3 Kenyans among 30 African women scientists feted by L’Oréal, UNESCO

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 6 – The Fondation L’Oréal and UNESCO For Women in Science Young Talents Sub-Saharan Africa Awards have recognized three Kenyans mong the 30 most brilliant African women scientists.

The three young researchers, Cheryl Kerema, Mwende Mbilo and Faith Njeru were feted for their life-changing innovations in public and environmental health, renewable energy and food security, and agribusiness solutions for the country.

These scientists, part of a larger, growing cohort drawn across the continent involved in multiple fields of research, are using unique approaches to tackle major challenges.

“These young and dynamic Kenyan scientists are bringing hope and innovative solutions to improve the quality of life, not only in Africa but also worldwide through their careers and relentless determination,” said L’Oréal East Africa Managing Director Yassine Bakkari.

Cheryl Kerema, a doctoral student in Public and Environmental Health at the KAVI Institute of Clinical Research, University of Nairobi, was feted for her original discovery of how sugar regulation impacts tuberculosis.

Her findings have also demonstrated its economic impact in low- to middle-income countries and have the power to shape health policy, helping to prevent more people from developing the illness in Kenya and beyond.

“We need to address the root causes preventing women scientists from advancing their careers. Science thrives on diversity. The more inclusive we are, the faster we can solve Africa’s problems by Africa and for Africa,” said Kerama.

Mwende Mbilo, also a doctoral student in condensed matter physics at the University of Nairobi, was recognized for her innovation to improve the efficiency of organic solar cells to bring more sustainable and reliable clean energy solutions to people in the country.

“The innovation I’m pursuing is combining new strategies and affordable materials into existing cells to extend their lifetime and improve performance. I dream of harnessing an inexhaustible energy source to increase the quality of life in our communities,” said Mbilo.

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The third awardee, Faith Njeru, another doctoral student in Food Security and Agribusiness at Sokoine University of Agriculture, United Republic of Tanzania, is developing novel diagnostics to conserve Kenya’s maize crops.

Njeru is using nanobodies derived from the serum of camelids (the mammal family that includes camels and llamas) to help control a viral disease affecting maize plants in East Africa and beyond.

“I enjoy serving as an inspiration to other young women and showing them that their dreams are achievable. This is important to me,” said Njeru.

The three young talents are among 25 PhD candidates and five post-doctoral researchers rewarded at the annual ceremony hosted this year in Kasane, Botswana, on November 9th.

The 14th edition of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Young Talents Sub-Saharan Africa Awards attracted 632 applicants across 17 countries, selected by a jury of 10 members led by Professor Aggrey Ambali, Director of Technical Cooperation and Program Funding at the African Union Development Agency, AUDA-NEPAD.

The annual awards seeking to reinforce L’Oréal Groupe, the world’s No. 1 beauty brand, and UNESCO’s commitment to promoting gender equality in science recorded an increase of 10 awards compared to previous years.

In East Africa, young women from Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Rwanda, and Ethiopia were also among the most brilliant African scientists recognized.

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