One of the most exciting parts of our work is meeting and learning about the many amazing scientists and researchers in Africa. To celebrate the end of an amazing year, with the help of our friends, we decided to compile a list of ten of the most inspirational people working in and passionate about science on the continent. In no particular order, here are our African science heroes:
1) President Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim
Linda Waireri of the Engineering Lab, Africa, nominated President Gurib-Fakim as an African science hero for her ‘strong efforts to boost science diplomacy on the continent.’ Before her appointment as President of Mauritius, HE Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim enjoyed a distinguished career as a bioscientist. Passionate about preserving traditional knowledge and plant resources, she compiled the first inventory of aromatic and medicinal plants native to Mauritius and surrounding islands. In her role as President, she has been a powerful advocate for a science-led development agenda for Africa, and a strong enabling environment. We are delighted that she is our Vice Chairman and Trustee, and look forward to watching the impact she achieves!
2) Dr. Richard Munang
Dr. Richard Munang is currently United Nations Environment Programme Africa Regional Director, and was nominated by his colleague, Robert Mgendi. Of his friend and colleagues, Mgendi writes, “In the three years I have worked with Dr Munang, I have learnt that scientists can effectively communicate scientific facts to all audiences, and inspire much needed action. Dr Munang led in the development of the 1st and 2nd Africa Adaptation Gap Reports that have now become Africa Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) flagship publications. These provided a stack analysis, based on scientific facts, of how Africa is losing economically as a result of climate change, and recommended steps to be taken to address these issues across the board.
His most recent public lecture , ‘Optimising Africa’s food security value chain for incomes and job creation in Africa’, at the University of Nairobi attracted students, academia, private sector actors, and other important stakeholders. Strongly underpinned by scientific facts, his lecture was delivered with practical examples on the role each of these diverse actors should play, and in the process, inspired them to act.
I applaud Dr. Munang for his solutions-focused approach to science”.
3) Professor Caroline Langat Thoruwa
Our Africa and Marketing Relations Officer, Pedro Vaz, nominated Professor Caroline Langat Thoruwa, Director at the City Campus of Kenyatta University, Kenya, and an organic chemist. What Pedro really admires is that Professor Thoruwa actively supports programmes that encourage female students to study STEM subjects from primary to higher education and pursue careers in these domains. A founding member of African Women in Science and Engineering (AWSE) in 1999, she currently serves on the board of International Network Women Engineers & Scientists (INWES). We hope to hear about the scientists and researchers that her work has touched!
4) Ahmed Hassan Zewail
Ahmed Hassan Zewail is a world-renowned chemist who became the first Egyptian scientist to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences in 1999. Dr. Zewail is known as the ‘father of femtochemistry’, the study of chemical reactions across femtoseconds. As the Royal Academy of Swedish Sciences explains, his work shows that ‘it is possible with rapid laser technique to see how atoms in a molecule move during a chemical reaction’, and enables us to understand why certain chemical reactions take place and not others. Applications include the creation of new medicines and more. Hopefully, Dr. Zewail’s work will inspire a new generation of chemists in Egypt and the wider African continent.
5) Dr. Sylvia Anie
Aspiring neurosurgeon and co-founder of the African Research Academies for Women (ARA-W), Kwadwo Sarpong, nominated Dr. Sylvia Anie as his ‘African science hero’. He says, “Dr. Sylvia Anie is a Ghanaian chartered scientist, and fellow of both the Royal Society of Medicine and the Royal Society of Chemistry. She holds a patent for research carried out at the University of Manchester, UK, in the area of Magnetic Resonance Imaging and for further research performed at the Institute of Neurology, London. Furthermore, Dr. Anie served as a member of the Monitoring and Evaluation Reference Group on HIV and AIDS, UNAIDS, Geneva, and on the International Steering Committee of 16th International Conference on AIDS & STIs in Africa.
Throughout her career, Dr. Anie has driven reforms to protect the marginalised, and sharpen clinical access to treatment, care and support. She has also driven policies to empower girls and women to access quality and affordable health service and education, and serves on the advisory board for ARA-W”.
6) Uyi Stewart, Chief Scientist, IBM Research-Africa
We admire Uyi Stewart for showing that the private sector can truly help spur scientific and technological advancement on the continent. As Chief Scientist for IBM Research-Africa, Stewart helps to oversee the company’s first research facility on the continent, which focuses on creating commercially viable solutions to Africa’s grand challenges.
A great example of the company’s approach is EZ-Farm, a project to help small-scale farmers become a more productive part of Kenya’s economy. With growing demand and soaring prices for fruits, vegetables and flowers in Africa in recent years, the number of entrepreneurs investing in small scale farming across the continent has boomed. Many of these are tech-savvy business people living in urban areas who can only travel to visit their out-of-town farms at the weekends. IBM research scientists are looking at how Big Data and Internet of Things technologies can help this new class of ‘telephone farmer’ better manage the water resources needed to irrigate and grow crops on a small scale. Projects such as EZ-Farm will surely have a great impact on food security in the coming years.
7) Shobna Sawry A researcher at the University of Witwatersrand, Shobna Sawry received one of the 2015 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Fellowships for her outstanding scholarship. Shobna’s work at the Institute of Reproductive Health and HIV focuses on antiretroviral therapy in children aged one to five years, and tuberculosis. Our hearty congratulations go to Shobna for winning such a prestigious prize!
8) Alain Nteff and Conrad Tankou
We applaud Cameroonian entrepreneur and engineer, Alain Nteff, and Dr. Conrad Tankou for creating Gifted Mom, a mobile health platform that uses low-cost tech to help mothers and pregnant women access medical advice. Nteff came up with the idea for the app in 2012 when he visited a hospital in Cameroon where his friend, Conrad Tankou, was practising medicine. During this visit, he saw several mothers and newborns die from preventable and treatable conditions, which made him and Conrad brainstorm ways that they could harness their skills to address maternal and infant mortality. From this sprung Gifted Mom, an SMS service that sends pregnant women and mothers reminders for vaccinations, check ups, and answers any medical questions. So far, Gifted Mom operates in Cameroon and Nigeria and 6,700 pregnant women and newborns are registered. We wholeheartedly support Nteff and Tankou’s vision of a world free of maternal and infant deaths!
9) Dr. Mosoka Fallah
Born in Monrovia, Liberia, Dr. Mosoka Fallah is a Harvard-trained epidemiologist and immunologist who has led the fight against Ebola in his home country. As one resident of Monrovia told the New York Times, “We can say openly: Had he not been there, things would have gotten far worse”. Dr. Fallah is also leading a study called the ‘Ebola Natural History Study’, which seeks to monitor Ebola survivors to learn more about the long-term health effects of the illness. We applaud Dr. Fallah for his impressive leadership during this crisis, and look forward to hearing more about the Ebola Natural History Study.
10) Julie Makani
Julie Makani, a Tanzanian researcher, is one of the most prominent haemotologists in Africa whose work on anaemia and Sickle Cell Disease has led to new understanding of the illnesses. She says that although Sickle Cell Disease is a major cause of infant mortality on the continent, there is little research around treatment options. Makani also notes that her objective is to ‘invest in science and use science to improve health in a way that can be applied far beyond the SCD context’. We look forward to hearing what else this dynamic scientist achieves!
This piece was first published on the blog of the Planet Earth Institute and compiled by the organisation’s executive team.