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Women's International Day: Celebrating Excellence in our NIHR Global Health Research Group

Inspiring stories and achievements from our brilliant Ph.D Fellows


Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

As the world commemorates International Women's Day, we are excited to celebrate the invaluable contributions of all the female Ph.D Students within the NIHR Global Health Research Group on Digital Diagnostics for African Health Systems (NIHR134694).


These young women and researchers are shaping the future of diagnostics and healthcare in Africa, and with their scientific endeavours they are not only reshaping the landscape of academia, but also inspiring generations of women to come.


Further details on our Students and Projects can be found at this link:


On Women's International Day, we delve into some of our Students' remarkable journeys and achievements, exemplifying excellence, determination, and boundless inspirations for women in STEM.




FLAVIA KADUNI BAWA

Flavia is a Ph.D Student at University of Ghana, and she was awarded the NIHR Fellowship after a highly competitive selection process. Her research focuses on evaluating how a digital diagnostic performs to distinguish between causes of childhood febrile illness.


Flavia, what inspired you to pursue a Ph.D., and how has your journey been so far?

I was at a stage in my career where I felt limited in my abilities to contribute to science. I felt that there was a knowledge and skill gap that needed to be filled. I chose to pursue PhD to enable me to think more critically and develop my skills further to contribute better to science. A year on, and I am grateful each day for making that decision. I have learnt so much in a year than I have learnt most of my life. Apart from being proud of how much I have learned, I am excited about the next few years and what research output that comes with them.

 

How would you describe your research topic or area of focus?

Fever is one of the most common symptoms at health centres worldwide and is not indicative of a single class of infection. However, finding a diagnostic device for fever-related diseases has been a challenge because of the number of organisms that are possibly responsible for the fever. Considering this and the unavailability of laboratories in rural areas for early and accurate diagnostics, it is important to find a device which will be useful in determining the cause of these fevers and fit for use in remote settings as well. My thesis therefore focuses on investigating the potential of one test to differentiate between three classes of infections (Malaria, viruses and Bacteria) that result in fever among children and if this testing method can be used on a handheld device for testing in rural areas with little resources. This type of test uses the switching on or off of genes in response to fever and has the potential to improve the accuracy and turnaround time of diagnosis and reduce the rate of antibiotic prescriptions.
 

What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your Ph.D. journey so far?

I have become more confident in scientific communications owing to my ability to understand and make meaning of complex methodology and concepts thanks to all the journal clubs and group discussions I have had to participate in. I have met many incredible people with a great wealth of knowledge and learnt so much that I am assured of fulfilling my first goal of a PhD which is to learn. I have so far built several connections which I believe will be helpful to me in my journey.

What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced during your Ph.D. studies, and how have you overcome them?

The biggest challenge I had to face was time management. Considering we had to go through two semesters of learning without a break was not something I had expected. I found it difficult to cope with being a mother and a student as well considering the amount of time I spent with my academic work and other meetings. When I noticed this, I began to plan better and allowed people to support me in taking care of those other aspects of my life so that I could concentrate solely on my studies
 

What are your plans or aspirations for after completing your Ph.D Program?

My passion has always been health research, with a focus on infectious diseases in children. By the end of my study, I hope to collaborate with academic and research organizations to work on projects in this area to further contribute to the diagnosis and management of these diseases, especially in rural settings. I will also be open to roles that enable me to learn and develop professionally and put my expertise in infectious disease research to use.

What are some barriers or challenges that women face in education, careers, or society in general, and how can we work to overcome them?

The main challenge for women, both in pursuing higher education and in choosing a career is choosing between these and marriage. Most educational facilities and institutions do not have the necessary support for women who choose to start a family and go to school or work as well. This leads young ladies to drop out of school and working ladies to choose other alternatives to be able to raise their children. These problems can easily be solved if the right support is given to these young women. This includes the ability to take maternity leave without fear of losing one’s job, the availability of nursery facilities for breastfeeding mothers and access to reproductive health interventions for young girls in school.
I believe that if conditions are made favourable for women to be mothers and workers/students with ease, it will increase productivity and encourage more women to pick up more challenging jobs.
 

What role do you think education plays in empowering women and promoting gender equality?

Education gives women a voice to be able to challenge stereotypes, advocate for equal rights and opportunities, and contribute actively to community development. It promotes critical thinking and helps women to make informed decisions concerning their lives, career choices, and health, leading to better health outcomes. It also opens up several opportunities for financial independence and leadership roles which promotes a healthy and better society.


SHOLA MOLEMODILE DELE-OLOWU

Shola is a Ph.D Student at University of Ghana and she joined the NIHR Global Health Research Group after been awarded the highly competitive NIHR Fellowship.
Her research focuses on "Evaluating digital diagnostic implementation through national and international health policy & health systems analysis".  


Shola, what inspired you to pursue a Ph.D, and how has your journey been so far?

My pursuit of a PhD has deep roots in the rich academic environment fostered by my family, particularly my mother, who holds a PhD herself, and more recently, colleagues and mentors. I have been surrounded by discussions on research, academia, and the pursuit of knowledge, which undoubtedly shaped my aspirations. Even after obtaining my medical degree over 15 years ago, I was still drawn to research and have worked in health systems implementation research for most of my career. My research interest lies in uncovering the root causes of issues within the healthcare system, understanding how they manifest, and exploring innovative solutions. My interest was further fuelled by observing first-hand the challenges and disparities present in different health systems I have worked in. I have also watched with profound admiration and respect some of my colleagues and mentors, who through their PhDs have sought and answered some of the most complex health system challenges. I have been both inspired and challenged to contribute to research and answer complex questions that can improve health systems in African contexts. As I progress in my doctoral studies, I am excited to delve deeper into my research interests, contributing to the advancement of knowledge in my field and ultimately making a meaningful impact on healthcare systems and patient outcomes.

How would you describe your research topic or area of focus?

My research is an assessment of readiness, integration and uptake of point of care (POC) digital diagnostic tools for febrile illness in Sub-Saharan Africa: A case study of Ghana’s Health system. Technology is only as good as its usability and the introduction of digital tools into a country does not guarantee its integration and use. What use is a fantastic diagnostic tool if it cannot be used to diagnose diseases and inform treatment? While it is generally expected that engagement and participation of the people for whom health interventions such as POC digital diagnostics are being designed is a critical component, there is still a lot to be understood about how and when policy stakeholder (or community) engagement can enhance integration and uptake of new interventions into African Health systems. By understanding the current state of research in this field, we can identify key areas of progress and areas that require further attention to harness the full potential of POC digital diagnostic tools in advancing healthcare across the continent. My research aims to contribute to and fill the gap in knowledge by exploring the policy perspectives, feasibility and challenges with integration of POC digital diagnostic tools in African health systems using Ghana’s health system as a case study. This will potentially provide better understanding of the health system requirements to integrate context appropriate digital POC diagnostic tools by learning directly from the stakeholders and users of the devices.

What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your Ph.D. journey so far? What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced during your Ph.D. studies, and how have you overcome them?

My PhD journey so far has been both challenging and rewarding. It has been a continuous process of learning, growth, and self-discovery. Along the way, the support of my family has been invaluable. Their encouragement and belief in my abilities have been constant sources of motivation, pushing me to overcome obstacles and strive for excellence.
Secondly, the chance to collaborate with brilliant minds, in the DIDA network, University of Ghana and beyond, has been enriching. Additionally, the autonomy and independence afforded in pursuing research have empowered me to take ownership of my intellectual pursuits and shape my academic trajectory. Knowing that my efforts will contribute to advancing knowledge and potentially making a positive impact for health systems on the African continent and across the world adds a profound sense of purpose to the Ph.D. journey.
On the other hand, one of the biggest challenges on this journey has been time management; balancing research, coursework, work and personal life can be overwhelming. In addition, encountering unexpected obstacles I guess is an inevitable part of PhDs and life in general. However, I have strong support system from my supervision team and other PhD fellows in the DIDA network who have continued to encourage me through the process. 

What are your plans or aspirations for after completing your Ph.D Program?

My post-Ph.D. plans are simple – to continue working in health systems, harnessing my expertise to strengthen leadership in healthcare, with a specific focus on advancing the development and adoption of digital diagnostic devices in African contexts. One key area of interest lies in optimizing the development and implementation of digital diagnostic devices tailored to the unique needs and challenges of African healthcare settings. Through collaborative efforts and a commitment to innovation, I hope to contribute to the realization of more resilient, equitable, and effective healthcare systems across the continent.

In what ways do you think stereotypes about women affect society, and how can we challenge them?

I think stereotypes about women tend to perpetuate damaging gender norms and restrict women's access to leadership, work, and educational opportunities, among other spheres of society. They might additionally play a role in continuing instances of discrimination and violence against women based on gender. In both personal and professional contexts, stereotypes can cause women to be undervalued and treated with disregard.

In many African societies, traditional gender roles and patriarchal norms are deeply entrenched, making it challenging to challenge stereotypes about women. Furthermore, stereotypes and gender inequalities can be exacerbated by socioeconomic issues including poverty, lack of access to education, and limited possibilities for women. However, via increasing advocacy and legislative changes, there are growing efforts to challenge gender stereotypes and advance women's empowerment. To successfully tackle stereotypes about women, a multifaceted approach that takes into account sociocultural, political, and economic factors must be employed. And while there are increasing conversations about making policies more gender responsive, I think it’s time to move from just talk to action. 

How can we celebrate and honour the achievements of women from diverse backgrounds and cultures on International Women's Day and throughout the year?

Promoting positive role models and highlighting the accomplishments of women in a variety of fields can go a long way to dispel misconceptions and inspire young women on days like these, and every other day. One way is to ensure that overlooked stories are highlighted.  A lot of women's accomplishments are overlooked or undervalued. It’s important to tell stories of women who have defied expectations, broken down barriers, and improved their communities. Even while International Women's Day is a fantastic chance to highlight the accomplishments of women, the momentum needs to be maintained all year long. Advocate for laws that advance gender equality, assist women in your social and professional networks, and confront prejudice and stereotypes when you come across them.

ANGELINA ANKAH AMENGU

Angelina is a Ph.D Student at Imperial College London, and she was awarded the prestigious President's Ph.D Scholarship, funding her research project "A digital intervention for Improved Self-Measured Blood Pressure Adherence in Low-and-Middle Income Countries (LMICs) – A behaviour-centred design approach".
Angelina was awarded a Ph.D Fellowship by the NIHR Global Health Research Group, but she moved to London soon after, actively collaborating since then with the Research Group and the other Students.

Angelina, what inspired you to pursue a Ph.D, and how has your journey been so far?

I've always been fascinated by advances in technology and their applications in healthcare and wellbeing, particularly those that contribute significantly to achieving SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Consequently, my PhD research focuses on the design of digital health interventions for hypertension control in LMICs.


What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your Ph.D. journey so far?

I have had the opportunity to be part of:
  • Imperial College President Scholars committee: assisting with meetings and activities such as Alumni event, Final Year farewell and symposium.

  • The Wellbeing Tech Lab, Dyson School of Design Engineering: collaborative research on the design of innovative digital solutions to improve healthcare and wellbeing.

  • DIDA research group as a research collaborator

  • Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA) in Networks and Communication at the Department of Computing as well as Designing Interventions for Behaviour Change at the Dyson School of Design Engineering, Imperial College London.

  • Attended DET seminars organised by the Dyson School of Design Engineering

  • Women’s Health Network at Imperial College London as a member

  • Enrolled in an academic writing course to enhance my STEM writing and communication skills.

  • Attending a Human Centred Design Engineering class to help me with my PhD study.

  • Currently conducting a systematic study of barriers and facilitators of digital health interventions in low- and middle-income countries. 

  • Completed 8 graduate school courses: Literature Review, Basic Statistics, Introduction to Latex, Data Exploration and Visualisation, Learning and Teaching, Assessment and Feedback for Learning, Plagiarism Awareness, and R Programming Language

  • PhD Research Proposal Acceptance 


What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced during your Ph.D. studies, and how have you overcome them? 

  • I manage my time effectively and meet weekly with my primary supervisor to present research updates.

  • I gained knowledge and understanding of the foundations of my research, and I attended an undergraduate class on Human Centred Design Engineering (HCDE) and worked as a GTA in Designing Interventions for Behaviour Change. This helped me understand unfamiliar behaviour-centered frameworks and theories that will be useful in my PhD research. 

  • Understanding complex concepts and study topics, extensive reading and research. 

  • Balancing research and social activities, including group meetings, DET seminars, weekend outings and family interactions. 

  • Living costs and self-discipline in managing my monthly budget, including expenses and savings.

  • Research grant applications, as perseverance and self-motivation is required

What are your plans or aspirations for after completing your Ph.D Program? 

I aspire to be one of the few female professors and academic scholars in Design Engineering, train and positively influence young people interested in solving real-world sociocultural problems. After completing my PhD, I intend to pursue postdoctoral research or a lectureship position in Design Engineering. With the expected knowledge and skills from my doctoral studies, I am confident that I will be able to make significant contributions to cutting-edge design engineering research projects in healthcare and wellbeing in Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa.

 

What are some barriers or challenges that women face in education, careers, or society in general, and how can we work to overcome them?

Poverty, sexual harassments, and corruption that exist in various educational organisational structures, particularly in low-income countries.

How can we encourage more girls and young women to pursue careers and studies in traditionally male-dominated fields like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)?

Increased and lucrative scholarships, research fellowships, paid apprenticeships and internships, entrepreneurial training, start-ups and initiatives, and student exchange programmes for young women from underprivileged groups and low-income countries.

 

How can young women support each other in their personal and professional growth?

Young women in STEM can help each other improve personally and professionally by participating in education and training workshops, volunteering, and social activities. I think targeting the marginalised communities and personally launching innovative initiatives can serve as a source of inspirations for others, potentially providing financial and professional support to young women.

 

How can we celebrate and honor the achievements of women from diverse backgrounds and cultures on International Women's Day and throughout the year?

Women with diverse backgrounds and cultures can be recognised for their achievements and contributions on International Women's Day through social networking platforms, symposiums, communities, award presentations, among other activities. These platforms and activities that highlight their success stories, challenges, perseverance, and inspirations will help raise awareness, inspire others, promote equality, and empower women in different walks of life.

Angelina Ankah Amengu's

 

 

 




A heartfelt appreciation goes out to Flavia, Shola, Angelina for generously sharing their experiences and valuable insights. Special recognition extends to all the incredible women in the NIHR Global Health Research Group. Your contributions are shaping the future and inspiring us all. Thank you!




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