Tanzanian scientist wins health award

During the 27th annual joint scientific conference and 2nd One Health Conference in Africa jointly organized by the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS) and National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Dr. Martha Lemnge emerged winner of the ‘National Best Health Scientist Award of the Year 2013’. East African Business Week’s Bureau Chief in Tanzania, LEONARD MAGOMBA, spoke to her on work as the  Director and Chief Health Research Scientist for NIMR based at Tanga.

Question: Madame Martha, congratulations for being winner of the 2013’s National Best Health Scientist Award. What does this award mean to you as a Scientist Health Researcher in Tanzania?

Answer: This award means a lot to me, because it is a great achievement in my life. I feel much honoured to be given this achievement, because it comes after so many years of doing health research.
But I also feel very proud to be selected among so many others health scientists. It is a real honour and it has fulfilled my dream as a health scientist.

What are the motives behind this award specifically in your career?

It is a great motivation for me. I have done a lot of research work and for me doing research is like a passion. I have a passion and interest to serve the people and my country as well.
I feel great that we worked as a team and my achievement is a real motivation as recognition for my work.

For how long, have you been doing research specifically regarding malaria?

I have been doing research since 1979. I started working in Zambia where I completed my education. I later joined NIMR in 1987 where I have been involved in malaria health research for over 25 years.

There is no success without drawbacks; what are the main challenges that you have been facing in your field?

I have been facing a lot of challenges naturally, but the main issue, most of the time is to do with funding.
But I was lucky that after finishing my PhD, the group that was supporting me from Copenhagen continued to get grant from DANIDA.
Therefore, I had some money that helped me to continue doing some health research and also build my team in NIMR Tanga, where I am working as the Director and Chief Health Scientist.

Malaria is among the serious pandemic diseases in most of the developing countries, do you think Tanzania can have a malaria-free society in the near future?

Regarding the decline of the pandemic, we have some hope due to the evidence that has come from our work in different communities particularly in Korogwe and Mheza where we have been working for over 20 years. The results have shown that there is a tremendous decline in malaria. In most parts of Tanzania, malaria cases have dropped to below 5% from 8% in early19 90s.

Which parts of the country have been mostly affected by Malaria and which one are less affected?

There are many regions in Tanzania that have been affected by malaria. Malaria is a pandemic disease which existed everywhere in the country, but we are happy that in some parts, the rate has dropped down more than other places where we still have a pockets of malaria.

If the situation is like what you have said, what should be done to control further spread of the pandemic which mostly kills children and pregnant women?

My plea to the government is to get more funding to health scientists. The government should put more funding to empower researchers, because our findings would help decision-makers to know where they should focus to control the pandemic.

What are the main economic effects of malaria on the country

There is a lot of economic loss due to malaria, primarily to schoolchildren who fail to go school and for adults failing to go to work.  This causes economic loss to them, because father/mother suffer reduced earnings while the child misses studies.

Many students are dodging science studies. This raises a number of questions to parents and teachers; but in your view, what are the reasons behind this?

Most young people don’t like science studies. We have to have some special programmes to encourage them. However there is also the issue of remuneration. It is not good for scientists in Africa. Again most of the graduates want to work in the office; they don’t like to do fieldwork.

With all these challenges, what should be done?

We need to encourage young people to take science subjects, particularly for girls. Again, the government has to create a measure of  influence to make more people opt for science studies. Increased investment in modern laboratories in secondary schools is also an important aspect.

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