astronomy and to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. An image of NGC 2422 taken with the ESO/Wide Field Imager, is young open star cluster is mostly dominated by brilliant blue stars. Photo credit: ESOIn Arivonimamo, Madagascar, in front of the old telecom dish, which will be converted into a radio telescope. Photo credit: Kate ompson-Gorry
Earth, Oceans and Skies145I am often asked why I study astronomy and how useful it is in our daily lives. The reality is that astronomy is a long-term investment, and although its benets might not always be evident it has signicant impact in many ways. For example, to study astronomy astronomers need to look deep into the sky. This requires specialized equipment, techniques and skills. Eventually, modied versions of these tools nd their way into our daily lives, such as in the manufacture of wireless network protocols (Wi-Fi), closed-circuit television and mobile phone cameras. Astronomy is a cross disciplinary eld, and it is likely that, at some point in my life, I will nd a way to use it to reconnect with my earlier interest in energetic physics and renewable energy. There is a prevailing narrative that physics is difcult. True, physics and astronomy are abstract, but to me that is where the beauty of these two disciplines lies. They offer us the possibility to explore the unknown and that which we cannot see. They enhance our ability to think. Through astronomy, I have strengthened my creativity, critical thinking and leadership capacities. I am often asked why I study astronomy and how useful it is in our daily lives. The reality is that astronomy is a long-term investment, and although its benets might not always be evident it has signicant impact in many ways.“True colour images of dierent YMC host galaxy environments from my studies. Le: Interacting luminous infrared galaxies Arp 299 with a star formation rate 10 times higher than our Milky Way; Middle: Starburst ring of NGC 1097; Right: Collisional ring galaxy Arp 147. Photo credits: NASA/Hubble Legacy Archive
Economic Commission for Africa146Advancing astronomy in AfricaI support the promotion of astronomy in Madagascar, for example by leading the development of a successful proposal by the country to join the International Astronomical Union. I also use my journey to inspire young girls, to show them that they can achieve their goals and that they have the right to a better future. In 2016, I co-founded an organization known as Ikala STEM (Women in STEM-Madagascar), to contribute to the promotion of education and women in science in Madagascar and among the diaspora. More than 500 active volunteers have joined the movement through our agship fellowship programme. Ikala STEM is run by volunteers and depends on the nancial contributions of members. Since 2019, I have been involved in the advancement of astronomy across the continent as board member and Early Career Representative Ofcer of the African Astronomical Society. During the General Assembly of Ikala STEM in Antananarivo, 2018.Taken in Antananarivo, September 2021. e project was designed and led by Ikala STEM Sub-Saharan African Chapter.
Earth, Oceans and Skies147Parting shotOne of my mentors is Patricia Whitelock, a professor and eminent astronomer in South Africa. Kurt van der Heyden, the Deputy Head of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Cape Town, was especially instrumental and valuable in my postdoctoral research. My master’s and doctoral supervisor Petri Väisänen was particularly good in that role, and he continues to be a sounding board for me. I always ask his advice when I encounter challenges in my research journey. Outside work, I read leadership books to strengthen my skills. Through astronomy-related events and activities, I have travelled to more than 20 countries across the world since 2010. I love to discover new cultures, taste different cuisine and experience varied cultures. I am learning Spanish as a hobby. Visiting the ai National Observatory during the Big Data and Digital Technology Workshop.
Economic Commission for Africa148Economic Commission for Africa148Ground-breakerEvelyne Isaack Mbede (United Republic of Tanzania), is Associate Professor in Earth Sciences, School of Mines and Geosciences, University of Dar es Salaam. The Apollo missions of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States (between 1969 and 1972) aroused in her a dream of becoming an astronaut. But at university, the eld of geology was the option closest to her childhood desire. She has expanded knowledge on sedimentary basins and helped to quantify and mitigate volcanic hazard risks in seismically active areas in the eastern Africa region. She has supported policymaking as Director of Science and Technology in the former Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology of the United Republic of Tanzania between 2007 and 2016. Her current research focuses on unlocking the potential of helium in her country.
Earth, Oceans and Skies149The teacher’s daughterI was born in Njombe, in the south of the United Republic of Tanzania, and grew up in a family of 10 children, nine girls and a boy. During my early school years, I was nurtured by my father, Mwalimu Esau Isikaka Alatanga Mbede, who was a primary schoolteacher, and by the other teachers who rallied round, determined that a colleague’s daughter should not underperform. During my formative years, my mother, Tuladzika Yona Semsosi, was my spiritual guide and pillar. My interest in science began when I was very young. This was the period of the Apollo programme, the human spaceight programme conducted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States between 1969 and 1972. It was this programme that successfully landed the rst human being on the Moon. My father used to tune into the British Broadcasting Corporation on the radio in the mornings, and I found the coverage of the Apollo missions exhilarating, arousing in me the dream of becoming an astronaut. When I joined university, I opted to study geology. This was because the astronauts would bring back rock samples from the Moon for analysis. I felt that, of all the course options available, geology, the study of the Earth, including rock formation and evolution, came closest to my childhood dream. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Dar es Salaam in 1982; a master’s degree in petroleum geology from Imperial College, University of London, United Kingdom, in 1984; and a doctorate in natural sciences, specically earth sciences and basin analysis, from Berlin Technical University in Germany in 1993. In the eld of geology, I have held positions in the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania and at the University of Dar es Salaam for over 20 years, rising in 2007 to the rank of Dean of what was previously the Faculty of Science. After a nine-year stint in policymaking, between 2007 and 2016, I am back at the University in a teaching, consultancy and research role.Conducting eld work during my early career days.
Economic Commission for Africa150 Unearthing wealthMy key scientic contribution in the eld of petroleum and geology, through my studies and during my career, has been the generation of knowledge on sedimentary basins. These are regions where long-term subsidence, that is the sinking or gradual downward settling of the Earth’s surface, creates space for the accumulation of naturally occurring materials known as sediments, which are of great economic importance. Almost all of the Earth’s natural gas and petroleum, its coal and many metal ores, are found in sedimentary rocks. I have conducted analysis of the sedimentary basins of the United Republic of Tanzania, highlighting their geology, their structural evolution, their potential as the basis of crude oil, natural gas, coal and other important energy sources and risk mitigation measures in the exploration of these materials. Other studies have focused on sedimentation in the Manyara Rift in the North Tanzanian Divergence Zone of the East African Rift system, and on the coastal basins of Kenya, Somalia and the United Republic of Tanzania. My research has extended to the history of the denudation of the Malawi and Rukwa Rift anks in the East African Rift system. This research explains the thermal histories, which are the changes in the temperatures of the rocks, in these regions. A major focus of my work has been the generation of knowledge on, and strategies to assess, quantify and mitigate, volcanic hazard risks in seismically active areas, namely, those prone to volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. This research has been vital for volcanic monitoring, for example around Mount Rungwe in Mbeya Region, the south-west of the United Republic of Tanzania, and Oldoinyo Lengai, in the Gregory Rift, south of Lake Natron, in the north-east of the country. Ironically, areas with greatest volcanic activity also have some of the most fertile farmlands due to the release of plant nutrients, such as potassium and phosphorus, through the eruptions. As a result, despite the dangers, these regions are densely populated because of their agricultural productivity. Our goal has been to raise awareness of the potential hazards and to help communities prepare for them, and to live consciously and harmoniously with the geological reality. e summit of Rungwe volcano. I conducted so much research and awareness creation in the area that I am now popularly known as Mama Matetemeko, Swahili for the ‘lady of earthquakes’. Photo credit: Karen Fontijn/Global Volcanism Program
Earth, Oceans and Skies151Unlocking helium potential My current research focuses on unlocking the potential of helium in the United Republic of Tanzania. Helium is a colourless, odourless, insipid and non-toxic gas. Although it is the second most common element (after hydrogen) in the universe, helium is comparatively rare on Earth, and it is the only element that is completely non-renewable. Helium has many remarkable properties, such as a low boiling point, low density, low solubility (it is less soluble in water than any other gas), high thermal conductivity, which is the ability to conduct and transfer heat, and inertness. The most common uses of helium are in space technology to pressurize rocket propellants; in hot-air balloons and dirigibles; in nuclear reactors; protection in autogenous welding, in oxygen mixtures for divers; and as a gas carrier in chemical analysis using gas chromatography. In recent years, the application of helium has diversied, increasing the demand and value of the gas. Helium’s greatest potential lies in its application at very low temperatures, as it is the only coolant that can reach temperatures lower than 15 K (-434ºF or -258.15°C). This ability to liquefy at such low temperatures makes helium a superconductor of electricity. For example, liquid helium is used as a coolant in magnetic resonance imaging, a breakthrough technology that generates high-resolution images of the human body, avoiding the need for radiation. In relation to COVID-19, helium is being used in thermal helium-oxygen therapy for patients and in the storage of vaccines as a coolant to meet the need for cold-chain freezers in the absence of a power supply. Helium is also being employed as a superconductor for advanced quantum computers, machines that use the properties of quantum physics to store data and perform computations and that can encode information more efciently than classical computers, smartphones and laptops. In recent years, the application of helium has diversied, increasing the demand and value of the gas. e United Republic of Tanzania is one of the few countries that has helium resources. Photo credit: Kim Christensen/Shutterstock
Economic Commission for Africa152However, helium is in short supply, with stocks in the main producing countries (Algeria, Qatar and the United States) being exhausted. It has always been known that the United Republic of Tanzania has helium resources, but because the price of the element was low, there was no interest in recovering or producing it. We are conducting our research in the Rukwa region, in the East African Rift system, which is currently the largest known primary helium resource in the world. Helium exploration is a great opportunity for the United Republic of Tanzania to build its research and development capacity by training experts in related disciplines. The gas also holds substantial economic promise for the country, with the possibility of collaboration among researchers, the private sector and international investors in support of the country’s goal of industrialization. We are analysing how the helium resources are distributed and designing production strategies that will have the greatest benet for the country and communities. To obtain meaningful results and make effective recommendations, we are partnering with international institutions, for example to gain access to more sophisticated equipment for analysis. I have conducted analysis of the sedimentary basins of the United Republic of Tanzania, highlighting their geology, their structural evolution, their potential as the basis of crude oil, natural gas, coal and other important energy sources and risk mitigation measures in the exploration of these materials.“
Earth, Oceans and Skies153 Policymaking and capacity-buildingMy contribution to policymaking was as Director of Science and Technology in the former Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology of the United Republic of Tanzania, between 2007 and 2016. I spearheaded the revision and implementation of policies on science and technology, national research, biotechnology and nuclear energy. A key accomplishment was an increase in the national budgetary allocation for science and technology. In 2006, the African Heads of State and Government, under the auspices of the African Union, committed themselves to raising gross domestic expenditure on research and development to at least 1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). At the start of my tenure in the Directorate, gross domestic expenditure on research and development in the United Republic of Tanzania was 0.02 per cent of GDP. By the end, it was about 0.5 per cent. Moreover, instead of committing the funds to pure research and development, we made allocations to improve scientic infrastructure, such as equipment, and to boost scientic human resources capacity. Another accomplishment was support for researchers to communicate their research and to synthesize their ndings for policymakers, for example in policy briefs, for improved uptake of the information and thus, greater impact.I continue to be involved in policymaking and capacity-building. In addition to being a member of the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, I am a member of the board of the Tanzanian Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency and of the council of the University of Iringa. I have served on the boards of the International Atomic Energy Agency, from 2011 to 2013, the Tanzania Industrial Research Development Organization, from 2011 to 2016, and the Tanzania Atomic Energy Commission from 2007 to 2012. Other roles on boards and technical committees include as Chair of the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training, in matters relating to nuclear science and technology (2008), and as the lead in a technical core group that prepared the 2012 submission by the United Republic of Tanzania, on its claim over the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf pursuant to part VI of and annex II to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.Leading a graduation ceremony procession at the University of Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania.
Economic Commission for Africa154Economic Commission for Africa154Health and wealthHassina Mouri (Algeria and South Africa) is Professor of Medical Geology, University of Johannesburg, South Africa. She was born in a small Algerian village called Sidi Hadj Hassein, whose beautiful rocky mountains, rivers and enchanting landscape shaped her professional destiny as a geologist. Currently, she is living her second life in science as a medical geologist. She has helped to develop and promote medical geology, a neglected area of research in Africa, by generating new knowledge and building capacity. She is also creating awareness among policymakers and leaders to mainstream medical geology in developmental agendas, while holding several international leadership roles.
Earth, Oceans and Skies155Place in my heart I believe that where you are born remains in your heart. It is the place of your parents, your grandparents, your people, your roots. I was born in Algeria, in a small village called Sidi Hadj Hassein, in the mountains of Béjaïa Province, about 200 km east of the capital, Algiers. As the seventh of nine children, my childhood was interesting, joyful and full of love and affection. This small village, with its beautiful rocky mountains, rivers and enchanting landscape, shaped my professional destiny. Its riveting beauty made me curious to understand many issues, such as how rivers form and the origin of mountains. I did not know about geology at that time. In fact, I desired to be a medical doctor, inspired by my parents, who were always trying to help others around them. However, as I grew older, I made peace with the fact that my psyche would be terribly tasked by certain aspects of medicine practice. So, I opted for Earth sciences instead. e Tikjda mountains in Northern Algeria, where I conducted my nal eld training as an undergraduate student.With my mother.
Economic Commission for Africa156Geology rocksGeology is the study of the Earth, the materials that it is made from, their structure and the processes acting upon them. Most geological research is associated with the analysis of rocks, as they provide the primary record of the geological history of the Earth. Geologists also analyse unlithied materials, the supercial deposits that lie above the bedrock that typically come from more recent deposits. I trained in metamorphic petrology, which focuses on the mineralogical and textural adjustment of solid rocks in response to changes in physical and chemical processes such as pressure and temperature. I obtained an undergraduate degree at the University of Science and Technology Houari Boumedienne, Algiers, graduating as the outstanding student of the year in geology in 1990. I received a doctorate at Paris Denis Diderot University (Paris 7) in France in 1995 and then conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Minnesota, United States. I also held research positions at the University of Helsinki and the Geological Survey of Finland and worked in collaboration with researchers from the Swedish Museum of Natural History. In 2000, based on a desire to contribute to research and development on my own continent, I returned to Africa. I took up a position as Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geology, University of Pretoria, South Africa. In 2008, I joined the University of Johannesburg in that country. In both institutions, I had the distinction of being the rst female academic in geology. My early career focused on the mineralogical and textural adjustment of solid rocks.
Earth, Oceans and Skies157Second life in scienceIn 2013, I shifted my research focus to medical geology. I consider this transition to be my second life in science, and it has also enabled me to nd a connection between geology and my childhood interest in health.Medical geology deals with the positive or negative impact of the geological environment, including its materials and processes and other factors, on the health of people and the ecosystem in general. These effects can stem from natural materials, like rocks, minerals, atmospheric dust and water, and natural processes, such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Such impacts may also arise from anthropogenic factors, such as mining and the use of agricultural chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. Rocks are made of minerals, which are composed of chemical elements that can be released into the environment, for example in the soil, air and water, through volcanic activity, earthquakes, weathering, rock-water interaction and mining activities. If present in the air as breathable particles, some minerals, such as talc, certain forms of quartz and brous mineral forms classied commercially as asbestos, can cause serious pulmonary health problems. Other chemical elements, such as arsenic, lead, copper, cadmium and mercury, and radioactive elements, including uranium, thorium and radon, are toxic, and their presence in the environment can be detrimental to human and animal health.Examining the mineralogy of geophagic material under the microscope. Photo credit: Patrick Gevera
Economic Commission for Africa158Medical geology also deals with the health benets of geological materials and processes. Various chemical elements, such as calcium, magnesium, iron, iodine, uoride and lithium, are essential for our well-being. A deciency or excess of these elements in food or water can be detrimental to our health. For example, in specic quantities, uoride is important for strong teeth and bones, but excess uoride can cause uorosis, a change in the appearance of the tooth’s enamel characterized by discolouration or physical damage. Iodine is essential for thyroid hormone synthesis and inadequate intake can cause goitres, cardiovascular diseases and growth retardation in children. But too much consumption may precipitate hyperthyroidism with a range of health side effects. Lithium, a chemical element found in minerals, is a mood stabilizer and is used for the treatment of bipolar disorder.Africa has a fascinating, complex and dynamic geological evolution and it is home to some of the oldest rocks on Earth. The continent contains a record of almost 75 per cent of the Earth’s history. Therefore, geological knowledge of the continent is crucial for unravelling the evolution of the entire planet. Africa also has enormous geological wealth and natural resources, including diamonds, cobalt, oil, natural gas, copper and gold. It is no wonder that geologists are intrigued by Africa. Many rst-order questions of the continent’s geology remain unanswered, and mineral exploration and production are huge components of African economies.However, medical geology remains a neglected area of focus in Africa, even though the continent is susceptible to natural hazards such as frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity, pervasive dust storms and water toxicity. Anthropogenic activities, like widespread mining and abandoned open-mining sites, facilitate the release into the environment of naturally occurring harmful minerals and elements, including into water that is then used for irrigation, drinking, cooking and bathing. I believe that an unhealthy nation is not a wealthy nation. Medical geology can contribute signicantly, directly and indirectly, to the achievement of several of the Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 2 (End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture) and Goal 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages). While genetics play an important role in the major diseases listed by WHO as affecting Africa, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma and respiratory diseases, most of them might be connected to geological factors. In addition, an understanding of the environment in which we produce our food is essential for addressing malnutrition and undernutrition in Africa. Crops grown in depleted environments lacking essential chemical elements will not have adequate nutrients and will be of reduced benet to consumers. Moreover, weathered rocks release their chemical elements into the soil, where they become assimilated in plants and are not always benecial. Despite their beauty, these minerals could be harmful due to the presence of arsenic in their chemical composition. Photo credit: Minakryn Ruslan/Shutterstock
Earth, Oceans and Skies159Medical geology is also essential for achieving Goal 6 (Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all). As the population of Africa increases, so does the need for a safe and adequate water supply. In many cases, water is the pathway for the elements present in rocks to enter our bodies and cause health issues. This danger is not always evident; it is often a silent killer, especially in areas where people rely on boreholes or wells for the water that they consume. With regard to Goal 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable sustainable and modern energy for all) and Goal 9 (Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation), medical geology offers knowledge for the safer investigation of chemical and mineralogical processes and their possible health effects. This science also provides strategies for the predictive modelling of harmful elements, development of techniques for their removal and patenting and application of useful elements on an industrial scale. My most signicant contribution in medical geology has been the development and promotion of the discipline in Africa and globally. With funding primarily from the National Research Foundation of South Africa, I have trained a total of 16 postgraduate students from Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria and South Africa. Since 2013, we have published over 30 peer-reviewed articles in journals and chapters in books. We have also made numerous contributions at international conferences, and I have been invited to many such forums as a plenary or keynote speaker. I have also contributed to a chapter in a book entitled Practical Applications of Medical Geology.Together with my team, we have generated substantial new knowledge. For example, our studies in Nakuru, Kenya, indicate rising dental uorosis within the younger population caused by high consumption of uoride, a chemical element common in the volcanoes of the East African Rift Valley, found in the groundwater that is drunk in some households. These ndings imply that rapid population growth and urbanization has placed pressure on public water resources, leading to over reliance on groundwater. In the semi-arid south-eastern region of the country, we found that the groundwater, the main water source for the community, was largely unsuitable for drinking or irrigation. The concentration of total dissolved solids, the hardness, the electrical conductivity and the levels of magnesium, calcium, chloride and uoride exceeded the permissible limits set by WHO and the Kenya Bureau of Standards. The dominant ions, which give the water its high salinity and uoride content, are associated with the reported undesirable taste of the water, gastrointestinal upsets and dental uorosis.In Namibia, Kenya and South Africa, we determined that earth material consumed especially by pregnant women contained traces of toxic elements, such as arsenic, chromium, mercury, nickel and vanadium, above acceptable levels. Geophagia, the habitual and intentional ingestion of soil and clay deposits by people and animals, a controversial, centuries-old practice, is common in Africa, especially among pregnant women, lactating women, children and people with psychiatric disorders. However, some of the elements in the material can have adverse effects on maternal and fetal health. In Nigeria, our studies in the south-west of the country showed high rates of hyperthyroidism in people and revealed that the water contained high levels of iodine, as well as arsenic and lead. In South Africa, our research of the gold mine tailings in Krugersdorp showed uranium levels and high concentrations of radon, a radioactive gas, that were harmful to health. These ndings seemed to correlate with the high frequency of lung cancer in the area. Africa has had a fascinating, complex and dynamic geological evolution and it is home to some of the oldest rocks on Earth.“
Economic Commission for Africa160Policymaking and capacity-buildingMy passion for medical geology stems from its cross-cutting nature. The discipline brings together multidisciplinary, cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary research teams from Earth, natural and social sciences and the humanities, health practitioners and private sector stakeholders. Although this breadth of interrelation is exciting, it also creates challenges, such as disputes between sectors and stakeholders due to contradicting goals and agendas. Indeed, the beginning of my career as a medical geologist was not easy. I unsettled many people and ruffled many feathers. However, I have learned to be diplomatic and respectful. I believe that this is a measure of proper leadership. I consider it my responsibility to convince policymakers and leaders to create space for medical geology in their agendas. I was elected Vice President, for the period 2020–2024, of the International Union of Geological Sciences, one of the world’s largest scientific organizations, becoming the first African woman to hold the position. I am also a member of the UNESCO International Geoscience Programme Council. These are great opportunities that will enable me to continue promoting the importance of research in the field of medical geology in Africa as a crucial component of geoscience. In 2010, at a reception for winners of the African Union Regional Scientic Awards.
Earth, Oceans and Skies161Parting shotOutside work, gardening is my main hobby. Inspired by my mother’s love for nature and animals, I grow fruit trees to attract and feed wild birds, and I have a thriving rose garden. I like to have animals around me; I have cats, chickens, canaries and budgerigars. They are the best companions and were especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. I love classical and African music. I also nd travelling very enriching and stimulating owing to the interaction with new cultures that it entails. So far, Japan has been my favourite country. My garden.My cats.My loving chickens.
Economic Commission for Africa162Economic Commission for Africa162Creating a water atlasFadji Zaouna Maina (Niger) is a computational hydrologist and associate research scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States of America. Driven by legendary water problems in her birth place, Zinder, an old Hausa city in the Sahel, her journey to understand and help to resolve water challenges has taken her from the Niger to Morocco, France, Italy and the United States. She has generated knowledge on water cycles, recharging of aquifers and impact of California wildres on groundwater storage. Currently, she is using supercomputers to piece together data, to essentially create an atlas of water movement in various parts of the world.
Earth, Oceans and Skies163OutlierI was born in Zinder, the second-largest city in Niger, about 900 km east of Niamey, the capital city. I grew up surrounded by my three sisters and two brothers, our parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. While my mother had received formal schooling, my father, a businessman, had not. He was extremely keen that his children, especially his daughters, should have the opportunity to go to school and to become gainfully employed. This was an uncommon approach and indeed many of my peers did not have the same chance, ending up in early marriages. I completed high school at the age of 16, two years earlier than was usual, because I skipped two grades. The rst time it was at the recommendation of the school administration. The second time, it was at my instigation. I decided to take the high school examination a year earlier, thus combining two years of studies in one; I took third year classes during the day, while teaching myself the fourth-year syllabus at night. My decision to make water science my area of study at university was inspired by the legendary water problems in my home city. An old Hausa city that lies in the Sahel – the semi-arid region extending from Senegal eastward to the Sudan – Zinder has historically faced acute water problems. Between 1911 and 1926, Zinder was a trade centre between northern and sub-Saharan Africa and it was the colonial capital of the Niger. However, the town lost its economic and political status, partly due to poor water availability and disastrous droughts. Zinder sits on an elevated, rocky hill, encircled by dry river valleys with no major permanent water body in the vicinity. Impenetrable layers of stone prevent the digging of wells, so the city depends on nearby valleys. Therefore, I grew up extremely aware of water scarcity and I was compelled to follow a career path that would contribute to nding a solution.As a child growing up in Zinder, Niger.
Economic Commission for Africa164 First the Earth, then waterI realized that to be able to understand water issues, I rst needed to study the Earth. Through a scholarship from the Government of Morocco, I earned a bachelor’s degree in geological engineering from the University of Fez, Morocco, in 2011, specializing in hydrology. In 2013, I completed a master’s degree in environmental engineering at the University of Strasbourg, France, where I compared models of how water pollutants, such as chemicals, waste and pathogens, are transported in porous media like rocks and soils. I obtained a doctorate in hydrology from the same university in 2016, at the age of 25, earning nationwide acclaim in the Niger, because few people in the country, and even fewer women, had acquired such a qualication so young. More important, my study on how aquifers, which are underground layers of water-bearing rocks, can be recharged, earned the 2017 Kepler Prize, awarded by Chapitre de Saint-Thomas, for the best doctoral thesis at the university in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I undertook my postdoctoral research in 2016 and 2017 at the Laboratory of Hydrology and Geochemistry of Strasbourg, part of the French National Centre for Scientic Research and Strasbourg University. Through my studies, I developed a mathematical method that enabled more accurate representation of the water cycle, namely, the processes by which water circulates between the Earth’s oceans, atmosphere and land through precipitation as rain and snow, drainage into streams and rivers and its return to the atmosphere by evaporation and transpiration. I conducted similar studies as a postdoctoral researcher at Milan Polytechnic University, Italy, collaborating with institutions in Israel, Portugal and Spain, in 2017 and 2018. In 2016, I earned nationwide acclaim in the Niger, for obtaining a PhD at the age of 25. Few people in the country, and even fewer women, had acquired such a qualication so young.“Although dry and drought-prone, Zinder has great agricultural potential that could be realized with improved water strategies.
Earth, Oceans and Skies165Move to the USAIn 2018, I made the strategic decision to seek opportunities in the United States so that I could access the latest technologies and boost my skills accordingly. I secured a position as a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, California. I chose to go to California because the state has a similar climate and a history of water resource challenges like in some regions in Africa. Against the background of climate change, California is experiencing phenomena comparable to those in Africa, including drought and floods, albeit on a smaller scale and with a difference in its ability to overcome these threats using technological solutions. Because of climate change, the frequency and scale of wildfires in the western United States, including California, is increasing. We conducted seminal research on how wildfires are changing the water cycle, through a study of the Cosumnes River watershed that spans the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Central Valley. This analysis revealed the natural processes at play and helped to delineate impacts resulting from climate and natural disasters and those caused by human activity. Our research showed that the absence of vegetation due to wildfire damage increases snow accumulation, snowmelt run-off and groundwater storage.This research received extensive media attention and put me on the radar of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States. The outcome was an offer of a position as Associate Earth Scientist at the Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center, starting in August 2020. This Center is home to the country’s largest group of scientists, engineers and technologists who build spacecraft and instruments and develop new technologies to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system and the universe. Therefore, we have access to high-resolution data on many occurrences, such as precipitation, temperature and clouds, and on the interaction of water, the climate and people. My research is like putting together a huge puzzle. Using supercomputers, we piece together data to form a comprehensive picture of the water cycle, thereby creating an atlas of water movement, changes in groundwater and water storage and future needs. We have research projects across the world. One of my goals for the future is to translate research into action by enhancing partnerships with policymakers, decision makers and communities across the developing world. In Africa, I have started collaborating with the Abdou Moumouni University in Niamey. During the Berkeley Lab 2019 SLAM: where I made a presentation on ‘Sustainable Water for an Uncertain Future’. Photo credit: Berkeley Lab
Economic Commission for Africa166I strongly believe that greater knowledge and novel technologies are critical for resolving global water resource challenges. In Africa, the lack of automated means of transporting water means that people must live close to water sources, which can become a cause of conflict. This is evident in the Lake Chad Basin, which straddles Cameroon, Chad, the Niger and Nigeria, and is among the most unstable regions in the world today. Lake Chad is one of the largest freshwater bodies in Africa, and it was once the world’s sixth largest inland water body. The effects of climate change, population increase and unregulated water usage have caused the lake to shrink by 90 per cent, giving rise to a complex web of social, economic, environmental and political issues. The reduction of the lake directly threatens the livelihoods of about 10.7 million people, which in turn promotes criminality and terrorism. As the lake recedes, its water has shifted towards Cameroon and Chad, while its shorelines in Nigeria and the Niger have dried up. This scenario forces people to cross national borders to access water.I remain committed to the Sahel, one of the most beautiful regions of the world. Its landscapes are breathtaking and its nature fascinating. Yet, the region’s ecology is incredibly vulnerable. Although I am not a specialist in the geology or hydrogeology of the Niger or the Sahel, the experience that I have acquired abroad is applicable in the country and the region. I am also passionate about knowledge acquisition, gender equality and women’s freedom to address the challenges of climate change, disease, hunger and insecurity. I am constantly researching and writing about girls’ education. Education changed my life, and it is my dream that every girl should have a similar opportunity.During my tenure at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, we tracked links between demography, food security and the probable effects of climate change in six Sahel countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, the Niger and Senegal, and the northern states of Nigeria. Our analysis indicated four steps that were required to head off these effects. Through a paper published in Nature journal, we called on governments worldwide, together with those of the seven countries in our study, to invest in girls’ education; to expand access to family planning information and services; to increase agricultural production; and to improve security using both local police forces and national and international military services. At an event organized by the California Council on Science and Technology, where we presented our research on California wildres. Photo credit: CCSTIn my current position, I have access to high-resolution data, for the creation of an atlas of water.
Earth, Oceans and Skies167Parting shotI have made sacrices in my life, such as constantly moving around and starting afresh on my own in places where I did not know anyone. Nevertheless, everywhere I have lived, I have found welcoming people and made friends. I would encourage other young people to venture beyond their comfort zone to see the world and broaden their minds. If you spend some time outside Africa and then return, you will have a different view of the continent and see its unmatched power.In my free time, I love reading, especially biographies of famous Africans and books on the continent’s history, psychology and sociology. I also enjoy running and nature photography.During a courtesy call to His Excellency, Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, Prime Minister of the Republic of Niger.e Niger River, extending about 4,180 km, is one of the few perennial sources of water in the Sahel.During a visit back to Niger, my home forever.
Economic Commission for Africa168Economic Commission for Africa168Bedrock for blue economyChandani Appadoo (Mauritius), is an associate professor in the Department of Biosciences and Ocean Studies, University of Mauritius. Her research has increased knowledge of marine biodiversity, mangrove ecosystems and sustainable shery in Mauritius and the Indian Ocean. She throws down the gauntlet for the creation of more opportunities to match rising interest, zeal and skills in marine science, to make the blue economy a reality.
Earth, Oceans and Skies169Child of hopeI was born in Mauritius in a small village called L’Espérance, which means “hope”, where I grew up and completed secondary school. I am the last of seven children, and my parents were farmers who mainly grew sugarcane and banana. So, my school holidays were spent working in sugar cane elds. I enjoyed these activities very much as they brought me close to nature. I was inspired into science by my secondary schoolteacher and my preference for life sciences, especially biology. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology from the University of Mauritius in 1992, becoming one of the University’s rst batch of graduates in the latter subject. After a stint as a secondary schoolteacher, I joined the University of Mauritius as a young academic and embarked on a career as a lecturer and a researcher. A turning point came in 1995 when I met Professor John Green, a progressive marine scientist from Memorial University, Canada, who was visiting the University of Mauritius. I was intrigued by the world of marine science, a rich eld that combines studies in the biology, chemistry, geology and physics of oceans and seas. Therefore, I decided to undertake postgraduate studies in marine biology, the study of all aspects of plants, animals and other organisms in the coastal environment, oceans and other salt waters, as well their behaviours and interactions with the environment. Marine biology aims to improve understanding of the marine living organisms and to predict changes in ecosystems due to human and natural disturbances. I completed a master’s degree at Memorial University, Canada, in 1998, and a doctorate, partly undertaken at University College Cork, Ireland, in 2005. Since then, I have risen through the ranks at the University of Mauritius, to my current position as Associate Professor and researcher. My PhD graduation photo.As a child (le), with my niece. As she is just two years younger than me, we grew up together.
Economic Commission for Africa170 Crustacean taxonomyMy main scientic contribution has been increasing knowledge of marine biodiversity in Mauritius and the Indian Ocean through taxonomy. Referred to as the science of naming, dening and classifying groups of biological organisms based on shared characteristics, taxonomy is an important tool in understanding biodiversity, and in developing their protection strategies. My interest in marine taxonomy is due to an existing gap in knowledge on the resource diversity in Mauritius, that is, what species exist and their numbers. While we tend to rely on published data, the marine fauna in Mauritius has mostly been assessed from collections made through brief visits to the island by external researchers. For example, there is limited information on the organisms in the marine intertidal zone; the shoreline ecosystems that enable survival of organisms between high and low tides. And yet, these zones and the coastal ecosystems are experiencing disruptions due to industrialization and tourism. So it is necessary to monitor and document environmental changes within them. e Indian Ocean as seen from Le Morne beach, Mauritius Island.
Earth, Oceans and Skies171Crustaceans comprise a large diversity of organisms, including crabs, lobsters, craysh, shrimps and prawns. Marine crustaceans are as ubiquitous in the oceans as insects are on land and many are consumed by people. I have focused on a group called amphipods. Gammarid amphipods – small, shrimp-like crustaceans – are ideal bioindicators of shoreline and coastal ecosystems because they are ecologically and nutritionally important, numerically dominant, niche-specic, sensitive to pollutants and toxicants and they have low dispersal capabilities. Amphipods also respond to parameters such as dredging, shoreline alterations and shing practices. Moreover, amphipods are a vital part of the food chain as they are fed on by carnivorous shes. So, knowledge of their biology is a baseline for investigations on the feeding habits of nearshore shes. My studies have determined and provided identication taxonomic keys for amphipod species found in the intertidal and shallow subtidal zones in Mauritius. I have reported 69 species, 41 of them being new records for the island. This brings the total number of known amphipod species in Mauritius to 130. Of these, 32 per cent appear to be indigenous to the island. Many of the Mauritian amphipods are widely distributed in the Indo-Pacic, the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacic Ocean, and 57 per cent of them are shared with the neighbouring island of Madagascar. In additional research, taxonomic studies were directed towards the Melitidae and suborder Corophiidea families, two of the most diverse and abundant groups of amphipods among algae in the lagoons of Mauritius. I have studied 49 amphipod species – 26 melitids and 23 corophiideans. 19 new species of amphipods were described. I recorded 12 species for the rst time in Mauritius, bringing the total number of species of melitids and corophiideans recorded from the island to 92.Moreover, I have conducted studies on the reproductive bionomics and life history traits of three gammaridean amphipods, Cymadusa filosa Savigny, Ampithoe laxipodus Appadoo and Myers and Mallacoota schellenbergi Ledoyer from Mauritius. The study demonstrates that the amphipods has more than two offspring per year and that there is continuous reproduction in the three species. This study added new knowledge to the biology of the species, which is not well understood in tropical areas. This information provides a baseline to use amphipods as indicator species, by explaining what is happening in the environment and predicting future impacts.Further research focused on tube-building behaviour in C. losa Savigny on two algae, Sargassum binderi Sonder and Ulva lactuca Linnaeus. We provided new knowledge on materials used for tube construction, the relationship between amphipod size, number of tubes, frequency of tube-building in males and females, and tube dimensions in relation to size of animal. Knowledge on tube building is important, as it shows strategies used by marine organisms for survival, including sharing tubes for ensuring fertilization, or constructing tubes close to the mother’s tube for extra protection. Such knowledge is important to understand what species will be able to survive or are better adapted when faced with environmental changes. Because of their diversity, Amphipods are oen known as the ‘insects of the sea’. Photo credit: JuilaVitry
Economic Commission for Africa172Mangroves About 15 years ago, my teams and I started to evolve our research towards marine biodiversity and coastal ecosystems. This shift includes studies on mangrove ecosystems, which are composed of tropical trees that thrive in conditions that are intolerable to others – salty, coastal waters and the interminable ebb and flow of the tide. These ecosystems act as buffers between land and sea, providing protection against extreme weather. Their deep root systems prevent soil erosion and act as nurseries for fish, shrimp and crab, while their canopies are nesting grounds for birds. Mangroves also store vast amounts of carbon and are thus a key component in mitigating impacts of climate change. Although awareness of the importance of mangrove forests has increased over the past several decades, mangrove ecosystems are under threat worldwide. We have commenced valuations of mangrove ecosystems in Mauritius, providing the first information on families of molluscs (like gastropods and bivalves), that are present in the habitats of loop-root mangroves, Rhizophora mucronata. Our research shows that the arboreal habitats, that is those within the trees, are dominated by Littoraria (a genus of sea snails) species. Our survey provides a baseline information for further investigations. Measuring mangrove biomass, an indicator of their carbon storage capacity. Photo credit: Nico Khamun
Earth, Oceans and Skies173Our premier estimations of above ground biomass and the quantication of litter fall in R. mucronata-dominated mangrove ecosystems provide an important indicator of nutrient turnover and carbon storage. Also, this knowledge has implications on how the ecosystems sustain planktonic species, such as bacteria, archaea, algae, protozoa that drift or oat in water, as well as detritus food webs, that is the breaking down of dead organic matter by decomposers like bacteria and fungi. A number of studies including other fauna, their distribution, forest structure, importance, local perception, threats such as anthropogenic marine debris to mangrove ecosystems in the island have followed since.I have contributed two chapters on mangrove ecosystems to the African Marine Litter Monitoring Manual, intended to provide harmonized, effective waste management strategies, raise awareness and curb this major threat. Specically, we have provided protocols for meso-litter, particles between 5 and 25 mm in width that have been manufactured or produced by people (like plastic beads, industrial pellets, or nurdles), or those that originated from the degradation or fragmentation of larger items, as well as macro-litter pieces that are more than 25 mm in width. I have contributed to a review of the mangroves in the Comoros, Mauritius and Seychelles, including their biophysical settings, historical perspectives, diversity and distribution of mangroves, uses and value, the main threats, management strategies in place and recommendations to strengthen them. This is part of a book chapter on mangroves of the Western Indian Ocean, published in 2016. In collaboration with the Western Indian Ocean Mangrove Network, we are now producing a book on mangrove restoration in the context of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.My ex undergraduate student and now trainee project assistant, Sanjana. Photo credit: Kris Cheenacunnan
Economic Commission for Africa174Fish in the seaOur research has veered towards marine life and society, for example through sheries biology – knowledge on sh populations, the environment and humans. We have provided knowledge that will improve shery of the sea cucumber, unusual, interesting marine animals that are considered a delicacy in Asian countries. We have shown the inuence of environmental factors such as salinity and temperature, and biological factors such as stocking density and feed type on the growth and survival of juvenile sea cucumbers.Also, through PhD students, we have generated new knowledge on the reproductive development and classication, as well as the ecological and nutritional characteristics that are essential for the management of albacore (Thunnus alalunga), one of the smaller tuna, and a highly economically important species in the Western Indian Ocean. The reproductive parameters will increase the certainty of assessment models and assist the sustainable shery of albacore.Further knowledge has been gained on the Frenchman seabream, Polysteganus baissaci, an important commercial sh species found on the slopes of the shing banks of the exclusive economic zone of Mauritius. Exploitation of this species in Mauritius started in 2007, and it is carried out with the use of hydraulic reels with baited hooks. The introduction of suitable management measures is important, guided by a sound understanding of the biology of the sh. It is recommended to include controls to limit shing through a closed season from 1 July to 31 August, to reduce the likelihood of recruitment overshing, and technical controls to ensure that large hook sizes are maintained so as not to catch juveniles.Also, through collaborative team research, we have developed an innovative smartphone app for the identication of sh species in the lagoons and coastal areas, including estuaries and the outer reef zones of Mauritius. The app will be useful to governments, marine managers, sh farmers, shers, shmongers, boat owners, seafood industrialists, marine biologists, oceanographers, tourists, students and the public at large. Albacore tuna sh unnus alalunga.Photo credit: Shutterstock
Earth, Oceans and Skies175Policymaking and capacity-buildingAt the social event of the Africa-Australia Award workshop in May 2019, with Happiness Venant (le), a sheries ocer from Tanzania. Photo credit: Deepeeka KaullysingOur activities are in alignment with the emerging concept of the blue economy, which encourages better stewardship and sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, livelihoods and ocean ecosystem health. The blue economy vision is closely interlinked with the Sustainable Development Goals. Indeed, in everything we do – including designing our teaching courses and programmes – we incorporate ideas on these two aspects, through a participatory process with various stakeholders. We inuence policy directly and indirectly. For example, I have been involved in several project technical committees at the Mauritian Ministry of Environment, and also at other high level committees at the Ministry of Blue Economy, Fisheries, Marine Resources and Shipping. I also served as a board member of the Mauritius Oceanography Institute, established in January 2000 to rationalize and coordinate research and development activities in this sector. In 2019, I was the only Mauritian review editor of the sixth edition of the Global Environment Outlook of the United Nations Environment Programme, the world’s most comprehensive environmental report, which calls for policy interventions that address entire systems in order to lead to healthy lives for all people.As is the case for many researchers in Africa, funding is a major challenge. We are grateful to obtain resources from the University of Mauritius, the Government and regional bodies such as the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association. But it is difcult to marshal support for basic science
Economic Commission for Africa176research, for example taxonomy. The emphasis by funding agencies on applied research that have a societal impact is justied. However, we must not compromise fundamental science as the basis for strategies and technologies and as part of our mandate as scientists to contribute to the global scientic knowledge hub. It is important that researchers and funders nd a way to combine both aspects. Having been a university lecturer for close to 30 years, I have trained several batches of undergraduate students in biology, marine and environmental science, and in science and technology. Many of them are working in Africa and across the world. I consider capacity-building to be more than academic skills. I believe research skills are also important, an aspect I emphasize in all my training and mentorship. So far, I have supervised more than 90 research projects at the undergraduate level, six master’s projects, one Master of Philosophy degree and two doctorates. To encourage and develop student research and presentation skills, around 50 abstracts have been presented either as oral or poster presentations at local, regional or international conferences, including some award winners. In Africa, we have an arguably tight community of marine scientists. For example, during the eleventh Scientic Symposium of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association in 2019 we had 650 participants. Also, I nd the new generation marine science students to be extremely dynamic and enthusiastic. They are excited by the challenge of the discipline as well as its thrills – diving and snorkelling – they want to do outdoor activities and to take up opportunities to work directly with communities. For example, some of my students volunteer to work in research projects, including restoration projects on islands and islets. The challenge is to keep pace, by creating more jobs to match interests, zeal and skills. Therefore, we must strive even harder to make the blue economy a reality. Our research is veered towards marine life and society - understanding the fundamental components including marine biodiversity, biology, ecosystems, the environment and their impacts on humans.“
Earth, Oceans and Skies177Parting shotIn my free time, I like gardening, sports and exercises including yoga and tae bo, a body tness system that incorporates martial arts techniques. Also, I used to play the violin, and I have joined the new trend of YouTube cooking.The most transformative moments of my life was becoming a mother – I have a son and a daughter I had quite a difcult pregnancy that required nine months bed rest. It was very tough, but I had the support of the University and family members. As a career woman, nothing compares to being a parent.In 2004, with my son who was two years old at the time.In 2012, I started playing violin for relaxation.
Economic Commission for Africa178
1794. MATERIALS SCIENCE
Economic Commission for Africa180180Light innovationTebello Nyokong (Lesotho and South Africa) is Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology at Rhodes University, and Director of the Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre for Sensors, South Africa. Her journey into science started in Lesotho, a scenic land of tall mountains and narrow valleys, and has largely proceeded in harmony with the “new South Africa”. She is using laser technology and nanotechnology to address challenges in health, most notably the development of photodynamic therapy for cancer and safe water. She is a champion for science, technology and innovation capacity-building and policymaking in South Africa and across the continent.
Earth, Oceans and Skies181Scenic land of mountains and valleysI was born in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, a mountainous, landlocked kingdom encircled by South Africa. My father, a South African, worked in the building industry while my mother, who was from Lesotho, was a homemaker. This was a time characterized by rising anti-apartheid resistance movements and political instability in South Africa. Therefore, at the age of 8 years old, I was sent to live with my grandparents in Lesotho. In the country, sheep rearing has always been a major source of livelihood and during my childhood the community relied on children to shepherd this livestock across the network of rivers and mountain ranges. So, I joined the well-established routine for youngsters: putting in shifts tending the animals and attending school on alternate days. My parents believed in education and indeed, my father rmly held it to be the armament to topple apartheid. Their greatest desire was that their children would obtain more education than they had. As a young girl I had rather basic wants – to have shoes and enough food to eat. What I had in abundance though, was the ethics of hard work, the love of education, a sharp intellect and the ability to dream; elements that have stood me in good stead throughout my life and made me who I am today. My scientic journey started in Lesotho, a scenic land of tall mountains and narrow valleys where I found solace in nature’s beauty, learned to appreciate the science in that nature, to bond with the environment and ask questions about it, to listen to the birds and identify them, to know which plants are edible – to have an inquisitive mind. e famous Sani Pass between South Africa and Lesotho, reminiscent of my dual heritage and scientic journey.Photo credit: ShutterstockAs a child in Maseru, Lesotho, where I was born.
Economic Commission for Africa182Irresistible allure of scienceWhile I had huge ambitions, there was a limit. At the time there were not many people in the community who had gone far; no role models in terms of education or career. Indeed, in high school, peers and teachers dissuaded me from mathematics and sciences – subjects that were deemed too difcult for a girl; a dead end for young women whose ultimate destiny was marriage and family. I joined the arts class, but, unable to resist the enticement of science, I switched classes with just two years of high school left, thus cramming four years of physics, biology, chemistry and advanced mathematics curriculum into half the time. Upon completing high school, I found myself at yet another crossroads. My desire to proceed to university was at odds with my family’s quite logical expectation that I would secure a job to support my siblings who were still in school. There were also concerns about when I would get married if I kept going. I was independent minded, envisioning that one could be a wife and a mother, a breadwinner and contribute to society. I did not want to disrespect my family. So, I compromised. I worked for a year – mixing cement and concrete and laying bricks for my father’s construction company until my younger sister completed high school.As a high school student.
Earth, Oceans and Skies183Induction into chemistryIn 1973, I enrolled in the National University of Lesotho. It was here that I was inducted into the world of chemistry through the infectious enthusiasm of a young American lecturer, Dr. Gray, a volunteer of the Peace Corps programme run by the United States Government. Chemistry is the study of the composition, structure, properties and reactions of substances, dened as elements and compounds. This eld of science aims to understand the structure of atoms, the basis of an element; and molecules, groups of two or more atoms. Further, the discipline is concerned with the use of natural substances and the creation of articial ones. Chemistry is often referred to as the central science because of its role in connecting physical sciences with life sciences and applied sciences such as medicine and engineering. While at this point I had no clue what careers chemistry would lead to, I felt I had found my place in it. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology from the National University of Lesotho in 1977. I then obtained a scholarship from the Canadian International Development Agency to undertake postgraduate training in Canada – a master’s degree in chemistry from McMaster University in Ontario in 1981, and a doctorate from the University of Western Ontario in 1987. In 1990, I received a Fulbright Fellowship to conduct postdoctoral research in the Radiation Laboratory of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, United States of America. I returned to the National University of Lesotho in 1987, where I served as a lecturer for ve years. Chemistry aims to understand the structure of atoms and molecules. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Economic Commission for Africa184Harmony with a new South AfricaThe watershed of my career came when I joined Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, as a senior lecturer in 1992. My arrival coincided with the dawn of a new era as the country took the nal strides towards the end of apartheid leading to the ultimate fall of the regime in 1994. This was a very signicant period for anyone, scientists as well, to be in South Africa. Indeed, my career has progressed in harmony with the country’s evolution.The post-apartheid Government embraced research as a critical cog in the reconstruction and transformation of South Africa, promoting a vision of science and technology for the common good. But apartheid left a mixed legacy for this sector in the country. On one side was a sophisticated infrastructure emerging from the need for self-reliance – in response to global sanctions against apartheid – in industries like the military, food security and energy. On the other side, support for science and technology lacked transparency and was heavily skewed towards applied research and very specic projects. For example, at least half of the nancial budget was allocated to military-related research. Also, the apartheid regime had led to academic isolation and it had also cost the country huge numbers of trained personnel in most elds. Within this context, the most critical goals for science and technology in post-apartheid South Africa included translating the apartheid infrastructure into a more useful developmental resource for the country. There was also need to create clear channels to support capacity-building and research. The university system and institutions of research required reforms to create more inclusive and effective environments, especially for black academics and students. e fall of the apartheid regime marked a new dawn for South Africa. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Earth, Oceans and Skies185Signicant advances have been made in addressing these challenges through various institutions and policies. One of the enduring institutions is the Council for Scientic and Industrial Research, founded in 1948, which remains the country’s central and premier scientic research and development organization, and the continent’s largest research and development organization. In addition, in 1994, the new South African Government established a ministry of science, technology, arts and culture, later spinning off the Department of Science and Technology as a separate entity. In 1998, the National Research Foundation was created as the funding body for human resource development, including postgraduate training, as well as natural and social sciences. Efforts led by the Council for Scientic and Industrial Research, the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation have resulted in signicant gains in State funding for science, engineering and technology, and a refocus on areas in which South Africa has global advantage. The Department and the Foundation have also instituted measures to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation at South African public universities. An example is the establishment of the Research Chairs Initiative in 2006, designed to strengthen and improve the research and innovation capacity of public universities to produce high quality postgraduate students and research and innovation outputs. The Foundation has set up a rating system for researchers in South Africa, with the following categories: “A”, leading international researchers; “B”, internationally acclaimed researchers; “C” established researchers; “P”, prestigious awards; and “Y”, promising young researchers. The “A” rating is a prestigious honour accorded to researchers who are recognized by their peers as leading international scholars in their eld, and for the high quality and impact of their recent research. In 2009, I received the L’Oréal-Unesco Award for Women in Science for Africa-Arab States.
Economic Commission for Africa186 Laser-my guiding lightMy major research focus is physical inorganic chemistry, incorporating the use of laser technology and nanotechnology to address developmental challenges such as health and safe water. Physical chemistry applies the concepts and theories of physics to the analysis of chemical properties and reactive behaviour of substances. Inorganic compounds are those not organic in nature, for example materials made from rocks and minerals such as ceramics, stone, metal and glass. These compounds intervene in biological processes, serving as catalysts to speed up chemical reactions, as well as in the synthesis of new materials. The laser – an acronym derived from “light amplication by stimulated emission of radiation” – is an electromagnetic radiation that emits equal amounts of light in terms of frequency and wavelength, which fuse together into a high-energy, highly coherent monochromatic light pulse. This beam is stronger than ordinary light and, because it has a small diffusion angle, it does not spread out, making it very direct and focused. Laser technology has a myriad of uses – from scanning barcodes, measuring distances, conducting communications to applications in surgery and the treatment of diseases, as well as in industrial processes, construction, mining and energy production. Nanotechnology equipment in my lab.
Earth, Oceans and Skies187Nanotechnology is an extremely disruptive emerging eld of science that focuses on the manipulation and control of atoms and molecules at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometres. (A nanometre is equal to a billionth of a metre, that is 0.000000001 m). The aim is to design and develop materials that are stronger, lighter, more durable and reactive. South Africa has a long history of laser technology. For example, from the 1980s the country used lasers for weaponry, and in the separation of isotopes of uranium to produce nuclear power. After the abandonment of such initiatives in the late 1990s, the Council for Scientic and Industrial Research and the Department of Science and Technology amalgamated the equipment, facilities and expertise to form the National Laser Centre of South Africa in 2000. The country has also been foresighted in nanotechnology, with the formation of the South African Nanotechnology Initiative in 2002, and the adoption of a nanotechnology strategy led by the Department of Science and Technology. The synergistic and concordant relationship between global scientic advancements, my research interests and the country’s prudence in this sector is evident. In fact, one of the most dening moments of my research came in 2002, when I obtained state-of-the-art equipment for my laboratory from the National Laser Centre through its rental pool programme. In 2007, I was awarded a Research Chair in Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology by the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation. And as part of the South African nanotechnology strategy, the Department established two national nanotechnology innovation centres, one of them being the Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre for Sensors, of which I am the Director. In 2011, I was named Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Rhodes University; and in 2013, I was accorded an “A” rating by the National Research Foundation. My key area of research is the development of photodynamic therapy for cancer. This is a non-invasive treatment that combines drug-containing photosensitizers – molecules that can be activated with laser light to destroy cancerous and precancerous cells.“
Economic Commission for Africa188Cancer therapyMy key area of research is the development of photodynamic therapy for cancer. This is a non-invasive treatment that combines drug-containing photosensitizers – molecules that can be activated with laser light to destroy cancerous and precancerous cells. We are developing drugs from compounds called phthalocyanines, intensely blue-green-coloured materials commonly used in dyeing, for example blue jeans, but which can be chemically engineered for other uses. These drugs are injected into the heart of a tumour, and then the molecules are subjected to laser radiation causing a toxic chemical reaction in the cancer cells. I am combining the molecules with nanotechnology-enhanced drug delivery using carbon, metallic nanoparticles including quantum dots, human-made nanocrystals that enable more targeted distribution and metabolism of the drugs. Although it has numerous benets, photodynamic therapy has limitations. First, lasers are expensive and difcult to maintain. In addition, the treatment cannot replace surgery and, because it is localized, it cannot work for cancers that are spread to different parts of the body. Also, the drug must be properly targeted at the cancerous tissue to avoid destruction of healthy tissues by the sun. Should the nanocrystals in the drugs leak out, they could attach themselves to the blood, or to other parts of the body with adverse consequences. Therefore, we are conducting thorough preclinical testing and trials on the application and the toxicity of the therapy through a multidisciplinary approach involving chemists, biologists, biotechnologists in South Africa and across the world. A further area of my research is a collaborative initiative with researchers in Canada and Kenya and elsewhere in Africa to nd new ways of sustainable water purication. This projection is especially important in Africa, where water contamination is one of the major threats, due to run-offs from industrial and agricultural waste, urbanization and poor sanitation, among other factors. Phototreatment of water is a promising alternative to such methods as chlorination and ozonization, as it limits harmful side-products and by-products that can cause damage to people, animals and the environment. A further area of my research is a collaborative initiative with researchers in Canada and elsewhere in Africa to nd new ways of sustainable water purication.
Earth, Oceans and Skies189 Capacity-building and policymakingI am keen on capacity-building and policymaking in science and technology in South Africa and across the continent. At these two levels, we need more science, and we need to create leaders. South Africa is a country of contrasts, combining characteristics of advanced and developing countries. We have good infrastructure, funding and political goodwill for science and technology. But for the country to achieve its ambitions and to become a global leader in this sector, certain improvements are necessary.For a start, science teaching requires a massive overhaul, starting with the training of teachers and a shift from the predominantly grade-based system, which places learners and trainers under insurmountable pressure. It is also necessary to address the apathy towards science subjects, which are viewed as more challenging than others. In many cases, students end up with theoretical training only. It is important that they are also equipped with research skills. The curriculum and training materials should also be reviewed to become more localized and immediate to students and the general public. And public awareness on the importance of science in everyday life must be raised.In discussions with a visiting researcher (right) from Fudan University, China.
Economic Commission for Africa190I believe that one of the continent’s greatest assets is its young talent, which is waiting to be discovered and nurtured. In fact, one of my main driving forces is to see young people succeed. I have trained about 150 chemists from across Africa at master’s degree and doctoral levels, including women. I am aware that, for the continent to achieve its socioeconomic dreams, we must tap into all our resources, female and male. Therefore, while I mentor many girls and women, I also maintain that boys and men require attention too. Further, we have to address the innovation chasm – the inability of academic research to reach the markets as products – in South Africa and around the continent. Currently, there is insufcient research that is directly inuencing our economies. We must create effective strategies to translate scientic outputs into innovative products that address our developmental challenges. One way to achieve this is by attracting and enabling national, regional and international industries to invest in research. In this process, role models and champions for science and technology are important. In 2015, I received the Order of Mapungubwe in Bronze, from abo Mbeki, at the time the President of South Africa.
Earth, Oceans and Skies191Parting shotI remain committed to all these aspects: lending my voice to the transformation of South African education. I hope that through my research, its impact and numerous global recognitions, I serve as an example to young people, policymakers and the general public, demonstrating that a person’s background and circumstances do not determine their capabilities, and that obstacles are surmountable. e diverse group of postgraduate and postdoctoral scholars undertaking studies in my lab in 2022.
Economic Commission for Africa192Brilliant lightGihan Kamel (Egypt) is the infrared beamline principal scientist at the International Centre for Synchrotron light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME), on leave from the Faculty of Science, Helwan University, Cairo, where she is a lecturer in biophysics. She chose science as a rebellion against negative discourses on the role and place of women in Egypt, on cultural and societal aspects of their situation, and has worked to mainstream crystallography and its applications in Egyptian industries. Her research has proven the utility of infrared microspectroscopy in biomedicine and bioarcheology. She is also committed to science diplomacy and the engagement of more African women in the International Centre.
Earth, Oceans and Skies193Early rebellionI was born and raised in Cairo. My mother was a doctor and my father was a history and geography teacher and I am the oldest child, with just one sibling, a brother. As a child I was a fast learner. I grew up in a house full of books and I displayed a natural love for reading at an early age. I am told that, from as young as two years old, I was attracted to any reading materials, like newspapers and books, which I would attempt to “read”, but would just look at the pictures. I also loved colouring books, and I was intrigued by toys and puzzles. My interest in science started in high school, where we had to choose between arts and scientic disciplines. I was alert to discriminatory narratives by the wider society and some of the male teachers and professors I encountered, that women do not belong in science. Women, it was maintained, can study humanities but not natural sciences or engineering, which should be left for men. In a way, my choice of science was a rebellion against such discourses. The Arab culture and religion and its ideals on the role and place of women presented a different set of barriers. I knew I would have to work exceptionally hard to gain knowledge and to become as skilful as possible to rise above such biased, erroneous perceptions. Thus, I developed a strong determination to excel. Specically, I choose physics because I loved it. I was curious and compelled to understand this discipline that is considered one of the most difcult in science. e vibrant city of Cairo, where I grew up.Photo credit: Shutterstock
Economic Commission for Africa194Towards the lightIobtained my rst degrees from Helwan University, Cairo: a bachelor’s degree in physicsand a master’s degree insolid state physics. Solid state physics is the study of the physical properties of rigidmatter orsolids, which forms the theoretical basis for the design and discovery of new materials. I chose this eld because I found it stimulating and also because I was interested in one of its subelds, X-ray crystallography, which uses electromagnetic radiation to determine the atomic and molecular structure of crystalline solids in a three dimensional space. The method reveals the structure and function of many biological molecules, including vitamins, drugs, proteins and nucleic acids such as DNA. In 2007, I was awarded a training scholarship by the National Research Council of Italy, to explore the theoretical and practical aspects of macromolecular crystallography using new programmes to determine their protein structure, at the Institute of Crystallography of Bari, Italy. Particles being slammed into one another inside a synchrotron.Photo credit: Shutterstock
Earth, Oceans and Skies195My doctorate inbiophysics, obtainedin 2011 fromLa Sapienza University in Rome, was motivated by a desire to strengthen my outlook as a scientist by embracing a multidisciplinary approach to research. Known as the bridging science, biophysics combines two usually segregated perspectives: physical science, which uses mathematics to explain what happens in nature, and life sciences, whose aim is to understand complex biological systems. Thus, biophysicists apply the theories and methods of physics to understand how biological systems work. My focus was on learning biophysics techniques by undertaking research on ways to enhance the functionality of enzymes by adding nanoparticles. We combined various physical, biological and chemical techniques, adding nanotechnology and biotechnology discplines, to characterize the properties and functions of enzymes. In 2012, I was appointed Lecturer in Biophysics at Helwan University, a position which I have held since then.In 2014 and 2015, I was appointed as a beamline researcher at the Dafne Light synchrotron radiation facility at the Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati, in Rome. A synchrotron is a particle accelerator that produces very brilliant light – intense beams that are more than a million times brighter than the sun. Particle accelerator synchrotrons are like super-microscopes and they are based on the principle of accelerating electrons to generate high energy. These electrons are forced by strong magnetic elds to travel in a circular orbit inside the synchrotron tunnels. Synchrotron light can be generated across the entire electromagnetic radiation spectrum: from X-rays, which, although similar to visible light, have higher energy and can pass through most objects; to infrared light, whosewavelengthsare longer than those ofvisible light, and are therefore invisible to the human eye although we can feel them as heat. The synchrotron lightis ltered and emitted as dozens of thin beams into experimental workstations, or beamlines, where it is employed in numerous laboratory applications such as spectroscopy, microscopy and diffraction experiments across numerous disciplines. Each beamline is designed for use a specic technique or research. At Dafne Light, I worked with other scientists to advance my research interests in exploring the different applications of the synchrotron infrared microspectroscopy technique.We are also evolving the model of “science for peace”. For example, with Africa being the only continent in the world without a light synchrotron, we are exploiting the connection points between the Middle East and the continent.“
Economic Commission for Africa196Open SESAMEIn late 2015, I joined the SESAME project as the infrared beamline responsible. SESAME is modelled on the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which was established at the end of the Second World War to unite European scientists and enable countries to share the costs of nuclear physics facilities. Today, the Organization operates one of the largest particle physics laboratories in the world.Ofcially launched in 2017 under the auspices of UNESCO, the SESAME project had been in the making since the 1990s. Based in Jordan, SESAME is the only synchrotron light facility in the Middle East and neighbouring regions. The facility was conceived with a dual vision: to motivate scientic excellence in the Middle East, and to serve as a bridge for peace in a region long characterized by tensions and conict. From nance, expertise and human resource perspectives, the construction of a synchrotron light facility would be impossible for individual countries in the Middle East. Moreover, despite disagreements, the countries of the region have common links in developmental challenges and a wealth of archaeological and cultural heritage. Thus, it seemed rational to bring together scientists, engineers and technicians to exploit these connections, guided by the logic of science, with scientic results and solutions; in other words, to follow the ideological approach of “science for peace”. Currently, the SESAMEproject brings together eight Members: Cyprus, Egypt, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey and Palestine. I rst visited SESAME in 2005, when I attended the annual Users Meeting, one of several forums convened under the project, including throughout the establishment process. These events bring together scientists from the Middle East and international experts. In 2012, I was nominated to represent Egypt in the SESAME Users Committee, which acts as the link between users – researchers and scientists of participating countries – and the SESAME management. Aware of the volatile nature of the Middle East, I was sceptical about the ideological principle of “science for peace” followed by SESAME. The science presented during the meeting was impressive, but even more awe-inspiring was the sight of supposedly conicting groups of people in one place, sharing tables, talking about scientic collaboration. By the end of the meeting, I decided that I wanted to be part of this community. Working on the SESAME infrared microspectroscopy, the only one of its kind and is in great demand by scientic communities in the Middle East.Photo credit: SESAME
Earth, Oceans and Skies197But when my current position at SESAME was announced, I deliberated for a long time before applying for it. I knew that joining SESAME would mean burning labels: nationality, religion, culture and gender, and I wanted to make sure that I could do that. This role represents a new challenge in my scientic career. Since my appointment in August 2015, I am responsible for the SESAME infrared microspectroscopy, a completely new beamline designed and built in collaboration with the French light source, the SOLEIL synchrotron. For ve years, I was the sole team member of this particular beamline, coordinating its construction, administrative, technical and managerial aspects, installation, commissioning, operation and development. It was only recently that I welcomed a colleague to work with me. A major hurdle was that, initially, I had limited knowledge of the workings of such a complicated system. So, I invested in strengthening my expertise on each single component, on all the subsystems such as electronics, mechanics, vacuum, optics and motion systems. I was fortunate to have a great mentor at SOLEIL. The infrared microspectroscopy beamline commenced operation in November 2018. It is the only one of its kind and is in great demand by scientic communities in the Middle East. A powerful and highly sensitive technology, the system has a variety of potential applications in exploring biomedical research, surface and materials science (such as the characterization of new nanomaterials), geology, archaeology, art restoration, cultural heritage initiatives, environmental issues, plant and marine biology and space science. We have two thrusts of activities: assisting researchers from all over the world to run experiments and conduct detailed analysis of materials; and conducting in-house research. SESAME IR Beamline. Photo credit: Noemi Caraban Gonzalez/SESAME
Economic Commission for Africa198My main areas of focus are biomedicine and bioarcheology. In collaboration with researchers from Jordan, we have conducted studies that have proved the utility of infrared microspectroscopy in generating pathophysiological knowledge, that is, understanding of the physical processes associated with various diseases. Our insights include use of the technique for better comprehension of diabetic nephropathy (diabetic kidney disease), which causes progressive kidney dysfunction and is partly responsible for the high morbidity and mortality in diabetic patients. We have also established that infrared microspectroscopy can improve diagnosis and discernment of pre-eclampsia, a serious hypertensive disorder in pregnant women, whose causes are unclear and for which diagnostics and treatments are unreliable. Also, we are collaborating with researchers from Pakistan to conduct experiments that will distinguish between benign and malignant cancer tissues. In archaeology, we supported researchers from Malta and the United Kingdom in their research on an Egyptian mummied head thought to date back to the rst half of the eighteenth dynasty, New Kingdom (1570–1400 B.C.E.), which belongs to the Museum of Forensic Anthropology, University of Madrid, Spain. Previously, the researchers had used the histopathology technique, which suggested, but left unconrmed, the possibility of a disease on the mummy’s skin. Using the infrared synchrotron, we conrmed the presence of the disease, by illuminating the fact that all the proteins, all the lipids of the biological tissues were degraded in the deceased. We are supporting an archaeologist from Cyprus who is working on ancient human remains dating back to 5,000 years ago, collected from the east of the Islamic Republic of Iran; a Jordanian user who is analysing historical fragments from Petra, a famous archaeological site in Jordan; an Egyptian user who is characterizing historical manuscripts; and an Iranian user working on historical parchments from the Qur’an. Biomedicine and bioarcheologyFourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). Such technology is improving, for example through superior imaging of cells. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Earth, Oceans and Skies199Science diplomacyThe SESAME project has had a huge impact on the scientic community and social economic development in the Middle East. The initiative turns the wheel of history to the golden age of Muslim civilization, when many fascinating, yet often underappreciated advances and discoveries in science, technology and medicine were made, spreading across the world and inspiring people of different faiths and cultures. Indeed, SESAME reminds us of the legacy of the Muslim and Arab scholar, Ibn al-Haytham (965–1040), referred to as “the father of modern optics”, who made important contributions to the understanding of vision, optics and light. Today, women Arab scientists are restricted by society and geopolitics. In fact, I am an outlier, in that I have been able to travel and work abroad. Many are only able to travel to other Arab countries, and not internationally. Thus, SESAME opens the door for scientists in the Middle East to simultaneously maintain ambition and tradition, and to break rules occasionally. The SESAME project has also proved that the scientic endeavour exceeds national motivations, borders andpersonal labels. It demonstrates that scientists can work together despite the relations between their governments. But, despite progress, we remain vigilant to the fact that conicts and tensions in the Middle East continue, with implications for all aspects of life, including the state of science and the future of young generations. This is the case in many parts of the world where economic and cultural, societal factors hinder progress and ambitions. SESAME serves as a model for “science for peace”; science as a neutral power, complementing political diplomacy.Photo credit: Marga Gual Soler
Economic Commission for Africa200Thus, at SESAME, we consider it our great responsibility to conduct intense awareness creation and lobbying within the Middle East, to scientists, leaders, policymakers and the general public, in partnership with national institutions, scientic bodies and international organizations. We want to underscore the ideal of SESAME as a model for “science for peace” – how science can serve as a neutral power, complementing political diplomacy. We also want to re-emphasize the importance of modern science and technology as distinguishing factors between developed and developing countries. And we also want to ensure that SESAME continues to thrive, by having more members for sustainable nancial, resources and operations. We are also evolving the model of “science for peace”. For example, with Africa being the only continent in the world without a light synchrotron, we are exploiting the connection points between the Middle East and the continent. Recently, the SESAME project signed a memorandum of understanding with the African Light Source Foundation, which is mandated to drive the establishment of an advanced light source in Africa. The goal is to enable participation of African scientists in the SESAME project. I am a member of the Foundation’s Executive Committee, I serve on its Board of Trustees and I am the Deputy Chair of its Strategy Committee and Co-convener of the Light Sources Group of the African Strategy for Fundamental and Applied Physics. In Egypt, I support the mainstreaming of crystallography and its applications in Egyptian industries, linking researchers with the private sector and research institutions. This is made possible by contributions to the Egyptian Society of Crystallography and its Applications, and I am a member of the Egyptian National Committee of Crystallography and Egyptian Academy of Scientic Research and Technology, as well as Co-coordinator of the Egyptian Synchrotron Users’ Network, Egyptian Academy of Scientic Research and Technology.
Earth, Oceans and Skies201Women in science Only recently have I dared to acknowledge that it was not just my scientic ambition or qualications that brought me to SESAME. It was also my passion and my dream to prove that Arab women of any nationality and any religion can be good scientists, and to demonstrate a full capacity for hard work, thereby confounding many stereotypes and misconceptions. I am not proud of the fact that I am still the only woman scientist at the SESAME project. We receive a good number of applications from women researchers. But I think the environment of a synchrotron can be tough for female scientists; it requires compromises between traditions and family life. But on the positive side, women are still trying, pushing and applying to conduct research, training or short fellowships at SESAME. Indeed, many of our publications come from women scientists. I consider it a personal mission to highlight and engage more African women in international collaborations and projects. More broadly, I urge young female students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to explore their horizons and not to be afraid to break societal rules that stand in the way of their scientic ambition. Presenting a TED Talk in 2015, titled: ‘Science shines light in the Middle East’Photo credit: TEDxCERN
Economic Commission for Africa202202Engineering for AfricaFlorence Uphie Chinje (Cameroon) is a professor at the University of Yaoundé I, Cameroon, and rector of the University of Ngaoundéré, Cameroon. As a child, she loved challenges and thrived on rules. Thus, she was attracted to science by its distinctive standards and norms. Through a career in the eld of metallurgy, she has contributed to the development of sustainable, environmentally friendly, low energy, and low-cost materials in Cameroon. In academia, she is advancing science, technology and engineering in Cameroon and Africa, as well as pioneering partnerships with the private sector.
Earth, Oceans and Skies203 Love for rulesI was born in Cameroon, the middle child among eight siblings: three boys and ve girls. Growing up, I was a tomboy who liked climbing trees, loved a challenge and thrived on rules. During our childhood games, I chose to take on roles that epitomized discipline and the creation of order, like a medical doctor.My choice of science stemmed from a natural talent and an attraction to the distinctive standards and norms of scientic knowledge. In secondary school, I had a chemistry teacher who made the subject fun and easy to grasp. To this day, I remember his approach to teaching us the periodic table of chemical elements. In addition, my mother was a teacher of domestic science, a subject with in-built science, such as the chemistry used in cookery techniques, and one in which I excelled. I was particularly procient in mathematics. Our teacher, a priest, would reward good performance with a sweet. I always used to receive such treats, and the idea of a girl dominating would upset the boys very much. Sometimes, a minor sense of dominance is all it takes to boost one’s condence, and these experiences fueled my natural ability in the sciences. Most students did not like science subjects and were amazed by how quickly I understood what we were being taught. At one point I was in a class reserved for the brightest students; we enjoyed the competition, but our over-inated egos compelled the school to change its approach. Me (middle, back row) at 6 years old, with some of my sibblings.
Economic Commission for Africa204Scientific journeyI obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1980 and a master’s degree in inorganic chemistry in 1981, both from the University of Yaoundé, Cameroon. I then obtained a doctorate in engineering metallurgy at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London, United Kingdom, in 1984. Metallurgy is the science of extracting metals from their ores and modifying them for use.The eld also focuses on the chemical, physical and atomic properties and structures of metals and the principles whereby they are combined to form alloys, namely, metals made by amalgamating two or more metallic elements for greater strength or resistance to corrosion.Over the years, I rose from a lecturer to Professor of Metallurgy in the Department of Inorganic Chemistry at University of Yaoundé I. I introduced materials engineering to the department and made various improvements, like ensuring the availability of the laboratory equipment needed for mineral and chemical analyses, providing training for doctoral students and creating pilot training centers to produce industrial units.As a young university student in Cameroon. Celebrating on PhD presentation day at the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, UK.
Earth, Oceans and Skies205Better materialsMy main scientic accomplishments have been in the development of sustainable, environmentally friendly, low energy, low-cost materials as substitutes for imported products widely used in the building and construction industries in Cameroon. Our research has focused on improving the physical, chemical and mechanical characteristics of the natural minerals available in Cameroon, including iron ore, bauxite, clays, limestone, aggregates, feldspars, volcanic ashes, laterites and trona, and of industrial waste, such as rice husks, sawdust and waste from red bricks. The focus has not been on patenting the results, but rather on developing basic technical formats for the production and use of low-cost, ecological materials.Between 1999 and 2017, I was Director of the Local Materials Promotion Authority of Cameroon. I led a process that enabled the sustainable development and use of locally fabricated materials such as compressed earth, red bricks, dimension stones, ceramics and roof tiles. This accomplishment involved two years of extensive lobbying of technical ministries, State corporations and the Prime Minister’s Ofce. We created several production units within the Authority to conduct research and demonstrations. In addition, we built the capacity of students, builders, researchers and the general public. The ultimate milestone came in March 2007, when the Prime Minister of Cameroon issued a circular guiding the use of local materials in the construction of specic public buildings in the country. These ecological, locally produced materials are available to the public at low cost, and technology transfer centers are ensuring that they are gradually being integrated into the architectural landscape of all 10 regions of Cameroon.Houses in Cameroon constructed using locally produced materials. e roof and oor tiles are made of red bricks, dimensioned basalt, mica, schist and silica stones, and felspatic grains.
Economic Commission for Africa206Communication of scientic knowledge, to share information and encourage local production, is an area that I am passionate about. I think my artistic and communication-oriented side was inuenced by my brother, Eric Chinje, a renowned Cameroonian journalist, who also held senior international communication positions. I have edited several journals such as the African Journal of Materials and Minerals, previously the African Journal of Building Materials, and the Materials Solutions magazine. I was also guest editor of a special issue of the Scientic World Journal on applications of low-impact materials and technologies in building and construction.Engineering in Africa faces numerous challenges. Our continent has vast resources that could be used for the much-touted goal of industrialization. In Cameroon, and across the continent, many large-scale industries are internationally owned, often without proper contractual arrangements to guarantee the incorporation of local technical and human resources or without provisions for local capacity-building. Science communication, awareness and capacity-buildingReceiving the presidential best researcher of the year award in 2009.
Earth, Oceans and Skies207In some instances, labour is imported, even for the most basic tasks. Other challenges include inadequate infrastructure, including roads and electricity provision, and inadequate enabling policies in science, technology and innovation. Africa also faces a shortage of engineers due to the declining interest and enrolment of young people, especially women, in the eld. Even worse, those being trained are not being utilized properly because of the lack of new industries. One of my key focuses is the promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Africa and beyond. Since 1998, I have served as President of the African Industrial Minerals Network and as a memberof the Technical Advisory Committee of the African Institute for Economic Development and Planning. I have also participated in key forums focusing on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa. Engineering in Africa faces numerous challenges. Our continent has vast resources that could be used for the much-touted goal of industrialization.“Photo credit: Freepik
Economic Commission for Africa208I am involved in the conferences on science, technology, engineering and mathematics run by the African Studies Center of the University of Michigan, United States, both in Michigan and in Cameroon. In 2017, I co-organized the fourth conference of the University’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics-Africa Initiative, on Africa–United States Frontiers in Science, with the participation of more than 60 people from abroad and all State universities and research institutions in Cameroon. In 2019, I was a keynote speaker on the topic of encouraging women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for development in Cameroon during the launch of the Cameroon national chapter of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World. I am a Visiting Professor at the University of South Wales, United Kingdom; and a member of the Advisory Board at Vishwakarma University, India.In 2017, I was appointed Rector of the University of Ngaoundéré, a position that has become a good platform to continue research and advance science, technology and engineering in Cameroon and Africa. One of our major accomplishments is the creation of the University of Ngaoundéré Innovation Centre of Excellence, to drive partnerships between the private sector and the University, to make the most of research results and the huge potential of the university community. A series of projects, with the participation of the University, the private sector and civil society, are currently being implemented, and several are already operational. These include the University of Ngaoundéré Innovation Centre of Excellence Cooperative; the University of Ngaoundéré Industrial Pole in partnership with Agritech France; the Common Economic Grouping by the University’s Institute of Technology; the Civil Engineering Consultancy Group; and the development and commercialization of therapeutic products in partnership with Climark, Poland, and Brain Research Africa-Cameroon.
Earth, Oceans and Skies209 Parting shotDuring my free time, I exercise by walking and running to keep t, and I dedicate a huge amount of my time to prayer. I am also a member of the Central Committee of the ruling political party in Cameroon. I visit my children (three biological and several other children) and my siblings who are spread out in the UK, Canada, Australia and the United States. I have also travelled widely to many parts of the world for work and leisure.With my three biological children: Talo, Nantoh and Yogo.
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211SPECIAL (POSTHUMOUS) MENTION
Economic Commission for Africa212(8 April 1956–31 March 2020) was a Ugandan-South African scientist and researcher and Chief Scientic Ofcer in HIV prevention at the Aurum Institute in Johannesburg, South Africa. Born in Kampala, her family was forced to ee when Idi Amin, a former Ugandan President, expelled all Asians from the country in the early 1970s. She attended high school in India before obtaining a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physiology from the University of Sunderland, United Kingdom, where she met her husband, Pravin Ramjee. They moved to his home country, South Africa, in the 1980s, where she completed doctoral research on the role of proteinuria in childhood kidney diseases in present-day University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. Gita’s professional mission was to ensure that women, especially those from marginalized communities, were not overlooked in the response to HIV. Best known for her research on the use of vaginal microbicides to reduce the risk of HIV transmission, she built a network of internationally renowned clinical research sites and was a key advocate of a holistic approach to HIV prevention in women. Gita held honorary professorships at the University of Washington, Seattle, United States; the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom; and the University of Cape Town, South Africa. In 2018, she received the Outstanding Female Scientist Prize awarded by the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership. Gita Ramjee
213(10 December 1933–2019) was a distinguished Egyptian academic and crystallographer with a long career in physics and the scientic education of women in Arabic-speaking countries. She was Professor of Solid State Physics at Ain Shams University in Cairo and had been Chair of the Teaching Commission of the International Union of Crystallography for three years and President of the Egyptian National Committee on Crystallography for the International Year of Crystallography in 2014. Her postdoctoral research focused on small impurities in metals. The discovery of transistors had shown how these small additions to a material could radically affect its properties. Ms. El Sayed specialized in the detection of impurities in materials relevant to industrial metallurgy and in semi-conducting materials. She always had strong views about the role of women in science and founded the women’s section of the Physics Department at King Abdulaziz University, Saudi Arabia, in 1975. She often cited gures showing that the majority of scientists working on materials who had created patents were women. She gave lectures to younger women about her heroine Marie Curie, offering her as a role model.Karimat El-Sayed
Economic Commission for Africa214(25 October 1957–4 February 2017) was Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at Mulago National Referral Hospital in her native Uganda. She was also responsible for forensic services at the country’s Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital. She obtained the degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at Makerere University in 1982, a diploma in tropical medicine from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom, in 1984. She also held an honorary doctorate from Kampala International University. During her career, Margaret served as President of the Ugandan Medical Association, a position to which she was re-elected ve times. In 2013, she became the rst female President of the World Medical Association. In 1990s, she founded the non-governmental organization Hope after Rape to provide psychosocial support services to rape survivors during the rebel insurgency in northern Uganda. She was also an honorary lecturer at Makerere University and was known to accompany her students on visits to local prisons to provide psychiatric services to inmates. Margaret Mungherera
215(29 December 1939–21 January 2015) was a prominent South African scientist and world leader in the study of seeds. She made highly signicant breakthroughs in understanding the inability of certain seed species (recalcitrant seeds) to survive for a sufciently long period in storage, which undermined food security in the developing world. Pat spent almost all of her 48-year career at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, where she held various academic titles. She was a globally recognized researcher, earning numerous accolades, include membership of the Academy of Science of South Africa, where she served as Vice-President; and The World Academy of Sciences; a fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa and a fellow of the University of Natal. In appreciation of her contribution to the plant sciences, the South African Association of Botanists awarded her their silver and gold medals. Pat also received the Order of Mapungubwe (silver), the highest honour granted by the President of South Africa. Also, she held a South African National Research Foundation “A” rating, signifying world leadership in her eld, and received the Foundation’s President’s Award for Lifetime Achievement. During her career she was also president of the International Society for Seed Science. In the International Seed Testing Association, she was a member of the Seed Storage Working Group of the Moisture, helping to found its Storage Committee, and holding various positions, including Chair between 1995 and 2001. Pat is remembered as an exceptional mentor.Patricia (Pat) Berjak
Economic Commission for Africa216(1 April 1940–25 September 2011) was a Kenyan social, environmental and political activist and the rst African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1964, she obtained a degree in biological sciences (1964) from Mount St. Scholastica College (now Benedictine College) in Atchison, Kansas, in the United States. In 1966, she graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, also in the United States. She then pursued doctoral studies in Germany and at University College of Nairobi, before obtaining a doctorate in 1971 and becoming the rst woman in East Africa to earn such a qualication. At the University of Nairobi, she became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy in 1976 and Associate Professor in 1977. In both cases, she was the rst woman in the region to hold such a position. She devoted her life to promoting the environment and democracy. Driven by the perception that there was a connection between environmental degradation, poverty and conict, in 1977, she founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization that focused on the planting of trees, on environmental conservation and on women‘s rights. She mobilized Kenyans, particularly women, to plant more than 30 million trees and inspired the United Nations to launch a campaign that led to the planting of 11 billion trees worldwide. More than 900,000 Kenyan women beneted from her tree-planting campaign by selling the seedlings needed for the reforestation effort. In 1984, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for converting the Kenyan ecological debate into mass action for reforestation. Wangarĩ Muta Maathai
for a prosperousAfricaIdeastoAction This publication, Earth, Oceans and Skies has been produced as part of the ‘Championing the Decade of Action’ initiative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). Its rather unusual title metaphorically unies two themes: science and gender, as a mighty, transformative force on every aspect of our existence.The scientists featured in this publication are exemplars who have been selected through an informal, yet rigorous process.Presented as condensed autobiographies,their storiescreate a mosaic ofindividual journeysinterwoven with the historical, political and socio-economic contexts that inuence the science, technology and innovationendeavour in Africa.Earth, Oceans and Skieslaysthe foundation for ECA to continue torecognize many other commendable women who have not been included in this edition but are nonetheless noteworthy and deserving of celebration in their countries, communities and cohorts.This acknowledgement will be an important cog in ongoingconcerted eorts to break the cultural and institutional barriers that women and girls continue to face in science, technology, engineering and mathematics elds.©2022 United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, All rights reserved.