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Titilayo Esther Davies: It’s Time to Make a Difference

July 29/2021

by Françoise Makanda, Communications Officer at DLSPH

Titilayo Esther Davies is not taking a break after her Master’s in Bioethics at DLSPH. She’s jumping right into a PhD program in the School’s Division of Social and Behavioural Health Sciences.

Her love of philosophy has led her to this point. After successfully completing an Honours Bachelors of Health Science Specialization at Western University, she left with more questions than answers. Bioethics offered a space where she could find some of those answers.

“I love asking questions—the more we do, the better we progress to what we think our ideals are,” says Davies. “That’s why I fell in love with bioethics.”

DLSPH Communications Officer Francoise Makanda recently spoke with Davies about her future plans.

What’s the most pressing question in public health that hasn’t been answered?

I feel like there are a lot of questions—it’s hard for me to pinpoint one.

I noticed that a lot of people, organizations, institutions have values: “This is our core value, this is our core mandate.”

I always feel there’s a disconnect between what they say their values are, what they do or what they produce. And so, part of the field of bioethics looks at these values, how they can come into conflict and really tries to break them down, understand them and prioritize them.

Alum Titilayo Esther Davies

Alum Titilayo Esther Davies

Do you know what question and subject you’re going to look into for your PhD?

My focus is going to be on ethical issues in maternal health and maternal healthcare, with a specific focus on Black women, who globally, experience higher maternal health disparities. I’m particularly interested in questioning how and to what extent healthcare settings perpetuate (in)equitable maternal healthcare outcomes; the exodus of women in African, Caribbean and Black communities from institutionally organized maternal care toward community-based care; which socio-cultural and ethical factors impact decision-making about pre-and post-natal care and delivery choices. I’ve also been considering incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into my project and exploring the opportunities and the consequences of using that type of technology in this space.

Is there a reason AI in maternal health and Black women specifically came to mind for you as a possible subject for a PhD?

I was always just interested in the disparities of Black women’s health, specifically in relation to maternal health, and issues of reproductive and sexual health, like HIV, and fertility for instance.

Growing up, I’ve had friends and family who have had challenges specifically with fertility, and just seeing how that unfolded was always interesting to me. And so, when I was in my final year of undergrad, I really looked at the social constructions of womanhood and motherhood, the challenges that infertility, and involuntary childlessness, brings to the identity of womanhood and the process of mothering.

And I think when I look at AI, I’m still trying to conceptualize how I would bring it into my project

My feelings about using AI technology in healthcare have not been static. After my first few introductions into AI I thought, “Oh, this is interesting. Like, this could be it, this could be this wonderful, cool thing.” And I was so super excited.

But now, my thinking is more critical, and honestly, I am a bit more skeptical. I’ve been reading and listening to the voices of scholars like Melissa McCradden and LLana James and how they challenge the public glorification of AI as this all-benevolent answer to solving healthcare problems.

I think with the novelty and excitement in AI in healthcare, there are a lot of promises being made. Things such as reduced bias, better access, health system efficiency, and much more. I wonder about what promises are being made, and that could be made, about the use of AI in maternal healthcare. I wonder how these promises will impact the current experiences of maternal health specifically for Black women and how it will change or revolutionize, how care is provided. Will the use of AI in maternal health in Canada and the global north set the tone of its use globally? Is AI truly the thing that’s going to protect us against higher rates of maternal mortality? Or is it going to exacerbate those states?

I’m interested in how we value this technology and the promises, opportunities and consequences it will bring.

How does it feel to be doing this program online? How has it been for you?

Online is hard. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to meet my cohort in person during the first year. They are such an exceptional group of people. Because of the relationships we built in the first year, we jointly decided to keep the engagement and energy up behind our screens. Thankfully, we have compassionate and understanding instructors, and our program director Kevin Reel, who made the transition to fully online so much smoother like being in spaces with people especially because it gives people an opportunity to get to know me beyond what I would write on my profile.

However, it has been challenging, especially with being online all the time. I think with academics being online, our social lives being online, and everything that’s going on in the world—from public awakening to the historical and current atrocities inflicted upon Indigenous and Black Peoples in the global north, to revolutions in the global south, like #ENDSARS that happened in my home country Nigeria – also happening simultaneously online, it can be really overwhelming. I found the last year really challenging.

Is there anything that you wish you would have done during your degree that you didn’t get the chance to do?

Speak louder when challenging the dominant discourse. My program was really phenomenal. But there are opportunities, I think in bioethics, generally in philosophy, to engage in different types of critical social conversations and to do so in a manner that is productive, respectful, and forward pushing.

I started to do that. But you know, the pandemic happened. I think that’s something I would like to explore a little more. And I think that’s, another motivation for my PhD as I try to develop my academic voice and bring my perspective into this space. For me, bioethics is my language of advocacy, and I hope to use my PhD experience to continue to advocate for the well-being of others.