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 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.
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.