Akin Jimoh: 00:11
Hiya, welcome to Science in Africa, a Nature Careers podcast collection. I’m Akin Jimoh, chief editor of Nature Africa. I work and dwell in Lagos, and I am obsessed with selling science and public well being journalism in my native Nigeria and throughout Africa.
On this collection, we’re going to discover the apply of science on this great continent, the progress, the problems, the wants, and within the phrases of the African scientists who’re primarily based right here.
On this first episode, we meet Dr Ifeyinwa Aniebo. She’s a molecular geneticist, an infectious illness knowledgeable presently working within the subject on the malaria drug resistance initiatives.
What’s Africa like for the brand new technology of scientists coming via? I kicked off by asking her concerning the normal state of affairs.
Ifeyinwa Aniebo 01:14
I feel it is evolving. So perhaps 15 years in the past, it was type of not the place it was purported to be in any respect. There appeared to have been a scarcity of, you recognize, analysis tradition, in a variety of African international locations.
Now (now being the final at the very least 5 years), there’s been numerous funding, and collaborations and partnerships throughout the board.
So for instance, you might have partnerships that prepare younger, you recognize, subsequent technology scientists, and you recognize, to do Masters or PhD or postdoctoral coaching. You’ve got establishments that get funding for all of those coaching actions.
So it’s nonetheless evolving, as a result of we’re not the place we purported to be, as a result of the science of the second is not actually translating to modern concepts that may remedy our well being issues.
And so the issues that I feel which might be the three main points that we’re dealing with on the continent:
The primary can be funding. There’s actually a scarcity of funding, you recognize, for science and analysis. There’s additionally, there’s additionally a scarcity of home funding for coaching the subsequent technology of scientists in tertiary establishments.
And that is really an issue, as a result of if nearly all of the cash that comes into science is from worldwide and multilateral organizations. Then then once more, you recognize, it then turns into a problem, by way of setting the agenda and priorities for analysis, and making an attempt to unravel the native issues that we have now, you recognize.
We in all probability all know, Africa shoulders, what 25% of the worldwide illness burden, We sadly solely simply contribute about 2% of the world analysis output, which is sort of abysmal. We solely account for like 1.3% of analysis spending. And we solely produce 0.1% of all patents. In order you’ll be able to see, by way of that funding, and the output, it is actually poor.
And after we now speak concerning the human useful resource for science, the African scientist, we have now 198 per million African scientists on the continent.
If you evaluate this to the UK or the US, with 4500 per million, there’s clearly a variety of hole there. And the difficulty with that is that after we fail to put money into African science it then turns into very tough to develop homegrown, sustainable options to African issues.
So funding is essential. Funding analysis, funding scientists, funding the improvements round that. It takes some time, however it’s very sustainable. In order that’s one drawback that I feel is a matter throughout the board in Africa.
One other subject, the second, can be the infrastructure drawback, proper? So constructing infrastructure is essential, as a result of after we are coaching younger medical doctors, younger PhDs, younger postdocs, you need to retain them, as a result of if you happen to do not retain them, they’re gonna go.
There’s going to be one other mind drain of them going into international locations just like the UK and US, the place there are many wonderful alternatives (at the same time as a younger scientist) to develop, so that you’re gonna lose your expertise.
So infrastructure is essential. You understand, we have to create an ecosystem for innovation. And this consists of laboratories.
This additionally consists of wonderful good highway networks as a result of you should go from one lab to a different. It’s worthwhile to go from the sphere to the lab. It’s worthwhile to take your samples from the sphere in a really preserved method to the laboratory, and the highway networks are essential..
However most significantly, electrical energy. You possibly can’t do any scientific experiment if you happen to should not have fixed electrical energy.
Like, I could not run a PCR machine with out electrical energy, proper?
If the sunshine goes off proper in the course of the experiment, and I do not actually know what, that is inconclusive. In order that’s an essential half.
And the very last thing that I might say is prioritizing ladies in science. We’re not prioritizing ladies in science. I do know that we are able to speak about this a lot afterward.
However these are the three areas that I feel that if we centered on, we’d begin to have a sooner evolution. Should you like.
Akin Jimoh: 05:15
Wanting on the issues, you talked about funding, you talked about infrastructure, and in addition encouraging ladies in science.
You understand, will you say it is simple to change into a scientist in, as an instance, Nigeria, or extrapolate to Africa typically?
Is it simple to change into, you recognize, a scientist? I imply, you need to use your self for instance?
Ifeyinwa Aniebo 05:37
Okay, so I might say that it is simpler now to change into a scientist. And the rationale I am saying it’s because over the previous couple of years, you recognize, there was funding, you recognize, We have seen, you recognize, some huge cash being put into establishments to coach the subsequent technology of scientists.
We have additionally seen a little bit of position fashions, you recognize. For instance, the final COVID-19 exhibits that Africa is principally able to be, you recognize, to take science critically.
We sequenced the COVID-19 genome in Africa.
So Nigeria was the primary nation that sequenced, and the establishment that did this was the African Centre of for Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Ailments in Osun State.
The second establishment that did this was additionally an establishment in Ghana. So these are the individuals sequencing this stuff are younger, younger Africans, the opposite ones sequencing this, these genomes, proper.
In fact, they’ve a director who’s the mentor. However these are the younger individuals doing it. And so I actually assume that we’re, we’re in a greater place, in comparison with say, 10 years in the past, when it was nonetheless evolving.
So I feel it is just a little bit simpler, as a result of you might have, you recognize, just a little little bit of funding. You’ve got extra alternatives, you’ve got bought extra entry. Nevertheless it’s nonetheless very tough.
So once I was rising up in Nigeria I solely bought all in favour of science, not as a result of I used to be being taught actually properly to be sincere. I did not notably take pleasure in maths or any of these science topics in Nigeria. I didn’t, and that that then goes again to the instructing, how precisely will we train these topics? And the way do you make younger individuals all in favour of it?
I bought all in favour of science, as a result of I am simply, I’ve simply been a curious baby.
So sadly, once more, which can also be one more reason why I bought into malaria analysis, I had a finest buddy who died of malaria. And he or she was actually like my finest buddy, as a result of we had comparable pursuits. We liked comedian books. We liked X-Males, and we liked watching Dexter’s Laboratory. So we had so many issues in widespread.
And he or she died as a result of the drugs that was given to her, chloroquine, to deal with her malaria, on the time was resistant. So she was saved being given a variety of doses, however it did not clear the malaria parasites within the blood. And we had been what, eight, 9 years outdated? And so she died. And if you recognize, malaria impacts principally youngsters in Africa, so youngsters are those extra prone to it.
In order that clearly modified the best way that I felt about malaria, modified the best way that I felt about science. And simply my curiosity. I began to ask questions, which, sadly, a variety of medical doctors within the hospitals could not actually reply.
However fortunately, I had a extremely….my father was such a beautiful man, however he actually engaged me in all my questions. He may not even have had the solutions, however he would get his buddy to the place, you recognize, physicians, to actually reply me.
And I did perceive that it was due to drug resistance, which is why my buddy died.
And in order that form of sparked my curiosity. So my curiosity is a bit completely different, as a result of I clearly began getting , as a result of, one, I used to be curious. And two, as a result of I had the private, you recognize, tragedy that form of bought me into that.
However I might say that, typically, science in Africa is best than it was earlier than. Nevertheless it’s nonetheless not simple. Due to the the issues which might be highlighted, the issues highlighted earlier than. The infrastructural issues, the shortage of funding. With out this ecosystem, you’ll be able to’t actually do the form of science that you just need to do, sadly.
Akin Jimoh: 09:01
You had various experiences. I imply, sorry about your your buddy. And, you recognize, there is a saying that curiosity killed the cat, however your curiosity, you recognize, takes you to science. And let me ask. “When and the way did you change into a scientist?” You understand, are you able to inform us your story? I do know you’ve got talked concerning the story about your buddy, however inform us your story.
Ifeyinwa Aniebo 09:25
So I might begin with…so dropping my buddy and getting very interested by, you recognize, I used to be interested by drug resistance, really, which is fascinating.
So I wasn’t notably within the specific space. Though malaria killed her and I’m a malaria researcher at present, which clearly, that is form of join.
Nevertheless it was drug resistance that bought me , as a result of the best way that it was defined to me as a result of I used to be such an X-Males fan. My dad’s buddy principally simply used what I understood (as a result of I used to be actually younger). I used to be, I used to be 9 years outdated.
I used to learn a variety of comics. I used to be a comic book geek, and so he principally defined to you me and mentioned “You know the way the X-Males have skills that make them, you recognize, adapt higher, and simply evolve to be higher superhumans? That is principally what occurs with the parasites. So slightly than the parasite getting killed by the chloroquine that your buddy was given, it did not get killed. It simply saved multiplying within the blood system till, sadly, it took a life.”
In order that for me, that resonated with me. And so I all the time had that behind my thoughts.
And so I went to England, and my dad and mom despatched me to boarding faculty in England. And first time, I extracted DNA from my lunch, salad cress. And I used to be taught that the DNA is principally the blueprint of life.
And so I began to actually join DNA and parasites, understanding the genetic make-up of the pathogens round us.
And that is precisely…..as a result of understanding that may make me perceive why they even change into resistant.
So, so that is the place, throughout my GCSEs, I began to get actually all in favour of drug resistance and biology on that stage.
And so I utilized to review genetics, at College of London. Queen Mary, College of London. And through my college in London, I used to be very obsessed a couple of bacterial bacterial genome which impacts individuals, it causes sepsis. And in order that was principally my undertaking.
And so I used to be all in favour of drug resistance in that individual micro organism. Till I carried on. I did different you recognize, analysis. I labored for a couple of years, a Grasp’s on the College of Nottingham. I additionally attended the College of Oxford, I did a PhD, I bought right into a PhD program on the College of Oxford. And I’ve labored at, you recognize, genetic establishments, Illumina within the UK.
I do know most individuals learn about Illumina now as a result of they’re those that…they’re very fashionable for theeir sequencing machines. So that they’re the rationale why we’re, we’re capable of efficiently sequence genomes. That’s Illumina platforms.
So I’ve labored in genetic analysis for a really very long time. And so that is principally my story. And I’ve simply adopted my ardour via via analysis and dealing in that space.
Akin Jimoh: 12:20
Let me ask you one query. Since you’re a pupil, how has the enterprise of science in Africa modified, or how has it progressed?
Ifeyinwa Aniebo 12:29
Properly, I’ve highlighted the challenges, and I’ve highlighted the place precisely we’re on the continent.
However I additionally assume that, for instance, while you take a look at a rustic like South Africa, there’s been a variety of, you recognize, funding within the personal sector. Investments in, like, biotechnology, proper?
You are getting all of those cool startups popping out to do actually wonderful issues.
And I actually assume that that is starting to unfold throughout Africa. So you might have Nigeria, you might have some startups as effectively, within the biotech house, you might have some in Kenya, you might have some in Ghana, as effectively.
So what I feel is altering, I feel…one factor that from my very own expertise is altering. I might say that, as a result of (I additionally really feel actually strongly about it) is you recognize, how principally we have now a standard path in science, when you might have your PhD, then you definitely go on to do your postdoctoral coaching for about seven years or so, 4 to seven years.
And then you definitely go into college, do the lectureship, in all probability change into a professor in some unspecified time in the future. You understand, the normal route principally. I spotted that a variety of youthful persons are not doing that, notably, as a result of we’re in a unique technology.
After which we are also very obsessed with fixing our fast issues round us. And so a variety of us are occupied with, you recognize, modern methods utilizing, you recognize, being entrepreneurial, in addition to fixing utilizing the entrepreneur path to unravel the issue.
As a result of, once more, funding is wonderful. However when the funding comes from outdoors, it is not very sustainable. You’re gonna hold going from one, you recognize, funder to a different.
And typically everybody has their very own precedence. So if you happen to’ve bought your personal precedence, you’ll be able to’t actually do what you need. You need to do what the funder desires, primarily based on their precedence.
And for this reason home funding is essential. As a result of if international locations begin to put money into science, then younger Africans will begin to actually do the analysis that basically issues them within the native context.
So now what you are seeing is that youthful persons are utilizing – getting different – utilizing different means, like enterprise and funding startups to create options like diagnostics.
We’re most cancers diagnostics, and younger individuals doing that. We have a biotech firm in Lagos, which additionally does, tries to gather human genome in order that we’re being represented on the earth. So there’s so many issues which might be taking place.
And I feel that within the subsequent 5 to 10 years it can evolve even sooner. However I feel it is only a begin. It is simply beginning to change in that regard. And I am, I am actually trying ahead to the way forward for that, really.
Akin Jimoh: 15:01
I believed that was fascinating, how the tragedy of dropping a childhood buddy as a result of malaria drug resistance, had given Ifeyinwa the drive and fervour to aim to unravel that drawback in grownup life. I used to be additionally shocked by these statistics.
Africa shoulders 25% of the world illness. But African scientists produce solely 2% of the analysis outputs, contribute only one.3% of the analysis spending, and efficiently secures lower than 0.1% of patents.
And the opposite stunning quantity that maybe clarify these percentages that solely 198 per million Africans are scientists, in comparison with 4500 per million within the UK, and the US.
So I needed to know. Is that this due to the shortfall of ladies in science?
You made point out of, you recognize, ladies in science. Are the important thing challenges, or are there key challenges that may work towards the skilled progress of feminine scientists in Africa?
Ifeyinwa Aniebo 16:18
Oh sure. Okay, so the factor is, a variety of ladies do not have the chance to begin with, and so they do not even have entry to those alternatives.
You understand, you might have ladies who take day trip for being pregnant, maternity go away, breastfeeding, you recognize. A variety of ladies in Africa do, clearly, a better share of the childcare and home duties.
And all of this stuff, actually, have an effect on the entry and development and the sciences. If you take a look at girls and boys in secondary faculty you’ll be able to’t even inform the distinction in maths and science achievement.
As soon as the ladies get into college, it is an issue. It is nearly like they’re distracted, and that the information is there to truly show it. They’re simply not as invested in it.
And the rationale why, from analysis, is we have proven that ladies have extra cultural expectations positioned on them.
So by the point your college is asking you, “Are you going to get married? Why do you need to do a PhD? No man’s gonna marry you if you happen to do a PhD?” Yeah, I’ve had that. Folks have mentioned to me, “Why am I even doing it? Why are you finding out for a PhD? Aren’t you gonna scare a person off if you happen to’re so educated?”
The purpose is, ladies are all the time pressured to adapt and cling to cultural expectations.
And so some ladies, you recognize, like myself, will clearly do what we wish, primarily based on what we’re obsessed with. We’re not quite common. The vast majority of ladies would clearly adapt to no matter cultural expectation is predicted of them.
And what you then see is that they do not additional their schooling, to even, you recognize, Masters or PhD stage? As a result of once more, society, you recognize, promotes or values is not that schooling, it’s to be married. So they simply drop out.
Then one other one is while you really see ladies who really go on to change into PhDs or to review PhDs or change into postdocs, sure? They do not have that assist. Once more, cultural expectation. How precisely are you going to go for coaching in Ghana you probably have a child to breastfeed? After which your husband just isn’t supportive, or you do not have a supportive community of individuals? That is the difficulty. So I feel that there are severe points right here.
And the best way that establishments, authorities, and everybody else, you recognize, would assist the state of affairs can be ensuring that we take into consideration ladies after we’re occupied with these insurance policies.
Should you’re offering coaching for a specific ability….think about somebody desires to go to Kenya for bioinformatics coaching, yeah, and he or she was a girl who had a child?
Funds for creches needs to be offered. Daycare. Extra cash to carry the kid alongside to the coaching must also be offered.
Proper? So we want to consider ladies. We will not take away them from their on a regular basis, you recognize, actions, you’ll be able to’t try this. So we have to embrace that in, if we wish them to have entry.
So if you concentrate on the UK, for instance, there are grants within the UK given out to individuals in science, younger individuals, males, ladies, it does not matter. However they acknowledge time spent away from analysis.
It is the Wellcome Belief, really. A very wonderful establishment within the UK. They really prioritize. They let you know that you just’re not going to be penalized if you happen to’re taking two years out. “Simply inform us what you’ve got been doing for 2 years. Should you’ve been a mum, it is okay.”
That’s all the time thought of. It isn’t penalized. So I feel Africans want to begin occupied with that, you recognize, and that is a strategy to remedy that subject.
And in addition, advocacy is essential. You understand, advocacy of African ladies presently in science (as a result of we have now so many African ladies in so many international locations doing wonderful work), and COVID-19 highlighted a variety of wonderful African ladies doing wonderful work on the entrance traces and even within the laboratory.
So, it is essential that youthful ladies see these individuals. As a result of what are they seeing on tv? They’re seeing entertainers. There’s completely nothing mistaken with entertainers. However you recognize, you do produce other varieties of professions, you recognize.
And so I feel additionally simply placing this stuff of their faces to say, you recognize, you’ll be able to really be, you recognize, a scientist, you is usually a physicist, you are able to do this and that, you recognize. Creating that mentor-mentee relationship would really assist with the issue of the dearth of younger individuals, ladies, younger ladies moving into the sciences.
Akin Jimoh: 20:30
Yeah. Properly, you say, has the prospect for girls scientists modified, you recognize, in Africa, you recognize, primarily based in your expertise?
Ifeyinwa Aniebo 20:38
Sure, I feel it is improved.
I personally, to be sincere, I’ve not had (aside from the cultural expectation that random individuals throw at me, not my household)…The rationale I will get to the place I’m is as a result of I’ve bought large household assist. And I am very grateful for that.
However I really assume it is improved in comparison with say 10-15 years in the past, as a result of when you concentrate on the funding that even comes, a few of them prioritize ladies, you recognize, “We want for girls to use for positions.”
So sure, I feel there’s extra alternatives for girls, and persons are beginning to consider the entry. I additionally assume that by way of mentorship, it is actually good.
So for instance, I actually have been, you recognize, I have been privileged to be mentored by a extremely wonderful African scientist in Ghana, and in Nigeria, so for instance, in Ghana, Professor Gordon (Awandere), who’s a Ghanaian parasitologist. Wonderful. He leads the middle in Ghana. And in addition professor Christian Happi in Nigeria. So they’re simply two figureheads. And so they’re males who encourage tons of ladies and younger individuals in science. And so they’ve paved the best way for the remainder of us to comply with.
So I feel that, sure, it is a greater place, since you’re getting extra, you recognize, mentorship, extra coaching, you recognize, and also you’re having access to this stuff.
Like I bought entry to coaching for grant writing in Ghana, These are the issues that, that assist, you recognize, the coaching helps. After which now I’ve a grant.
So I can not, you recognize, you clearly join the dots to see that the coaching takes a couple of years so that you can get higher. However you want a chance to also have a shot. And I used to be given that chance. And now I’ve a shot. So it is so significantly better for girls, I feel. It could possibly be higher. We’re making progress, however we’re not the place we have to be. And that is okay, as effectively.
Akin Jimoh: 22:29
Yeah, I do know you’ve got been doing a variety of work in relation to ladies. I imply you might have an initiative. Inform us about it. Inform us about AfroScientric.
Ifeyinwa Aniebo 22:40
Sure, sure, AfroScientric. I am very obsessed with ladies’s involvement in science. And I am simply obsessed with ladies typically.
So I shaped a company known as AfroScientric once I was in my first yr of my PhD. And it is principally a company that goals to encourage and empower younger African ladies in STEM, on the African continent, and the diaspora.
And the aim to empower them in science, encourage them to remain in science, and in addition allow their profession growth inside the sciences, while creating alternatives to affect, you recognize, financial, ecological and well being modifications within the nation.
And like, you recognize, I’ve already mentioned, you recognize, ladies are usually not very represented. We’re beneath 20% within the sciences in Africa, though we make up greater than 50% of Africa’s inhabitants.
So there’s a variety of points there. So what we do principally, is that we goal younger ladies, to offer them with coaching, Coaching that they will use to get alternatives, proper? Like “How do you write a private assertion? How do you write a analysis proposal? How can your CV look higher? How do you strategy a mentor?” Simply little issues. “How do you get entry to grants?”
So we prepare younger ladies in sciences to have these expertise. We additionally pair younger ladies with mentors, say somebody who’s finished this earlier than you and has just a little little bit of expertise. We do a one-on-one pairing so that they are mentored for 2 months. So a younger lady is mentored by one other a lot skilled girl who mentors them.
And what we see is that it is starting to…it actually impacts their lives. So for instance, final yr, we had about 5, 5 of our mentees had absolutely funded locations at college, PhD locations absolutely funded.
You understand, you train them the right way to write a private assertion, you train them the right way to write a analysis proposal, you recognize, give them the talents and so they go by themselves, do these purposes. Additionally present for them the alternatives. As a result of a few of them do not have entry to all of those commercials.
So on the web site we all the time showcase alternatives. Like on a regular basis we’re posting on all social media, plus our web site. And so these ladies entry this stuff and apply with the talents that we have skilled them with.
And final yr, 5 of them bought absolutely funded, have PhDs packages in several elements of the world, which is basically wonderful.
That they really bought cash to go to high school. And a variety of them did not assume that they may ever obtain that.
A variety of them are from completely different African international locations, principally Nigeria, however one from Kenya and one from Ghana. So it is really very wonderful.
So that is the form of factor that retains me very, you recognize, alive, that I will…
As a result of once I was, once I was a scientist, in college, I used to be all the time the Black individual, or the one lady within the house.
And I all the time puzzled “The place all of the Black Africans? It might’t clearly simply be me.”
However a variety of us really had that have. And I believed, you recognize, I’ve to do that. In order that’s nobody ever feels a bit alone.
I used to be fortunate that I had a variety of, you recognize, mentors, and a majority of them are literally males.
You understand, they helped me. My supervisors, my lecturers, my professors all had time for me. So I used to be very fortunate. And so I simply felt like, you recognize, it is all the time good to create alternatives for individuals who in all probability do not have the identical expertise.
Akin Jimoh 25:57
That is nice. That is sounds actually nice. Taking a look at your work it’s pan African. I imply, you might have mentees who’ve, you recognize, moved additional in, you recognize, of their research, who’ve gotten grants, and so forth and so forth.
What recommendation will you give, or are you able to give to different Africans in different African international locations, you recognize, to do the sorts of belongings you do by way of AfroScientric and different associated points regarding ladies, scientists, or ladies in science?
Ifeyinwa Aniebo 26:31
Sure, I feel principally the African diaspora. I feel that mentorship goes a extremely good distance, you recognize. However COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that the web works, proper?
Zoom is an incredible device like we’re utilizing proper now. So you’ll be able to spend time with a mentee. Even when it is like three hours every week, and even one hour every week, nevertheless a lot you can provide, by way of time, it all the time goes a good distance.
So it is essential that this coaching and mentorship is accessible for them. I additionally would say that collaborations additionally assist.
So if you happen to, for instance, have a analysis research that you just’re all in favour of, collaborating with the African scientists within the diaspora is all the time a pleasant thought.
You are additionally studying via collaboration. However you are making that partnership even stronger for future sorts of like concepts that may pop up, proper?
So collaboration is one thing that they need to even be open to.
One other factor for youthful individuals, youthful college students in STEM, is creating that trade program. So you might have universities in Nigeria or different elements of Africa. I feel that what the diaspora can do actually properly is create trade packages.
As a result of what I discover is that when a teenager from an establishment in an African nation goes….once they go over to the UK or the US, after all, it is a completely different expertise. You’ve got all of this wonderful laboratory machineries that they need to do all this wonderful, you recognize, evaluation with.
And it simply opens their minds to potentialities. The trade packages assist the scholars or the younger individual perceive that. Look, the science that I am doing, I actually find it irresistible. Prefer it simply actually emphasizes why they’re there.
Akin Jimoh 28:22
For the brand new technology of scientists coming via, I agree that trade packages can work as a mind acquire slightly than mind drain.
To carry these expertise and data again to Africa, as Ifeyinwa has finished. Mentoring to is a susceptible providing that the older technology can provide to the youthful, That’s males too however what particularly ladies, African establishment, we have now to comply with this recommendation. If the stunning statistics we heard earlier are to shift in the fitting course.
Now that is all for this episode of Science in Africa podcast. I’m Akin Jimoh chief editor of nature Africa. Thanks once more to Dr Ifeyinwa Aniebo. And thanks for listening.