Prof Obidimma Ezezika Receives Next Einstein Award

September 13/2019

DLSPH Prof. Obidimma Ezezika has been named one of Africa’s top 25 scientists by the Next Einstein Forum – an organization that supports the work of African scientists under the belief that the next Einstein will be African.

Ezezika received the Next Einstein Forum Fellow Award for his research around public health and nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. DLSPH writer Françoise Makanda spoke with Ezezika to learn more about the award and its impact on his work.

Q: Congratulations on the award. What does it mean to you?
A: The award provides me with a platform to encourage and hopefully inspire young African scientists, to draw upon the vast network of NEF members in the promotion of science and technology in African countries and to continue my work with the African Centre for Innovation and Leadership Development.

One of my greatest heartaches is seeing amazing young African scientists not reaching their full potential. I saw this first-hand in 2011 during a fellowship from the Nigerian government as a LEADS scholar where I provided one-year of support to faculty members in two Nigerian Universities. Since then, I have been striving to make an impact in advancing science and technology in Africa, which was why I wanted to become a NEF fellow, and also why I founded the African Centre for Innovation and Leadership Development (ACILD) in 2014.

The award will also help bring attention to my current research on implementation science in global health in the context of sub Sahara Africa. The goal of this work is to improve global health outcomes in resource-constrained setting by contributing to the development of strategies that promote the uptake of proven and effective health interventions.

Obidimma Ezezika

Q: What has led you to dedicate your research efforts to public health in Africa?
A: Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, I had a huge fascination for science — particularly the world of the unseen: microbiology; which why I studied at the University of Lagos. I went on to do my PhD at the University of Georgia and focused on the microbial genetics related to disease virulence and bioremediation. It was an amazing experience, however, as I reached the culmination of my PhD I wondered about the impact of my work in the context of the real world and became fixated on the challenge of taking innovations from the lab to the village. This led me to policy studies at Yale, where I began to appreciate the huge overlap with science and policy, particularly in the context of African economies. This was the beginning of my interest in implementation science and public health in Africa.

My research focus on the nutrition transition and hidden hunger was crystalized during one of my first research engagements in South Africa. I had just finished facilitating a farmers’ focus group in Soweto and was going back to Johannesburg. I was really happy with what I had seen in Soweto, as some of the farmers had improved their productivity over the last year and had received some additional support from the government. I recall asking the driver if we could stop for some food as I was famished. I remember passing by a cafeteria where I saw a lot of youths having as their meal, big loaves of white bread and huge bottles of coca cola. It was jarring for me to see the increased productivity in rural farmlands and then 20 minutes later such poor nutrition in the city of Johannesburg. This experience, more than anything else, led me to my current work on the gamification of nutrition, which I started in 2015 and launched as the NutridoTM initiative to improve nutrition among adolescents.  I am currently working with U of T’s Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition on the role of implementation science in the scaling of nutrition interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?
A: Working with colleagues in Africa, our goal is to develop new models to deliver effective health interventions, given the existing financial constraints within the region. The results of this study will help contribute to the practice of effectively scaling life-saving technologies and evidenced-based interventions, particularly in the context of nutrition. I am also excited about a new project which I have started together with colleagues and students at ICHS called the Global Health Storyline Project, which is a series of online interactive modules based on the textbook, An Introduction to Global Health that introduces students to key global health concepts in clear, fresh, and exciting ways.