We Should All Be Talking About Vaccines: Meet Dr Edina Amponsah-Dacosta

Edina Amponsah-Dacosta is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Vaccines for Africa Initiative (VACFA) based at the University of Cape Town. She is a trained Medical Virologist, with a research background in viral hepatitis, vaccinology and health systems. She is particularly interested in the interaction between national immunization programs and the broader health systems which deliver them. She is currently working on a research project aimed at assessing the immunity gaps among South African children and adolescents who should have completed routine immunization during infancy. The primary intent of this research project is to inform improved vaccination strategies. Her Soapbox Science talk for the Cape Town 2019 event is entitled “Vaccines are Us” and will focus on how vaccines work to protect individuals and communities from potentially fatal diseases.

Social media accounts:

Twitter: @eddiedacosta2
Instagram: @eddiedacosta2

By Edina Amponsah-Dacosta

All too often, conversations about vaccines take place without end-users being present. This gap in community engagement has been recognized globally as a barrier to empowering the general public with the accurate, unbiased information they require in taking ownership of their health and making evidence-based decisions where vaccines are concerned. For this reason, conversations about vaccines are no longer exclusive to specific stakeholders like global health agencies, health practitioners, scientists or the pharmaceutical industry. We should all be talking about vaccines as a collective and as often as possible. While engaging the general public in discussions about vaccines is a global public health priority, there are not enough forums that allow for this. There is a need to create spaces for open and on-going dialogues about vaccines in order to increase awareness among the general public, curb dangerous misinformation and strengthen vaccine uptake.

The idea behind engaging the general public in vaccine communication is to foster information-sharing; where members of the general public can share their experiences and concerns, and vaccine experts can provide reliable, evidence-based recommendations. Being one of 12 speakers selected to participate in the inaugural Soapbox Science event in Cape Town, I have the unique opportunity to showcase the remarkable diversity of women in science in South Africa. As a Vaccinologist at the Vaccines for Africa Initiative (VACFA), based at the University of Cape Town, I would like to invite you to an Indaba[1] on vaccines. I look forward to sharing my knowledge on vaccines and immunization, with a focus on the sub-Saharan African context.

Now more than ever, there is an urgency to step-up conversations on vaccines and immunization given that the field of vaccinology is rapidly evolving. As the field advances, we are beginning to think differently about vaccination programs and their target populations. For example, there is evidence to show that the lifesaving benefits of vaccines are not limited to infants and children but can be extended across the life course. While some assume that vaccination is a personal choice that one makes about their own health, the decision to vaccinate affects all those around you. The more people are vaccinated, the higher chances we have of being protected together due to a phenomenon referred to as community immunity. Essentially, vaccination is a matter of social solidarity or Ubuntu[2].

I look forward to engaging with you on concepts related to vaccinology at the Soapbox Science Cape Town event at the V&A Waterfront on the 28th of September 2019!


[1] A meeting, gathering, discussion or conference in isiZulu or isiXhosa

[2] In isiZulu or isiXhosa, Ubuntu encompasses all essential human virtues such as compassion and humanity

Posted in 2019 speakers blog | Leave a comment

Maintain your focus and allow curiosity: Meet Amarachukwu Vivian Arazu

Ms Amarachukwu Vivian Arazu, University of Nigeria, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 23rd November with the talk: “Bioplastics and the environment!” 

I am a PhD student and a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I obtained a Masters degree in Industrial Biochemistry from the same university with a distinction and CGPA of 4.89/5.00. My MSc research project investigated starch modification processes while my current PhD project is focused on harnessing bioplastic production on a low-cost scale.

Soapbox Science: how did you get to your current position?

I got to my current position through hard work, determination, focus and God’s grace.

SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

My inspiration towards pursuing a career in science was simply based on my curiosity especially about science and technology-related issues.

SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

Assessing the nature of bioplastics from single and di-culture strains of some microbial species in the production of bioplastics while considering the cost of production.

SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

My attraction was simply the anticipation and excitement from the audience.

SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day

I hope to awe the audience in simple ways. I am optimistic the presentation will be an exciting one.

SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture in Nigeria right now, what would it be?

I would start by introducing adequate functional science laboratories in every secondary school in the country.

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

Dear Woman in Science, the world is gradually becoming tolerant to women leading in different aspects. It is a great height that you are about to attain so maintain your focus and allow curiosity. Also, entertain errors as it is common in scientific research. You will be great.

Posted in 2019 speakers blog | Leave a comment

An Improbable Love Story!: Meet Ifeoma Maureen Ezeonu

Prof Ifeoma Maureen Ezeonu, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 23rd November with the talk:  “Bacteria: Friend, Foe or Both?” 

I am a Professor of Medical Microbiology and Molecular Genetics with the Department of Microbiology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). My route to this included a B.Sc. in Microbiology from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1987 and an M.Sc. and PhD in Microbiology from Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A., in 1991 and 1994, respectively. After which I joined the University of Nigeria, as a Lecturer I in June 2000 and rose to the rank of Professor in October 2010. My research interests include studies in medical microbiology and medical biotechnology, and I am the coordinator of the drug-resistant infections research group in UNN.

I eat Microbiology,

I breathe Microbiology,

I speak Microbiology.

What do I mean? I love Microbiology, but this love story is an improbable one. Who knew?

In my secondary school days, in the early 1980s, many schools didn’t have guidance counsellors. Even when they had, the counsellors did not know much about what they were expected to do, especially in the area of academic counselling. They were supposed to help students with their career choices, among other things. Well, guess what? In those days, career choices appeared to be pretty limited. If you were an art student, then you were supposed to be a lawyer; and if you were a science student, it was medicine or engineering, with pharmacy coming in a distant third. Then, if you did not get admission to these courses of study, you went into other less popular courses like microbiology, biochemistry and zoology. Students often studied for at least one year, while waiting to get accepted on the more popular courses. I also got accepted into one of the less popular courses – Microbiology, although, I had every intention of changing to Pharmacy after my first year.

My journey into the world of microbes had begun and what a fascinating journey it turned out to be. From the first introductory course, I wanted to know more. By the end of the first year in the programme, I was asking, “Pharma—what?” By the time I was in my third year, my mother had playfully banned me from practising microbiology in her kitchen as everything that was done at home evoked a microbiology lecture from me.

Four years of undergraduate studies led to another two years for a Master’s degree and another three years for a PhD, all in the fascinating and awesome world of microbes. Then came years and years of research, to become a Professor of Microbiology. I have loved every step of this journey and I am still loving it. That is why I never hesitate to invite other people to come and explore this exciting world. And that’s my love story!

Posted in 2019 speakers blog | Leave a comment

Mentor and encourage others to be people who can see themselves beyond their limitations: Meet Oluwatoyin Adebola Adeleye

Dr Oluwatoyin Adebola Adeleye (@OluwatoyinAdel), Hadassah Scientific Supplies, Lagos, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 23rd November with the talk: “Try to imagine having your prescribed drugs modified to suit your genome”

Soapbox Science: how did you get to your current position?

As a postdoctoral research fellow, I completed a 4-year Bachelor’s in plant science from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State, Nigeria. This was followed by a 1-year Masters in cell biology and genetics from the University of Lagos, Nigeria and afterwards, I finally, completed a 5-year Ph.D. programme in Genetics also from the University of Lagos. Being able to accomplish these feats required determination and persistence. Thus, my mantra has always been – “once you can dream it, you can achieve it”. Therefore, with hard work and dedication to that goal or dream, you can achieve the unimaginable.  

SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

My inspiration for science came through my mother who has the sickle cell disease. Therefore, by the tender age of 5 years (being her only child), I already understood what caring for someone with the sickle cell disease entailed as I would help administer her folic acid and other required medication. By the time I was 8 years old, I had read and known so much about the causes and management of sickle cell anaemia. Through reading about this condition and interacting with other people with the disease, I developed an interest in science. Upon further education, I developed a greater interest in pharmacogenomics, human genetics and drug discovery.

SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

The most fascinating aspect of my research is the discovery of new findings such as the identification of a random amplified polymorphic DNA marker – OPC04550bp, which can be used to identify Sprague-Dawley rats with pregnancy-induced glucose intolerance. In addition, I derive joy from working with other researchers to achieve results, thereby contributing to science.

SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

I went through the website and observed it to be a platform for encouraging and mentoring girls and women in science. I have learnt that the beauty of life is being able to mentor and encourage others to be people who can see themselves beyond their limitations. Therefore, I see the Soapbox Science as a platform to achieve this.

SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day

Insightful

SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture in Nigeria right now, what would it be?

It would be the need to encourage collaborative ground-breaking research between Nigerian scientists and international institutions thereby helping to close knowledge gaps and invariably develop science in Nigeria.

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

Be focused.

Be determined.

Join international societies and attend conferences, which would increase your chances of collaboration with other researchers across the globe.

Posted in 2019 speakers blog | Leave a comment

To distinguished women scientists the world over!: Meet Eucharia Nwaichi

Dr Eucharia Oluchi Nwaichi (@EuchariaN), University of Port Harcourt Nigeria, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 23rd November with the talk “My Environment, my Kitchen” 

Wake Up Your POSSIBILITY: Apart from my excellent performances in science subjects and a keen interest in the environment which spurred me to study Biochemistry, my experiences while undergoing an industrial training (a requirement of a Bachelors degree in most Science and Engineering courses in Nigeria) in a manufacturing company in one of the devastated areas in the Niger Delta region cracked me into thinking of how to contribute to remediating the environment.

My Bachelors’ degree research findings led me to enrol into a Master’s degree from which research I developed my potential for environmental studies. I went into the PhD programme with so much enthusiasm and my champions were great, always urging me on to compete with international researchers, to make my research findings known in reputable journals and other media of communication. That was how I started.

The research which won the international UNESCO L’Oreal 2013 fellowship on the 28th of March 2013 at La Sorbonne University, Paris is on the remediation of environmental components, the soil particularly, using two locally available species in a bid to make it cost-effective, accessible and environmentally friendly in nature. In the Oil & Gas sector (the major polluters), chemical and excavation-based remediation methods are heavily in use. It’s just like shifting the goal post of a problem when you excavate and dump at another site. You just transferred the problem, so here we are trying to do a holistic remediation using biological means termed ‘Phytoremediation’.

How many of us, after several well-publicised and ultimately unsuccessful attempts towards our lifelong dream, would get back into the cold, behind–the–scene, always–campaigned–for, difficult–they–say discipline – science? YOU (the winners) are! That’s why we are here! Falling down is not falling out, you have demonstrated that from daily research frustrations. You stood out of the mediocre crowd because nobody notices NORMAL!

Women, they say, are ornaments of the world but you have employed our (women) enduring, patient and fighting spirit to make these diverse decorative architectures in your various fields of science being displayed here today. Make the most out of your research experience and GIVE BACK at the same time to your funders, country, environment and the world at large. Live each day like you expect something great to happen and SHARE YOUR STORIES!

I give you a hand of collaboration this day.

Congratulations!

Long live Women in Science!

Posted in 2019 speakers blog | Leave a comment

Draw “specific” realizable goals and be determined: Meet Adebisi Adedayo Adebisi

Dr Adebisi Adedayo Adebisi (@AdebisiAdeday11), Lagos State University College of Medicine, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 23rd November with the talk: “Using medicinal plants to reduce the side effects of combined oral contraceptives”

Soapbox Science: how did you get to your current position?

Dr ADEBISI, Adedayo Adebisi (Medical doctor, Scientist (Biochemist) and Lecturer at Medical Biochemistry Department, Lagos State University College of Medicine): My unquenchable thirst for knowledge in the medical sciences made me go back and study medicine despite having completed both a B.Sc and Masters degree in Biochemistry. However, my zeal and passion for research, teaching and impacting young minds positively made me go back to the classroom as a lecturer and researcher.

I worked as a Medical doctor briefly for some few years after my housemanship but the hollow was there; I knew I had to go back to my “first love” – Biochemistry. However, my medical training has greatly influenced my aspect of research in Medical Biochemistry.

SS: What or who, inspired you to get a career in Science?

Every young person growing up in the 90’s wanted to be a Doctor, Engineer or Lawyer. I grew up wanting to be a Pharmacist (It was relatively new then and the idea of making drugs myself sounded really good) but got admitted to study Biochemistry then. I made up my mind to finish Biochemistry and then come back to study Pharmacy.

However, few years down the lane whilst doing my National Youth Service Corps, I was convinced by my mentor who is also a medical doctor (Dr ALATISHE, Adeniyi) to go back and study Medicine instead. Moreover, medicine seems to be a whole lot more respected at that time. Moreso, working in a hospital as a Youth corper at the time made me develop some more interest in Medicine. I convinced myself that medicine was more intrincate and more involving than Pharmacy.

The drive to go back to basic medical sciences and research was solely one of “finding oneself” and recognizing one’s niche. It is one decision I took that I never regretted. 

SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research work?

The possibility of discovering a novel “Near Perfect” natural plant compound capable of meeting a medical need in women (Contraception cum Child spacing) with little or no side effects (hypertension, diabetes and obesity)

SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

I am aware Soapbox Science is comprised of intellectuals with high cognitive and mental prowess which I find enriching. I believe it’s a level ground for intellects to rub minds and disseminate knowledge to others even not in the Sciences

SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day?

I expect that all the day’s activities will be highly enlightening and impactful.

SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture in Nigeria right now, what would it be?

Access to good mentoring, grants and sponsorship

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

She should be tenacious and highly focused. She should draw “specific” realizable goals and be determined to meet them. The reality of an African woman is to find a balance between studies/career and the family.

Posted in 2019 speakers blog | Leave a comment

Be focused, determined, persevering: Meet Francisca Nneka Okeke

Prof Francisca Nneka Okeke  (@Proffrancisca01), University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 23rd November with the talk: “Women participation in the development of science and technology, towards sustainable development”

Soapbox Science: how did you get to your current position?

Francisca Nneka Okeke (Professor of Physics): I got to my current position in the year 2000, out of hard work and extensive publications from my research work.

SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

My late father was my mentor and he inspired me. He taught me Mathematics ahead of my class which made me develop high interest in mathematics that later metamorphosed into a love for science.

SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

My work on daily variations of geomagnetic H, D and Z-fields at equatorial latitudes was an exciting and very interesting project. This is because results from the project shed more light on our understanding of climatic changes that are currently disturbing the world. In other words, variations in geomagnetic fields are related to climatic changes.

SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

Their idea of incorporating various aspects of different fields in science.

SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day

Excitement

SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture in Nigeria right now, what would it be?

Teaching and learning processes by introducing use of local available material/resources.

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

She has to be focused, determined, persevering and must take up academic challenges in terms of research work, in order to contribute to existing knowledge. She must work for breakthroughs and new discoveries and settle academic controversies or disputes.

Posted in 2019 speakers blog | Leave a comment

I Live Because I Exist- Lessons from a Student: Meet Sylvia Onyinyechi Anyadoh-Nwadike

Dr Sylvia Onyinyechi Anyadoh-Nwadike (@SylvPet), Federal University of Technology Owerri, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 23rd November with the talk: “Are you afraid of Microorganisms?”

This is an experience I have been longing to share which has kept me enthusiastic about the job I do. As a lecturer, I enjoy learning from my students, while I try to help form them into the best they can be for their sakes, their families, communities and our nation at large.

During my early years, most people thought I was a student. Hence, it was easy for me to bond with students. One day, an assistant class representative bumped into my office looking very excited. She was eager to tell me something she learnt in a philosophy lecture. Though I was about to step out of my office, I sat back. “Why are you this excited?” I asked. Still beaming with excitement, she exclaimed, “Aunty, I just learnt that I live because I exist!”  “Wow, interesting! Tell me about it”.

“Aunty, today I learnt that a lot of people come into this world and literarily seem to live for many years, yet they make no impact as such because they practically do not exist. They live for many years and die without ever existing. They make no mark, no impact, leave no impressions and are hardly remembered, except by few family members. This is because those people lived without existing. Henceforth, I have decided that I will not just live but I will EXIST! In fact, I will henceforth live just because I exist!”

I listened with rapt attention and never interrupted. When she was done, I was awed and told her, “Go ahead young lady, you can do it, let the world know that you exist, that is how it should be”. With that encouragement, she left elated. Her name, Ucheoma Ada Nnodi, is still easily remembered in the department till date; though she graduated in 2010.

That was a lesson I never forgot – there is a need for me to exist. Most times a lot of people especially women live without existing mostly after marriage, nobody hears about them, they make no impact, they just kind of “disappear”. They go through life without even knowing the meaning of life and many times cannot define themselves.

Women have been tagged the “weaker sex”. As women, we should not accept the tag for a woman ab initio is an embodiment of strength waiting to be properly harnessed for great impact. Women should be the fulcrum on which the world revolves hence every woman should exist at all times. We should be ready to make an impact not just in families but in society and world. I think we should stand up and take our God-given role as ‘co-creators’ to recreate our world and make it a better place. This is not in competition with men as we can exist without competing. A Nigerian proverb states, “there is no competition in destiny”. We should exist in our families as well as in the scientific, political, social, economic and policy-making spheres of our world. Yes, we can go ahead and live because we exist!

I most sincerely thank the founders and organisers of Soapbox Science for giving women another route of EXISTING. I am indeed excited to be part of this year’s programme. I look forward to the continued enjoyment of my existence in the scientific world, through participation in the Soapbox Science Lagos November session.

Posted in 2019 speakers blog | Leave a comment

My life as a student, researcher, woman and mother: Meet Akinlabi Olabisi

Akinlabi Olabisi Comfort (@bcyemi), University of Ibadan, is taking part in Soapbox Science Lagos on 23rd November with the talk:Diarrhoea; a threat to infant life

As a Nigerian scientist, I always wonder why there are fewer women than men in science. Could it be due to our culture, which sometimes specifies that a woman’s education ends in the kitchen? Or is it a lack of encouragement from mentors and family, the lack of funds or simply discrimination?

My current perspective is that all of these aforementioned factors have contributed, in some way, to the low numbers of women in science. However, these have not deterred my interest in scientific research but rather motivated me to obtain my Masters degree. Now, I am a PhD student at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. As a young lady, my zeal and love for research have kept me going. Although, I have had to balance my student life with my other roles as a wife and mother.

Did I tell you that I am a mother of two? Sighs! I have a number of memories from being pregnant and studying in the first year of my PhD. Combining antenatal appointments with lab work, and now performing school runs. It has not been easy, but with support from my colleagues and mentor, I have been able to continue with my studies.

I also remember the many times I have to hurry up before the end of lab meetings, in order to pick up my children from school (an activity colloquially known as ‘school runs’). My colleagues help, by allowing me to present first during lab meetings – for which I am grateful. There was a particular day a colleague of mine went first, with my permission of course, and you needed to have seen the way my mentor asked why I was not going first as usual. I just smiled and told her I was not in a hurry on that day. I could go on and on, talking about the challenges but not without making reference to my angelic husband who encourages me not to let go and be focused at all times. I think I’ve got a tip: Ladies! Get married to a man who shares similar dreams with you, because a woman needs an understanding and supportive man.

In all, it is fulfilling to see the products of my research. It has a way of taking off the stress.

Posted in 2019 speakers blog | Leave a comment

Find your passion, talk about it and make it happen: Meet Vimbaishe Chibanga

Vimbaishe Chibanga is a final year PhD candidate at the Institute for Glycomics at Griffith University in Gold Coast, Australia. She is a biochemist and virologist studying the mechanisms by which human parainfluenza viruses bind to the sugar on our cells in order to infect us. She has expertise in protein biochemistry, enjoys science communication and is currently involved with multiple school STEM outreach programmes.

Vimbaishe spoke at the first edition of Soapbox Science in Gold Coast on the 17th of August 2019!

Follow Vimbaishe on Twitter: @VimbaisheC

Find your passion, talk about it and make it happen

by Vimbaishe Chibanga

Why am I a scientist?

I love biology! I am fascinated by the human body and have been eager to understand it since I started learning science. Hence, I pursued an undergraduate degree with majors in biochemistry and human anatomy and physiology. There are many pathogens which cause human diseases. Thus, it is vital for scientists to understand how these pathogens infect us in order to develop effective treatments. Currently, I am studying the mechanisms by which human parainfluenza viruses bind to the sugar on our cells. These viruses are the second leading cause of chest infections in infants and infect up to 80% of children less than five years old. Human parainfluenza viruses have been around for more than 60 years but, there are currently no licensed drugs or vaccines to treat infected individuals. My PhD research is contributing towards solving this problem. We need a cure!

Standing on the soapbox for the first time!

Thought-provoking and audacious. These are the two best words that summarise my experience.

Thought-provoking: It’s the simple things in life that matter, including the simple questions! Although STEM teaches us to think critically and solve complex problems, we should not forget the answers to the simple questions of life. “What is parainfluenza virus? Is it the same as the flu? How do I get infected? Does washing my hands prevent infection? Can eating sugar make parainfluenza viruses infect me more?” These are some of the simple questions that I had to answer, that I admittedly do not think about daily. Effective public engagement requires stepping outside of the ‘complicated scientific jargon’ box and conveying your message in a simple and easy to understand way. After all, scientific research is not reserved for the scientific journals and experts but, for the education of the community. Beyond the laboratory, science is for the enrichment of the people!

Audacious: Health science discoveries have potentially long-lasting emotional effects. One audience member bravely spoke about the loss of a child from pneumonia induced by a human parainfluenza virus infection. Another shared their late-night emergency room experiences with a hospitalised infant suffering from parainfluenza infection. Reading case studies about sickness and death in journals is very different to hearing someone’s firsthand teary-eyed experience. This was a solemn reminder to me and other scientists that the work we do (irrespective of the research field) has the ability to change lives and potentially save lives. We need more audacious scientists. We need more female scientists who are willing to follow their passion in order to effect change. Our scientific research matters!

Changing the status quo: STEM women are role models

We need to change the status quo. Women are just as brilliant, intelligent and capable as their male counterparts. Anyone and everyone can be a scientist. Science is a way a of thinking that is not defined by a person’s race, gender or country of origin. Female scientists need to support each other and inspire the next generation of young thinkers. If we are not visible to society, how can we change the traditional “Einstein” status quo? Let us confidently step into society and share our knowledge. Find your passion, talk about it and make it happen. In the famous words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Soapbox Science is one of many platforms that allow us to inspire the next generation of scientists. I would gladly participate again and encourage all female scientists to be involved!

Vimbaishe (wearing a red shirt) standing with some of the amazing female scientists from the Institute for Glycomics who supported Soapbox Science Gold Coast 2019. Many thanks to the organisers of Soapbox Science Gold Coast 2019 and the volunteers who brightened up the day.

Posted in 2019 speakers blog | Leave a comment