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Meet our 2022 Towards Leadership Programme Fellows

Researcher at work

In 2022, with support from UKRI-MRC we launched a new flagship programme for professional development and to empower talented emerging scientists in Africa to transform their leadership visions. We are delighted to announce we have now completed the first cohort and want you to see the diverse and outstanding African scientists that we have been supporting.


Adeola Fowotade graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and MSc. in Medical Virology Surgery from the University of Ilorin and subsequently obtained a doctorate degree in Molecular Virology and Immunology from the University of Surrey, UK in 2017. Adeola is a Senior Lecturer at the Clinical Virology Unit of the department of Medical Microbiology and Parasitology, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan and she also offers Clinical Virology services as a Consultant to the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Nigeria. Her research focus has centred on understanding the epidemiology and molecular diversity of viruses of medical importance and gaining deeper insights into the pathogenesis and variable clinical manifestations and outcome of infectious diseases drives my passion for impactful translational research. Adeola hopes to conduct translational research with diverse funding sources, expand her leadership in the field of virology by offering mentorship and training opportunities in research to the next generation of Virologists.

With her participation in the TLP, Adeola hope to apply for training grants to fund molecular biology training for younger clinical virologists in West Africa.

In the words of Louis Pasteur, time and chance favours the prepared mind. I feel ready to advance my career to the next level and the AREF Towards Leadership programme is very timely indeed”  

Dr. Alfred F. Attah got his first degree in Biochemistry, MSc in Pharmacognosy and PhD in Pharmacognosy. Inspired by Prof. CW Gruber of the University of Vienna, Austria, Alfred enjoyed a funded research training in proteomics and peptidomics with a bias in knottin-like peptide therapeutics from African medicinal plants.  

As a Senior lecturer, he’s leading a new research group for the Innovate Research Network investigating the molecular diversity and biomolecular targets of novel knottin –like peptides from plants used as food and Medicine.  For this role, Alfred hopes that the  AREF Towards Leadership Programme will support his deliberate and  immediate implementation of the learning experiences acquired during the programme including writing and submitting a grant application on novel botanical knottin peptide therapeutics for sickle cell drug discovery.

In other words, my research, research group and network of collaborators (old and new) working on knottin-like peptide chemistry and Pharmacology will be greatly impacted following my potentially newly acquired research leadership skills. One goal is to build my professional brand in Botanical knottin peptides against sickle cell and NTDs.”


Alfred Andama is the current Chief Laboratory Technologist in the Department of Medicine at the Makerere University College of Health Sciences. Dr. Andama holds a BSc in Biomedical Laboratory Technology, MSc in Laboratory Science and Management, and PhD in Microbiology from Makerere University. His current research interests are focused on conducting pilot accuracy studies and usability assessments of novel Tuberculosis diagnostics and prototypes to inform their further development. He is being mentored by Dr. Adithya Cattamanchi in conducting TB diagnostics research. His career goal is to become an independent research scientist in developing and evaluating new lab-based diagnostic tools, and serve as lead for novel research ideas, innovations, and testing platforms. During the Towards Leadership Programme, he hopes to attract funding to support  both his scientific and leadership contributions  to his community, and grow within the University ranks and earn institutional recognition and promotion based on his. outputs.


Cynthia Sema Baltazar is a biologist with a Master’s degree in public health and a PhD. in health sciences. She has close to 15years of experience leading initiatives in the health  sector in Mozambique. She acted as the Head of the Surveillance Department at the NIH from 2010 to 2019, where she implemented policy changes, lead several research projects, and initiated leadership changes within the institute.  Her research portfolio includes biobehavioral surveys among key and priority populations in Mozambique and diarrheal diseases with a focus on cholera. 

Cynthia is currently the Program Director for the Mozambique Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (FELTP). 

In our LMICs, we face the same intense pressure to develop proposals, and publish in peer review journals as our counterparts in high-income countries, but we also face the lack the access to resources, training and funding support. A limitation to conducting research in Africa is the poor quality of proposals and papers produced by beginning or mid-career scientists.  As a young public health enthusiast and scientist in my country, I consider it important to need additional training and experience in effectively writing successful and impactfully grant proposals that address the main public health problems in the country and benefiting society. “

Cynthia’s goals are to continue to strengthen her skills to progress toward taking on more management and leadership roles. She strongly believes that the AREF Towards Leadership Programme will equip her to be more effective and feel empowered me to take on additional research and leadership roles in the Mozambique health sector.


El Hadji Amadou Niang is a medical entomologist who loves chasing mosquitoes and started his scientific journey at Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar where he currently works as Interim Director of Laboratoire d’Ecologie Vectorielle et Parasitaire (LEVP). Amadou’s interests encompass various aspects of insect vector ecology, population genetics and genomics, evolution and applied consequences of insecticide resistance and the control of mosquito vectors of human disease, especially malaria’s vectors.

Since I joined the AREF family and met Professor Corrah, my role model, I envision to be one of the African leaders who will solve African problems.My research focus on vector biology, ecology and how they shape the VBD epidemiology, and deepen our knowledge on keys drivers of diseases emergence/re-emergence, and how the changes influence both the structure, the dispersal and behaviour of vectors populations.”

He dreams of advancing his career to become an African leading researcher on Vector-borne diseases, set up Vector Genomics Group at his university and contribute to building genomic studies approaches applied to vector and the parasites they transmit by generating high quality data to tackle the public health and economic burden faced by the continent.  


Eric Ndombi is currently implementing a NIAID-NIH R01 Grant on International Research in Infections Diseases with USA collaborators and also mployed as a Lecturer in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Parasitology, School of Medicine, Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya. Eric works to strengthen and establish affiliation and collaboration between the Kenya Medical Research Institute’s Centre for Global Health Research in Kisumu, western Kenya and Texas Biomedical Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas, USA. He has worked to assemble a team comprising of several field and laboratory research assistants and technicians, two graduate students and several Kenyan and international collaborators to support his grant research project on anti-schistosome drug resistance and in establishing a novel platform for investigating pre-existing variations in the parasite’s susceptibility to current drugs as well to drugs under development . His goal after participating in the Towards Leadership programme is to gain research skills and to be able to expand his network of research collaborators in infectious diseases. 

John Muriuki is an early career research fellow at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Kilifi, Kenya and holds a PhD from the Open University (UK) where he trained in iron biology and human genetics. His research interests are in understanding the causal relationships between micronutrient deficiencies and severe infection/death. John is particularly inspired by Professors Sarah Atkinson, Thomas Williams, George Davey Smith, and Adebowale Adeyemo who continue to provide incredible support towards his independent research career. He is currently implementing a research project to understand the complex relationship between micronutrient deficiencies and severe infection/death, applying techniques such as genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and Mendelian randomisation. His preliminary GWAS analyses suggest that there are novel and unique genetic variants that influence iron status in African populations. These unique variants present an opportunity to identify novel mechanisms that may predispose African children to infectious diseases and death.  

In the future, John hope’s to apply these techniques to problems beyond iron biology including using genetic techniques to determine how other biomarkers or exposures influence infections and other health problems with an overall goal of finding solutions to the persistent public health burden of infectious diseases in Africa. Training through this programme is therefore a critical step in John’s independent research career.


Forgu Esemu LivoI holds a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Yaounde, Cameroon, and had the privilege to be trained by the Eminent Professor Rose Leke on the immunology of malaria and HIV in pregnancy. Forgu currently works at the Centre for Research on Emerging and Reemerging Diseases (CREMER) where he is now assessing how common childhood diseases affect vaccine responses in HIV-exposed uninfected infants. His goal is to become a Pan-Africanist who advocates for development through research.

Training received during this programme will be a seed sown in my home institution of CREMER and would be replicated and contextualised in different settings in Cameroon.This course a one of its kind because it gives us dedicated training by experts who have thought deeply about the topic. At the end of this training, I want to discover and immediately begin to consolidate my leadership style.”


Faith Agbozo is a Registered Nurse and Certified Public Health Nutritionist with a PhD in Public Health from Heidelberg University in Germany. Currently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Health and Allied Sciences in Ghana, her primary research interests are nutritional, reproductive and child health epidemiology and the interconnectedness with emerging threats like climate change and food security. Although her migration from clinical care to research was “accidental”, Faith is thankful that AREF will catalyst her handholding and impact story.   Presently, she is leading a small research group on multiple projects ranging from new born survival, school health and nutrition to climate change adaptation. Faith anticipates that after the Towards Leadership Programme, she will gain a deeper understanding of her capabilities and leverage on the strengths therein to positively influence the team, and nurture younger scientists to fulfil their career and professional development aspirations. She also envisage expanding her advocacy capacity to strengthen interdisciplinary research that ameliorates suffering and promotes health and well-being; exhibit excellence in leadership and mentorship and transfer knowledge acquired to junior scientists; and ultimately contribute to the global scientific discourse that impacts positively on humanity. 

As an early career scientist, I believe I will thrive through continued professional development opportunities in science and mentoring that will build my capacities in grant proposal and scientific writing, communication skills, networking and multi-disciplinary research. By associating with like-minded persons, at the end of the Leadership Programme, I expect to build my capacity as a scientist and policy advocate, expand my network, explore ideas for collaboration and gain more visibility in my field. “

Dr. Kenneth Bentum Otabil completed his PhD in 2019 researching parasite and vector biology, focusing on Neglected Tropical diseases (NTDs). After the completion of his training, Dr. Otabil formed and currently leads the NeTroDis Research Group  at the Centre for Research in Applied Biology at the University of Energy and Natural Resources in Ghana.  

Dr. Otabil’s research focuses on the discovery of novel therapeutic targets and diagnostic markers for parasitic NTDs, currently implementing research which focuses on the discovery of novel therapeutic targets and diagnostic markers for onchocerciasis and schistosomiasis.  The current tools used in his research include immunohistochemistry and microscopy to determine the presence and anatomic locations of these novel enzymes and molecular cloning, overexpressing, and purification of these enzymes to help elucidate their biochemical nature. Subsequently, enzyme activity analysis, substrate specificity assays, and kinetic analysis are also used to provide insight into the nature of these novel enzymes.  Dr. Otabil expects that his research will provide insight into parasites’ metabolism and biology and demonstrate the utility of these novel enzymes as therapeutic targets and/or potential diagnostic markers. This will contribute positively towards the control and elimination of these diseases.  He is optimistic that the programme will expand avenues for joint grant applications, publications, curriculum co-development, as well as student and staff exchanges with national and international colleagues. Together, these activities will positively impact NTD research and training in Ghana and beyond. 

AREF-MRC TLP will empower me to lead highly impactful research in NTDs and also train the next generation of scientists in NTDs in Ghana & Africa

Adwoa Asante-Poku is a Microbiologist at the Department of Bacteriology, Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, University of Ghana (NMIMR-UG). ASince completing her PhD from the University of Basel, Switzerland, she has in worked in Ghana, starting as a postdoctoral fellow at University of Ghana. Dr. Asante-Poku is researching Mycobacterium tuberculosis with a particular focus on Host pathogen interaction and antimicrobial resistance at the NMIMR-UG. She is working under the supervision of Prof Dorothy Yeboah Manu, a microbiologist with vast experience. She is happy to be working in an institution that promotes women in science, technology and engineering advancement.

My long-term goal is to characterize host, environmental and pathogen factors that affect the control and elimination of TB in Ghana. This leadership programme will enhance my career as a female African scientist, developing me to transition into research leadership in the field of infectious diseases. NMIMR has a collection of the best experts including technologist, microbiologist, geneticists, and molecular biologist in the country and other scientists.”


Getrude Mphwanthe is a senior lecturer and researcher in nutrition and dietetics, working with Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Malawi. She holds a Human Nutrition and completed a didactic program in dietetics and supervised practice at Michigan State University. She is a registered dietitian with the commission for dietetic registration in the U.S and the medical council of Malawi. Getrude’s research focuses on dietary assessment and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in low-resource settings.  Based on her research experience on diet and type 2 diabetes, she has went on to expand her work to develop an easy-to-use pictorial-based food exchange system for diabetes prevention and management.

Getrude is currently building her research collaborations in Malawi and beyond to research on diet and malnutrition associated with cancer, stroke, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.

Participating in the Towards Leadership Program will be phenomenal because it will encompass new partnerships and the opportunity to garner inter-institutional faculty linkages for future research endeavors. This opportunity will improve my skills in winning competitive grants, team management, and leadership skills, which will ultimately also benefit my institution.”

Burkina Faso

Hamtandi Magloire Natama is a Biologist by training with a MSc in Applied Biological Sciences from the University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Antwerp, Belgium. Hamtandi is currently appointed as Associate Researcher at the Clinical Research Unit of Nanoro (CRUN) within the Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé (IRSS) in Burkina Faso. He posse great interest in malaria immunology focusing on maternal and neonatal infant health  and on malaria vaccines.  He is leading the biomedical research lab in his home institution and alongside implementing a grant from the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnerships (EDCPT) which is aiming to assess the role of host immune responses to P.falciparum gametocyte carriage. Through this grant, he plans to (i) equip the immunology lab at IRSS in Burkina Faso with a luminex platform and promote high-quality malaria immunology research, and (ii) coordinate a research team through the training of colleagues and master students who wish to pursue a PhD.

This programme will give me the opportunity to enhance my potential in designing compelling grant with high impact potential in global health that will increase my chance to attract grants and build my research team. In addition, I expect to develop my capacities in empowering an effective research team, in influencing stakeholders, in building a rewarding research career, and in establishing successful collaborative research network.”


Judicaël Obame-Nkoghe is a medical entomologist and Assistant Professor at the University of Science and Technology of Masuku, Gabon. His research focuses on understanding vector systems like ecology, adaptation, vector invasions, vector transmission of pathogens and how they shape epidemiological patterns of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases, particularly within anthropo-sylvan interfaces. Judicaël  is particularly inspired by mentors such as Prof. Moses Bockarie, Dr. Pierre Kengne, and Dr. Christophe Paupy, who guided him to building a research career. He was recently selected as a promising early-career scientist in Africa by The African Academy of Sciences (AAS)

His current project is titled What are the bioecological drivers underlying the invasive success of Aedes albopictus, and risk of arbovirus emergence in Gabon, Central-Africa? Since its introduction in Central-Africa, the mosquito Aedes albopictus, spread gradually to become the major dengue, chikungunya, and Zika vector in the region. Its spread continued across sylvan ecosystems, with the risk of bridging zoonotic viruses towards contiguous anthropogenic areas. Through this project which he is conducting in Gabon, he will investigate the underlying drivers, including response to environmental stressors and the genetic variability of this species potentially involved in its invasive success and its vector role for zoonotic viruses.  

This Towards Leadership Programme comes out in the perfect timing of my career development. With my participation to this programme, I expect to gain skills in research team management, building research culture, project coordination, student supervision and mentoring. I expect to improve my communication skills, in order to make good research communication, and have more impact and influence in engaging with policy makers.


Mkunde Chachage is a biomedical researcher at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, focusing on studying HIV pathogenesis preventive and therapeutic studies. She is currently leading institutional research efforts to investigate: (1) premature immune ageing in children living with HIV; (2) pathogenic mechanism during HIV co-infection with other pathogens including helminthes and Human Papilloma Viruses; (3) differences in the induction of vaccine-induced immune responses between different populations; (4) immune markers that aid in a timely/accurate diagnosis and monitoring of tuberculosis (TB) treatment; and (5) host and viral factors for COVID-19 disease outcomes in Tanzania. 

Mkunde’s goal is to produce impactful research outputs that address challenges faced by children and adolescents growing with HIV. People living with HIV, even under therapy, have a high burden of age-related illnesses yet such conditions have hardly been investigated in African children with HIV. She has recently published a co-authored article that shows that treatment-experienced by children living with HIV have dysregulated lipid profiles which might increase their risk for premature onset of age-related conditions such as cardiovascular illnesses. Mkunde is now working on teaming up with experts interested in pediatric HIV, and seek additional funds to further research the extent of HIV-associated premature senescence with an ultimate goal of informing on relevant policies that will ensure better outcomes for this group of children.

I expect “Towards Leadership programme” to be a platform for me to forge strong collaborations capable of attracting impactful international grants. At the end of the programme, I expect to expand my research networks and start working towards securing a grant for further monitoring age-related illnesses in African CWH. I also intend to form mentorship plans for junior scientists and students from my University, in partnership with newly forged collaborations.”


Modibo Sangare is a medical doctor from Mali trained as neuroscientist at the George Washington University (GWU) and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) in the U.S. His research interests are on autism spectrum disorders, epilepsy and HIV/AIDS. Modibo aims to become a leader in training the next generation of African scientists and health professionals in manuscript and grant writing, leadership, mentorship and other soft skills for successful research careers.  For clinical practice, he has been inspired by Professor Moussa TRAORE, Mali, Professor Eric COGAN and Professor Guy Decaux, Belgium. Through the leadership program, he plans on promoting inter-professional education at the University hospitals in Mali and establish a multidisciplinary research team to collaborate on competitive grant writing in the molecular biology lab at the University hospital “Hopital du Mali” in Bamako.    

The Gambia

Dr Modou Jobe graduated with an MB ChB degree from the University of The Gambia (UTG). Subsequently, he went on to obtain a Diplôme d’Études Spécialisées (DES) de Cardiologie (Postgraduate Specialist Diploma in Cardiology) at Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal. He has also obtained an MSc in Epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where he is presently undertaking a PhD. 

His current project seeks to understand mechanism(s) and unique phenotypes of hypertension in native Africans, and to evaluate the validity of ECG, aided by novel artificial intelligence methods, to screen for left ventricular dysfunction.  Modou is committed to a research career studying the epidemiology and mechanism of cardio-metabolic diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. As a cardiologist and clinical epidemiologist, his aim is to better understand and manage these disease processes through patient-oriented and translational research. As he plans to return to The Gambia after his PhD, Modou believes that the Towards Leadership Programme will greatly benefit the nutrition and planetary health theme, and by extension the MRCG at LSHTM where he will be assuming a leading role in non-communicable diseases research. 

Most therapeutic decisions in hypertension management in native Africans are based on clinical acumen and/or trial and error with a very sparse evidence base. My research on detailed phenotyping and better understanding of mechanisms will focus future studies and clinical trials into specific pathways of interest”


Rachael Dangarembizi is a neuroscientist whose research focuses on investigating the mechanisms underlying brain injury in neglected fungal infections of the brain which are highly prevalent, very difficult to treat and a leading cause of HIV-associated mortality in Africa. She leads a diverse and highly motivated research team at the University of Cape Town in South Africa where they are committed to using good scientific research to advance knowledge to address Africa’s pressing public health challenges. Her current research employs both experimental models and clinical approaches to decipher the mechanisms of neurological injury in cryptococcal meningitis. Through this project, her overarching aim is to develop novel translational models that can be reliably used for studying the interaction of the nervous system with the fungal pathogen that causes neurocryptococcosis, and to identify markers of neurological injury that can be used for better diagnosis and management of the fatal disease. Rachael’s mid- and long-term career goals are to develop into a global leader in her area of research, to contribute to capacity-building in African neuroscience, and to develop her home institution’s research lab into a nexus for carrying out impactful mechanistic neuroinfections research in the region. 

An invaluable, impactful, life-changing programme that helped me to develop critical research leadership skills required for carrying out impactful and globally competitive research.”

Published: 5 April 2023