MRC Gambia at LSHTM’s Dr. Uduak Okomo wins 2019 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award

Friday, March 01, 2019

Dr. Uduak Okomo, paediatrician and epidemiologist at the MRC Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has won the 2019 OWSD-Elseiver Foundation Award for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World. Dr. Okomo is one of five winners recognised for their research in the biological sciences, and their commitment to leading and mentoring young scientists, and to improving lives and livelihoods in their communities and regions.   

Commenting on her recognition, Dr. Okomo said, “receiving this award is an encouragement to continue my work to improve maternal and new-born survival in Sub-Saharan Africa. I hope it inspires African women scientists in global health to become scientific leaders in their spheres of influence and gives them the courage and confidence to tackle Africa’s challenges in global health.”

“Dr Okomo is bringing important insights from our research in the clinic and laboratory to the wider communities in collaboration with governmental and non-governmental agencies, and the award recognises her dedication to improving the lives of young babies and their mothers in The Gambia. I am delighted that a member of my team has been internationally recognized through this award”, said Professor Beate Kampmann, Theme Leader Vaccines & Immunity, MRCG at LSHTM.

At the heart of Dr. Okomo’s work is the desire to decrease preventable deaths from infections in new-born babies. To this purpose, she has studied how neonatal infections are transmitted, and has found that hospital-acquired infections play a significant role. This finding has major implications for clinical and public health interventions and can inform policy at all levels of the healthcare system.

“These scientists are performing ground-breaking international-level science, often in circumstances where the deck has been stacked against them,” said Jennifer Thomson, President of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD). “They deserve to be honored and celebrated for their dedication not only to their research, but to creating a better world for people to live in.”

Dr. Okomo completed her undergraduate medical training in Nigeria, followed by paediatric specialist training in Nigeria and The Gambia. She received her PhD in Infectious Disease Epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom. With research funding from the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation, she established a paediatric HIV/AIDS cohort in The Gambia, improving capacity for clinical care and research through mentorship, in partnership with the National AIDS Secretariat. She also led the team that wrote the first national paediatric HIV/AIDS treatment guidelines in The Gambia. With the support of a recently awarded Pump Priming Grant from the Wellcome Trust and in collaboration with UNICEF, she is currently carrying out a facility-based evaluation of stillbirths and neonatal deaths in the country. She is a Vice President and Chairwoman of the Gambia Chapter of the West African College of Physicians.

“Each year, it is inspiring to find out just how much of the research undertaken by our winning scientists focuses on crucial challenges addressed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals: creating sustainable bioplastics in Bangladesh; preserving traditional plant knowledge in Bolivia; reducing disease transmission to newborns in Africa; removing arsenic from water in Nepal; and investigating the health care system response to gender violence in Palestine,” said Ylann Schemm, Director of the Elsevier Foundation. “In addition, working with OWSD and the AAAS to celebrate the success of these talented women scientists is both an honor and a joy.”

Dr. Okomo is as passionate about supporting young scientists as she is about improving neonatal survival. She is a visiting Consultant Paediatrician to the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital, and teaches Paediatrics at the School of Medicine & Allied Health Sciences, University of The Gambia. She is a member of the Medical Research Council’s Gambia Women in Science Working Group and helps to facilitate the development and advancement of young girls in biomedical and clinical research careers, through public engagement activities and as a mentor to young African scientists across the region.