As the world continues to fight the unparalleled challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, African women in STEM are yet again demonstrating their leadership in their various communities and countries. Not only are they on the frontlines of the response effort to treat and stop the spread of the virus, but they are also spearheading advances in health and safety in their roles as scientists, researchers, innovators, researchers and communicators.
At Levers in Heels, we remain committed to ensuring that the voices of African women in STEM are heard, especially in these unprecedented times, as they share their solutions for a safer, healthier, and gender-equal world.
Here are our 100 African Women in STEM leading the fight against COVID-19:
1. Joyce Ngoi (Kenya)
Joyce Ngoi, together with her team of scientists at the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) and the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), was responsible for the successful sequencing of genomes of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the global COVID-19 pandemic – obtaining important information about the genetic composition of the viral strains in 15 of the confirmed cases in Ghana back in April 2020.
Genome sequencing allows for the compilation of the most comprehensive information about an organism’s genetic makeup. Using advanced next-generation sequencing (NGS) methods, scientists are able to track and compare viral mutations to understand the origins of imported strains and to discover if any novel strains are emerging locally.
“We anticipate that this will form the basis of further genomic analysis of the virus in Ghana.” – Joyce Ngoi
Joyce is a Kenyan Molecular Biologist and an expert in several next generation sequencing (NGS) platforms. She currently manages and runs the next generation sequencing (NGS) facilities at the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) and the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), both of which are located at the University of Ghana. Joyce also has over 8 years’ experience running molecular diagnostics in the context of clinical trials.
2. Elodie Nonga (Cameroon)
Elodie Nonga and her team at WETECH (Women In Entrepreneurship and Technology) have developed a chatbot called Sandra – CovidInfos237 to help the Cameroonian public in its fight against COVID-19 with rapid diagnostic tests.
“Our interactive chat tool is easy and convenient to use. Sandra allows people to do a rapid diagnostic test. This is done through a set of questions assessing your symptoms. It provides information on the emergency numbers to call if necessary or according to your results. Sandra also gives real-time and official information about the Covid-19 in Cameroon and highlights local community initiatives fighting the coronavirus.” – Elodie Nonga
Elodie Nonga is a Tech Entrepreneur and Digital Communication Consultant based in Cameroon. She is the Founder of EN Group, a company designing programs for Community Development. She also Founded WETECH (Women in Entrepreneurship and Technology – wwww.we-tech.org) to support women through Mentorship, Opportunity, and Capacity Building in Entrepreneurship and Technology. She has trained more than 300 youth Cameroonians in Digital Communication.
3. Sibongile Mongadi (South Africa)
Sibongile Mongadi, founder of Uku’hamba (pty) Ltd. – a South African company using 3D printing technology to produce low cost prosthetic limbs, has redirected all her company’s focus to manufacture more than 200 3D printed protective masks and shields for frontline workers in South Africa, to help in its fight against the COVID-19 crisis.
Sibongile is also developing an editable, open source 3D ventilator which will be manufactured using 3D printing and laser cutting technology to contribute towards shortages of ventilators needed in the country’s health care facilities.
Sibongile Mongadi is a young trailblazer and the visionary behind Uku’hamba (pty) Ltd. Her entrepreneurial talents emerged from a personal experience after interacting with an amputee at a health facility in Johannesburg. This experience led her to make a positive impact and improve the quality life of amputees by giving them back their independence.
4. Elsie Effah Kaufmann (Ghana)
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Ghana, Dr. Elsie Effah Kaufmann, President of the Ghana Society of Biomedical Engineers (GSBE) and her team are working to develop, locally produce and donate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and ventilators for use by frontline healthcare workers. While her team’s various projects are at different stages of development, the most advanced is their face shield project. So far, their prototype face shield has been approved for donation by Ghana Food And Drug Authority (FDA). With sponsorship from First National Bank, GSBE is in the process of fabricating 500 face shields for donation to the Ghana Armed Forces.
“We anticipate that production can be scaled up to provide enough face shields to meet the demand in Ghana and other low resource settings in neighbouring countries.” – Dr. Elsie Effah Kaufmann
Dr. Kaufmann and her colleague, Professor Kathleen Sienko (University of Michigan), have also leveraged a long-standing collaboration to develop a remote student engagement opportunity focused on investigating PPE and non-invasive ventilator technologies for resource constrained settings in Ghana and Michigan. 30 University of Ghana and University of Michigan student volunteers participated in the month-long initiative. The students working in six teams evaluated the quality of available information and curated relevant information sources about aprons, face shields, gloves, goggles, respirators, and non-invasive ventilators. The student teams then assessed the suitability of different PPE and non-invasive ventilator designs for resource constrained settings in Ghana and Michigan, incorporating context-specific considerations such as cost, ease of local production, and compliance with local regulations. These assessments were used to formulate recommendations about the most relevant PPE and non-invasive ventilator designs for low-resource clinical and non-clinical settings. The recommendations are expected to enhance the design and fabrication work of GSBE.
As a member of the COVID-19 Citizens Coalition (CCC), Dr. Elsie Effah Kaufmann is also helping to raise funds to support at-risk groups in Ghana. CCC members have also produced and disseminated educational information on the virus to support the fight against COVID-19.
Dr. Elsie Effah Kaufmann is a Senior Lecturer and founding Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Ghana. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE), a Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) and a PhD in Bioengineering, all from the University of Pennsylvania, USA. After her graduate studies she received her postdoctoral training at Rutgers University before joining the University of Ghana in 2001.
Dr. Effah Kaufmann was a member of the Planning Committee set up by the Academic Board of the University of Ghana to make proposals for establishing the Faculty of Engineering Sciences and was also a member of the three-person Implementation Committee set up by the Vice Chancellor following the submission and adoption of the Planning Committee’s report. She was appointed as the first Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering in 2006.
Dr. Effah Kaufmann’s teaching and research focus on Tissue Engineering, Biomaterials and Application of Biomedical Engineering concepts to the solution of problems in the Ghanaian context. She was the recipient of the University of Ghana’s Best Teacher Award for the Sciences in 2009. She is also keenly interested in Science education at all levels and has been the Host/ Quiz Mistress of the Ghana National Science & Mathematics Quiz TV Programme since 2006.
Dr. Effah Kaufmann is the 2017 Impact Africa Summit Laureate for Education in Ghana. The award recognises her “exceptional and continuous contribution to science education in Ghana and for being a role model and inspiration to many young girls”. She was also the recipient of the National Society of Black Engineers’ 2018 Golden Torch Award for International Academic Leadership in recognition of her excellence in support of academics on an international level and exhibition of commitment to the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. She is the President of the Ghana Society of Biomedical Engineers.
Are you an African woman in STEM actively leading the fight against COVID-19 in your country?