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Nigerian And Rwandan Women Amongst African Women Named By Loreal Foundation And Unesco For Women In Science International Awards

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The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was created in 1945 and the organisation supports international scientific cooperation as a catalyst for sustainable development and for peace between people. UNESCO assists countries in the development of their public policies and in building their capabilities in the fields of science, technology, innovation and scientific education. 

The For Women in Science programme was created in 1998 and led by the Foundation L’Oréal in partnership with UNESCO. The For Women in Science programme aims to improve the representation of women in scientific careers, based on the conviction that the world needs science, and science needs women. For over twenty-two years, the programme has supported and raised the profile of more than three thousand and four hundred researchers from one hundred and sixteen countries. The Foundation L’Oreal works for the benefit of women around the world, supporting them and enabling them to achieve their goals in two major areas namely scientific research and inclusive beauty.

Furthermore, the commencement of the For Women in Science Sub-Saharan Africa regional programme was in 2010, and since then, L’Oreal and UNESCO have highlighted and showcased One Hundred and Fifty-Nine outstanding women scientists, including eleven Laureates of the For Women in Science International Awards and One Hundred and Thirty Four Young Talents at the doctoral and post-doctoral levels.

On Monday, November 23rd, 2020 in Paris, the capital of France, The L’Oreal Foundation with UNESCO unveiled the 11th Sub-Saharan Africa Young Talent Awards L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science, which highlights and awards twenty women researchers for the academic excellence of their work.  All from sixteen countries, the fifteen PhD students and five post-doctorates encompass through their diverse backgrounds and research themes, all the diversity and potential of Africa’s brewing science. And for the first time, research scientists from Congo and Malawi are featured on the list. 

The jury of the 2020 Sub-Saharan Africa Young Talents Awards, selected twenty Young Talents from circa three hundred and thirty applications. The jury stated that the awardees all have certain similarities which include the excellence of their projects and the desire to contribute to igniting innovation on the African Continent. From medicine to biology and computer science, the themes of their research work are highly topical: infectious diseases, combating climate change or enhancing food security. Alexandra Palt, who is the Executive Vice-President of the L’Oreal Foundation, stated that: “The need for research by Africans for Africa has never been greater to address the challenges facing the continent. To overcome the current crisis, Africa’s research sector must accelerate its transformation by becoming even more digitally connected and empowering young women who wish to pursue scientific careers.”

Benin Republic’s Faouziath Sanoussi; who is carrying out her work in agricultural biotechnology in order to enhance the value of Benin’s food crops. She seeks to develop a new millet-based product with high nutritional value, fortified with baobab fruit pulp and moringa leaf powder.

Botswana’s LaToya Seoke is focused on the development of diagnostic tools to detect the foot-and-mouth disease virus which is highly present in goats in Southern Africa. 

Botswana’s Tsaone Tamuhla is collecting clinical and genetic data to better understand the emerging pandemic of type 2 diabetes in Africa.

Cameroon’s Agnes Antoinette Ntoumba is developing bio-insecticides against a species of larvae (Anopheles gambiae), using nanoparticles from plants endemic to Cameroon.

Comoros Island’s Younoussa Haifaou is specialising in the identification of chromosomal and molecular abnormalities associated with disorders of sex development during the prenatal and postnatal period in Senegal, in order to ascertain the surgical treatment of the patients concerned. 

Democratic Republic of Congo’s Nadege Taty’s research seeks to diagnose health zone vulnerabilities and better understand the governance of infectious disease epidemics (such as cholera, Ebola or Covid-19) in resource-scarce countries.

Ethiopia’s Martha Kidemu Negassa’s project is mapping the spatial and temporal dynamics of organic carbon from soil and water, available in smallholder farming systems in the arid areas of eastern Ethiopia.

Ghana’s Esther Eyram Asare Yeboah’s research focuses on a category of bacteria (multi-drug resistant Gram-negative pathogens), which she is studying in patients in a teaching hospital in Ghana. Her objective is to identify resistance genes to these bacteria in order to gain better understanding of their functioning.

Madagascar’s Tsarasoa Malala Andrianinarivomanana’s research is on studying Anopheles coustani; a mosquito species recently suspected of transmitting malaria on a large scale in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Madagascar’s Zara Randriamanakoto’s research is on the studying star clusters within galaxies where star formation activity is particularly intense. Her objective is to quantify the influence of the surrounding environment on star clusters’ disruption mechanisms. She is one of the few women astrophysicists in Madagascar. 

Malawi’s Halima Twabi who specialises in biostatistics, is focusing her research on child and maternal health. She wants to develop statistical methods providing better insight into the consequences of maternal HIV on the development of a pregnancy and then on the future child (stunting, wasting, among others.)

Mauritius’ Devina Lobine’s research is studying inhibitors from traditionally used medicinal plants, as therapeutics for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. To achieve this, Devina Lobine uses the molecular, pharmacological and neuroprotective properties of medicinal plants traditionally used in Mauritius.

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Nigeria’s Adekemi Adesulu specialises in environmental genomics and she is interested in the analysis of the microbial composition of raw milk and traditional dairy products in Nigeria. Through her research, she hopes to help ensure the safety and quality of African fermented foods.

Nigeria’s Ibukunoluwa Adetutu Olajide’s research aims to develop an optical communication model capable of reacting to the specific climatic conditions of tropical areas, using predictive algorithms.

Rwanda’s Valentine Dushimiyimana’s research is seeking to develop a predictive tool that can assess the risk of cardiovascular disease in HIV patients in Rwanda. She hopes to set up in her country a clinical research program that could lead to better preventive management of cardiovascular diseases, in connection with antiretroviral therapy.

Sudan’s Doaa Ali’s research is on the development of new cancer treatments using a groundbreaking synthetic methodology based on garlic-like compounds (organotrisuldes).

Sudan’s Maha Dahawi’s research is on the identification of genes responsible for genetic generalized epilepsies (GGEs) among Sudanese families where consanguinity is present. Her research has made it possible to detect among this population the presence of a behavioural phenotype specific to certain epilepsy-related genes.

Tanzania’s Neema Mduma’s research is on the issue of student dropout in secondary schools in Tanzania, using a Machine Learning model, deployed via a web-based application, this model allows teachers and parents to identify and provide support to students in a situation of academic fragility.

Zimbabwe’s Hannah Simba’s research is studying the role of genetic and environmental factors on esophageal cancer, one of the most aggressive cancers in the world and also one of the least studied in Africa (whose countries are amongst the most affected by this disease, along with China).

As this would be the first time Rwanda would be on the list, I reached out to Rwanda’s Valentine Dushimiyimana (who is a PhD candidate (health sciences) and an officer at the Medical Research Centre better known as Rwanda Biomedical Centre in Kigali) about her project and the impact on her country (Rwanda) and I was informed in her own words that “Increased life expectancy for People Living with HIV treated with antiretroviral therapy rise the risk of experiencing cardiovascular diseases. It is paramount to identify the main challenges for development of preventive measures and appropriate coping strategies especially in resources limited settings, in particular, Rwanda. My research project focuses on insights and development of a predictive tool from potential biomarkers and clinical features for cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) risk in People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in Rwanda.”

She further stated that the impact(s) on the society, Rwanda and the African Continent would that “Findings from this research project will contribute to the development of a possible risk prediction model of CVDs among PLHIV under antiretroviral therapy (ART) in Rwanda and other countries with similar settings. Such models would make a difference in resources poor settings. This model will allow the early detection of cardiovascular diseases among PLHIV, and support in the patients care, management, and improve their quality of life (increase their survival rate).”

I reached out to Nigeria’s Ibukunoluwa Adetutu Olajide (who is a PhD student, Electrical Engineering, Information Engineering) on what her research is about and in her own words, she stated that her research is titled Predictive Free Space Optical Communication System for the Tropics. She elucidated more with an overview of her research: “The increase in internet penetration, tele-density for voice communication and demand for data communications has resulted in increased demand for bandwidth. In order to meet this need, mobile operators have to optimize network systems to provide calls, text and data services; which often brings the network to performances below optimal. The Global Communication Community has come up with alternate technology to combat, possibly reduce data losses and spectrum congestion; of significant importance; is the use of light for data transmission. Free space optical communication is a technology in which information in the form of voice, video or text is transmitted using optical radiation in free space that is, the atmosphere.”

She furthered stated that “Free space optical communication (FSO) was developed in response to the increase in demand for high speed and tap- proof communication system. In the temperate region, where this technology has been deplored, atmospheric conditions and turbulence has been the major drawback and mitigation techniques have been proposed. The viability of the technology in the temperate provides a platform of argument and experimentation of deployment in Nigeria (a country within the Tropics). To deploy free space optical communication in Nigeria, a characterization of prevailing atmospheric conditions and turbulence has to be carried out in order to correctly identify and judge relative disturbances associated with the technology in Nigeria. Alongside, a predictive algorithm using machine learning can correctly adapt the state of the optical channel depending on the weather condition to modulation schemes; thereby reducing the transmitted power resulting in system optimization.”

And on the impact of her research to the wider society, Ibukunoluwa Adetutu Olajide stated that “The knowledge obtained can be correctly applied by manufacturers of free space optical communication equipment for the deployment of relative designs for area networks in Nigeria; and at large, the sub-Saharan African countries. The result obtained from incorporating machine learning and space diversity technique is hoped to provide optimal transmitted power utilization.”

The young women researchers would receive financial support through grants of ten thousand euros for PhD students and fifteen thousand euros for post-doctorates; which would facilitate and enable them to pursue and consolidate their research work. 

The twenty awardees would be joining the community of three thousand four hundred women researchers around the world who have been supported by the For Women in Science program since its creation in 1998.

At this juncture and on a final note, it is noteworthy to state that according to L’Oreal UNESCO For Women In Science only 2.4% of the world’s researchers are African scientists and 31% of whom are women.

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