Levers in Heels’ 100 African Women in STEM Fighting COVID-19

Levers in Heels’ 100 African Women in STEM Fighting COVID-19
14 min read

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

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

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

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)

Dr. Elsie Effah Kaufmann

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.


5.  Linda Mobula (DRC / USA)

Linda Mobula

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Dr. Linda Mobula has worked as a volunteer clinician in New York City, treating COVID-19 patients in Manhattan. She has also provided support to the COVID-19 response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and is currently providing technical support to the elaboration of its COVID-19 National Response Plan in her capacity as a Health Specialist with the World Bank Group.

Dr. Linda Mobula is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins, and a Research Associate with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Dr. Linda Mobula has worked on several outbreaks including the 9th and 10th DRC Ebola outbreaks, the West Africa Ebola outbreak, and the Haiti cholera outbreak. She has responded to multiple humanitarian emergencies; including the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the European Refugee Response in Greece, as well as the post-earthquake Haiti response. She previously worked as Health and Infectious Disease advisor with the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), where she worked on pandemic preparedness and provided technical assistance for humanitarian emergencies in Nigeria and DRC. She also previously worked in the Office of HIV/AIDS at USAID where she provided technical assistance to South Sudan, DRC, Mozambique and Burundi. During her residency, she made multiple trips as a medical volunteer to Haiti with Samaritan’s Purse, working at a primary care clinic in Cite Soleil, Haiti’s largest and poorest slum. She later managed the Cite Soleil Clinic and a Maternal Child Health Program in Haiti after her residency with Samaritan’s Purse. She obtained a Bachelor of Science with Honors from the University of AZ in 2004 and attended medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. She obtained a Masters in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a concentration in Health in Crisis and Humanitarian assistance. She completed residency in Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. She completed a Post-doctoral fellowship in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital. From 2014-2017, she was the Co-Principal Investigator for the Gates funded Ghana Access and Affordability Program which aims to improve access to treatment for Non-Communicable Diseases.


6. Dr. Ngulala Sandrine Mubenga (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Dr. Ngulala Sandrine Mubenga

Dr. Ngulala Sandrine Mubenga, Ph.D., PE, is an accomplished Congolese electrical engineer, educator, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and leader in helping with the COVID-19 response in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Feeling the need to help her native country amid the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Mubenga developed a way for people in the DRC to build their own ‘breathing machines’ from scratch using equipment and materials accessible to them.

“There are less than 1,200 ventilators in the country with nearly 85 million people. Only about 50 of those machines are in the capital city of Kinshasa.” – Dr. Ngulala Sandrine Mubenga

In a period of three weeks, Dr. Mubenga and her volunteer team worked together to develop a prototype of a life-saving ventilator using open-source specifications from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She also teamed up with partners, including a hospital in Kinshasa and the National Trade School to build an emergency ventilator that makes use of Ambu resuscitator bags, commonly hand-operated in hospitals by medical professionals to create airflow to a patient’s lungs until a ventilator becomes available. The new device includes a mechanism that automates squeezing and releasing motions.

A ventilator is very delicate. You have medical, mechanical and electrical specifications that must be met. And while MIT provided most of the design documents, it did not include the most important piece until very recently – the controls code of the model. We’re talking about how to get feedback from different sensors to the microcontroller and adjust the system based on that feedback.” – Dr. Ngulala Sandrine Mubenga

Dr. Ngulala Sandrine Mubenga is a Professor at the Engineering Technology Department at the University of Toledo (UT), Ohio, USA where she received the Bachelor’s (2005), Master’s (2008) and Doctorate (2017) degrees in Electrical Engineering with honors. Her research areas include battery management systems, electric vehicles, and renewable energy systems.

Dr. Mubenga is also an entrepreneur. She is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of SMIN Power Group, a solar developer with offices in the USA and in the DRC. In 2018, she founded the STEM DRC Initiative, a non-profit organization that aims to encourage Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the DRC. She is a Member of the Board of Directors at the Société Nationale d’ Eléctricité, the main electric utility company in the DRC. In 2018 she was named the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) engineer of the year.


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