Information is a vital resource during an emergency. Yet, COVID-19 is sparking significant fear and misinformation across the world. To promote access to reliable evidence and information, local experts must be ready, available and prepared to speak credibly in ways that resonate locally. Currently, significant misinformation around the research and development of new tools, from vaccines and therapeutics to diagnostics and disease surveillance, is hampering the ability for Africa to proactively shape its research agenda. Moreover, misinformation could slow the development and delivery of innovation – impeding clinical trial recruitment and the acceptability and uptake of new tools and measures to prevent, treat and diagnose diseases that hamper the development of our continent.
The COVID-19 crisis has continued this trend, at a time when it’s vital for local experts to be providing sound, factual information to help people interpret data and guidance, understand risks and appropriately respond to their local context. From public health to scientific research to the economy, there is a great deal of misinformation and speculation being spread via traditional and social media.
However, innovations in medical research over recent years have led to incredible achievements for public health in Africa. The African Voices of Science initiative aims to provide a platform for trusted African science leaders and health experts to share reliable information with African populations. Covering topics ranging from COVID-19 vaccine trials, to emerging new research in infectious diseases, we need to hear from credible voices, their perspectives and potential solutions to our health concerns.
Speak Up Africa is committed to promoting research and development (R&D) and encouraging scientific innovations as part of public discourse in Africa.
Professor Awa Marie Coll-Seck
Minister of State of Senegal and Chair of the scientific committee for the Galien Forum Africa
Awa Marie Coll-Seck studied Medicine at the University of Dakar, Senegal, and earned her Msc qualification at Cheikh Anta Diop University, Senegal. Her expertise lies in infectious diseases, above all malaria, measles, meningitis, tetanus, typhoid, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and cardiovascular diseases. She has published over 150 scientific articles, including:
• Scielo Public Health, 2001. International response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic: planning for success. Assessment of what more needs to be done to tackle HIV/AIDS since the UN General Assembly Special Session on Aids 2001.
• BMJ, 1995. Non-specific beneficial effect of measles immunisation: analysis of mortality studies from developing countries. Discovered that standard titre measles vaccine is beneficial but unrelated to protection against measles.
Awa Marie Coll-Seck also has a notable wider presence, receiving the ‘Best Minister’ award at World Government Summit, 2017, and writing an influential report for The Lancet on the values and mission of WHO.
Professor Glenda Gray
President and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)
Professor Glenda Gray is the President and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). She is the Chair of the Research Committee on COVID-19, bringing together scientific evidence and experience to the Minister of Health and the National Coronavirus Command Council. Gray spearheads the SAMRC funding broadly and for COVID-19.
In her first five year tenure at the helm of the SAMRC, the organisation experienced five consecutive clean audits, transformed grant funding initiatives that significantly improved funding for young scientists, black African scientists and women; and established key collaborations and partnerships that will significantly progress scientific research.
Gray studied medicine and paediatrics at Wits University where she remains a Professor: Research in the School of Clinical Medicine. A National Research Foundation A1-rated scientist, Gray is world-renowned for her research in HIV vaccines and interventions to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. She co-founded and led, with James McIntyre, the globally eminent Perinatal HIV Research Unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. For this work, she and McIntyre received the Nelson Mandela Health and Human Rights Award in 2002.
She is co-Principal Investigator of the National Institutes of Health-funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) and directs the programme in Africa. Amongst many others, Gray’s accolades include the Hero of Medicine Award from the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care, and the Outstanding Africa Scientist Award from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership.
Forbes named Gray one of Africa’s 50 Most Powerful Women and TIME as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential people. In 2013, she was awarded South Africa’s highest honour, the Order of Mapungubwe. Her qualifications include MBBCh (Wits), FCPaeds (SA), DSc (honoris causa Simon Fraser University), DSc (honoris causa Stellenbosch University), and LLD (honoris causa Rhodes University).
Professor Christian T. Happi
Director of the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases
Christian T. Happi is a Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics and the Director of the World Bank-funded African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), Redeemer’s University, Ede, Nigeria.
Following his first degree from the University of Yaounde, Cameroon, he proceeded to the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, where he obtained Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in Molecular Parasitology. He completed his postdoctoral training at Harvard University.
He is passionate about building the capacity of young Africans, preparing them to use advanced genomics tools and techniques for high-impact research for Africans and for humanity. He leads the ACEGID team and partners in working with national health institutions in Nigeria and other West African countries on surveillance, diagnostics and management of infectious diseases. Christian diagnosed the first case of Ebola in Nigeria in 2014 within 48 hours, a feat that helped in the early containment of the disease in Nigeria. In 2020, his team sequenced the first genome of the SARS-Cov-2, causing Covid-19 in Africa, within 72 hours of receiving the sample.
His accolades include the Merle A. Sande Health Leadership Award; the Award of Excellence in Research from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities; the 2019 Human Genome Organization (HUGO) Africa Prize, the 2020 Bailey K. Ashford Medal, among others.
Doctor Neema Kaseje
Surgeon, Médecins Sans Frontières
Dr. Neema Kaseje is a pediatric surgeon and public health specialist. She is an expert in building pediatric surgical care delivery with previous experience in Kenya, Haiti, Congo, CAR, and Liberia. In Haiti, she served as the only pediatric surgeon in the public sector and scaled up pediatric surgical care delivery in the region through the training of junior doctors.
As a result, her team was able to double the number of children accessing life saving pediatric surgical care. Similarly in Liberia, she was part of the first cohort of surgeons stationed to the first pediatric surgical program by a humanitarian organization such as Doctors Without Borders. Once again, she emphasized training and the setting of minimum standards and protocols as the foundation for improving access to pediatric surgical care in complex humanitarian settings. In Kenya, she has contributed to improved access to pediatric surgical care by leveraging technology and community health workers as powerful forces for the early detection and referral of children in need of life saving surgical care.
In Turkana, Kenya, she is mobilizing women leaders to tackle the persistently elevated maternal mortality that is disproportionately affecting adolescent girls. These activities are key to the global conversations on health leadership as a mechanism for improved health, social cohesion, and inclusive economic development. She is Founding Director of the Surgical Systems Research Group based in Kisumu, Kenya. She is committed to global health equity and improving access to surgical care as a pathway to rapidly achieving Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. She is actively involved in the Global Initiative for Children’s Surgery. She is committed to youth in Africa and recently launched leadership training bootcamps for young girls aspiring to be leaders in health, technology, and science. There are plans to hold these leadership training bootcamps in Kakuma in 2020. She was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2017, and was recently appointed as the focal point for the World Health Organization Programme in Emergency and Essential Surgical Care.
She is currently leading a Wellcome Trust funded integrated community and health systems based COVID -19 health intervention in Siaya, Kenya.
Doctor Clement Meseko
Veterinary Research Officer at the National Veterinary Research Institute, Nigeria
Dr. Clement Meseko is a Veterinary Research Officer at the National Veterinary Research Institute in Nigeria. He is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and a Doctor of Philosophy in Virology, obtaining his doctorates at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (1997) and University of Ibadan, Ibadan (2014) respectively.
Dr. Meseko has over 20 years collective experience in the pharmaceutical/nutrition Industry and infectious disease research and control, working in across both private and public sectors, as well as academia. Through the application of epidemiological, classical and molecular virological skills, he investigates viruses of both economic and public health importance to mitigate the impacts on people, animal and the environment, in the context of « One Health ».
Dr. Meseko’s scholarship and expertise is recognized at national and international levels, having consulted and executed projects for disease containment with WHO, FAO and OIE. His driving principle is the encapsulation of human, animal and environmental health as synergy in ONEHEALTH with profound impacts.
Infectious Disease Epidemiologist
Thumbi Mwangi is an infectious disease epidemiologist using applied epidemiological modelling and data science to improve the speed and quality of policy decision making in human and animal health. He trained as veterinarian at the University of Nairobi (2005) and received a PhD in Infectious Disease Epidemiology from the University of Edinburgh (2012).
His current research focuses on implementing research for the elimination of dog-mediated human rabies, syndromic surveillance for early detection of zoonotic spillover, understanding transmission and control of zoonoses, livestock interventions for improvement of human nutritional status, and more recently transmission dynamics and control of SARS-CoV2 in Kenya.
Based in Nairobi, Thumbi holds the positions of Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nairobi Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases, Associate Professor at the Washington State University Paul G Allen School for Global Animal Health, and the Chancellor’s Fellow in Global Health at the University of Edinburgh. He is an Affiliate Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, and the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis. He is the Director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Animal Health – focused on vaccines, diagnostics and animal health innovations that improve household economics and human nutrition, and co-directs the Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis, University of Nairobi that uses data-driven approaches to control infectious diseases and improve health in Kenya and the region.
His research has resulted in invitations to serve in advisory committees locally and internationally. Nationally, he serves as the Chair of the National COVID-19 Technical Committee on Modelling advising the Kenya government on responses to the pandemic, member of Kenya’s Zoonotic Technical Working Group, and as a member of the National Rabies Elimination Coordination Committee charged with oversight of the implementation of the rabies elimination strategy for Kenya. Internationally, he is a member of the Technical Review Committee of the African Union Africa Risk Capacity – epidemics and outbreaks program, Chair of the United Against Rabies Working Group on effective use of vaccines, medicines, tools, and technologies. He has served as a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) rabies modelling consortium, and a member of WHO Rabies Expert Group.
Professor Samba Sow
Director General of the Center for Vaccine Development (CVD), Ministry of Health, Mali
Professor Samba Sow is a former Minister of Health for Mali and currently Director General of the Center for Vaccine Development (CVD), Ministry of Health, Mali. In 2020, he was appointed by the Director General of WHO as one of six Special Envoys to WHO on COVID-19, to provide strategic advice and high-level political advocacy and engagement in different parts of the world. He also holds a faculty appointment as Professor at the University of Maryland, Division of Geographic Medicine. He has been Director of CVD-Mali since its inception in 2001.
He received his Bachelor of Science from the Lycée Askia Mohamed, Bamako, Mali, his Doctor of Medicine degree from the École Nationale de Médecine et Pharmacie du Mali (ENMP), and his Master of Science from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK.
During his career, he has made substantial contributions to basic vaccinology, bacterial pathogenesis, clinical research, field epidemiology and public health policy in Mali and in Sub-Saharan Africa. Professor Sow is an Honorary International Fellow of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (FASTMH).
Professor Sow has received the Prix Laviron de Médecine Tropicale, the Commemorative Fund Lectureship of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and was also named to the rank of Officer of the National Order of Mali, by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, for his efforts in controlling outbreaks in the country. He has authored and co-authored more than 90 scientific articles and chapters.