Kemri researcher, trainer bags coveted Chalmers Medal award - Beaking Kenya News

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Saturday, 5 October 2019

Kemri researcher, trainer bags coveted Chalmers Medal award

Dr Samson Kinyanjui,  Kemri-Wellcome Trust Programme, Chalmers Medal
Dr Samson Kinyanjui, the head of training and capacity building at Kemri-Wellcome Trust Programme and director of the Initiative to Develop African Research Leaders (IDeAL), had a humble upbringing in Kawangware, Nairobi.
The young Kinyanjui took keen interest in his elder brother’s science books, which inspired him to pursue a career in malaria research.
Last month the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene named Dr Kinyanjui the 2019 Chalmers Medal winner.
This honour was announced at the 11th European Congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health held in Liverpool.
The medal is in honour of Dr Albert John Chalmers, who was born in Manchester in 1870 and began his distinguished tropical medicine research career in Ghana where he worked from 1897 to 1901.
He died in Calcutta in April 1920.
The Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene runs and awards the Chalmers Medal.
Dr Kinyanjui was honoured for his contribution to the strengthening of research in Africa.
“I am excited; I am honoured,” Dr Kinyanjui told the Saturday Nation.
He has raised over £12 million (about Sh1.5 billion) on his own as a researcher and another Sh4.5 billion for supporting science in Kenya in the past 10 years.
His key achievement has been the development of a research framework for attracting, training and retaining African research leaders.
Through the programme, Dr Kinyanjui has overseen the training of over 200 graduate interns, the majority of whom have taken up a research career.
The scheme has been developed into an Education ministry accredited Postgraduate Diploma in Health Research Methods study.
He has also overseen over 100 Masters and 70 PhD training since 2008.
His IDeAL programme supported the students financially and mentored them during their studies.
The students learnt to research, write grant proposals, present papers in conferences, communicate effectively and were also sponsored to attend scientific conferences.
After his primary school education in Kawangware, the young Kinyanjui won a scholarship to study at Starehe Boys Centre where teachers inspired him to believe that scientists needn’t be confined in laboratories, he said.
He got interested in becoming a health professional but did not score the required marks to study medicine.
Instead, he chose zoology and studied at the University of Nairobi, then joined the Open University for his doctorate.
He spent some time at the University of Oxford studying immunology.
During his time as a postdoctoral malaria researcher at the National Institute of Medical Research in the UK, Dr Kinyanjui realised that knowledge about malaria mostly came from the West yet the disease was mainly an African problem.
He also realised that there was a shortage of funding for malaria research as well as researchers in Kenya. 
Kenya has about 220 researchers per million people while countries like the US and the UK have 4,000, according to Unesco.
Of scholars in the West he said: “They were dedicated in trying to understand the malaria parasite but most had never seen a malaria patient so they viewed the parasite from a biological perspective.”
This inspired Dr Kinyanjui to set up a laboratory and train researchers in Kenya.
Towards this end, he formulated the motto “attract, train and retain”.
Dr Kinyanjui realised that after their doctorate studies, most scientists became disillusioned for lack of jobs.
“They need transitional support; we keep them on salary for at least a year and help them to apply for grants,” he said.
He said that sponsors were keen on supporting young scientists who have organisations that already attract funds back up.

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