Florence Oloo, Harambee 2023 award, this Wednesday in Madrid.HARAMBEE (HARAMBEE)
“African Solutions for African Problems”.
The scientist Florence Oloo (Elderet, Kenya, 63 years old), awarded this Wednesday with the 2023 Harambee Prize for the Promotion and Equality of African Women, illustrates with these five words the formula that she believes is most effective for promoting the development of the continent.
“The most obvious case was that of the covid-19 pandemic, which did not affect the African population in the same way as the rest of the world.”
“It is true,” he acknowledges, “that people died, but most suffered from a simple cold”—up to March 10, 2023, 6.8 million people worldwide lost their lives from coronavirus, just over 250,000 in Africa, according to John Hopkins University.
The question that, according to Oloo,
The promotion of scientific research is one of the tasks to which Oloo has dedicated a large part of his professional career.
Professor of Chemical Sciences at the Technical University of Kenya and director of the nanomedicine platform at the Center for Research in Therapeutic Sciences (CREATES), an institution associated with the Scientific and Industrial Research Council of South Africa, science has been her “passion” since that it was a girl.
“We were three brothers and three sisters and my father, who believed in education, encouraged all of us to go to school, without distinction, and I studied in one of the best science schools in Kenya,” she says.
Oloo knows that the privilege she enjoyed as a child "wasn't very common" back then, but she has always wanted to take advantage of it to inspire other women, especially the younger ones.
"When girls see me, I want them to think about what they too are capable of achieving," says the scientist, convinced that the key to change lies in "education."
“I am very proud to be an African woman and to have the opportunity to help my country through my work”, she affirms forcefully.
They take samples from African people, use them for research and then these people do not benefit from the results obtained, perhaps being able to buy the medicines developed at cheaper prices or for free
However, science, Oloo believes, must always be accompanied by "respect for the human being."
Of deep Catholic convictions —she was vice-rector of Strathmore University, promoted by the founder of Opus Dei, José María Escrivá de Balaguer—, she directs the Strathmore Ethics Committee, made up of 11 African scientists, whose function is to analyze the research protocols of the continent .
"We especially seek to safeguard the rights of people in accordance with international standards," explains the professor, who is somewhat proud that they have managed to stop investigations that "attack" human beings.
“We fight against scientific corruption, because it is important that the data is not falsified,
that the rights and privacy of the participants are respected and that the results of scientific research are genuine”, he highlights.
And he insists on the need to increase research in Africa, now very focused on "covid-19 and malaria" to determine, for example, what doses Africans specifically need, which may be different from those required by other populations. .
His faith, according to Oloo, who in 2009 participated in the Synod for Africa convened by Benedict XVI, influences his "way of working."
“I am a single person”, he says, to explain that he cannot separate his religious dimension from his professional one — “I would become schizophrenic”, he jokes.
But this belief in a god, according to him, is not what gives him the solutions to scientific problems, although he does consider that it reinforces the ethical dimension of his work.
For example, among the violations of ethical principles detected by the committee that Oloo herself created with international funding (from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership), the scientist highlights the projects in which "samples are taken from African people, the used for research and then those people do not benefit from the results obtained,
Opportunities for rural women
If science is her first passion, her other is “working for women living in rural Kenya”.
And it does so through the Jakana Study Center, a project that it has promoted in Kanyawegi, a small town 18 kilometers from Kisumu (western Kenya), where it offers training to women between the ages of 18 and 30 so that they can establish their own businesses. .
"I am from the Luo people, and we Luo come from Kisumu, so I wanted to work for these women who don't have opportunities," says Oloo, who is now focused on raising funds to continue strengthening the program, to which she will allocate her award, sponsored by hair care brand Rene Furterer.
“With very little money, many things are achieved and changes are seen very quickly,” she says.
The scientist is especially concerned about the challenges that, from her point of view, these women face: "School dropout also leads to idleness among girls and this situation exposes them to sexual relations, which leads to teenage pregnancies, infection of HIV or early marriages”.
—What would you say to a woman who asked you for advice on the use of contraception?
—These girls see me as a model, they see what I have achieved, not because I am a Christian, but as a human being.
—But, if they ask you about contraceptive methods.
What would you tell them?
—We are talking about reproductive health and it is necessary to listen to the body.
I listen and respect them.
I think women need to understand what chemicals do to their bodies now, 10 years from now, and 50 years from now.
And then they decide.
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