Africa needs to nurture girls in science to generate more empowered women in various scientific fields such as drug regulation for accelerated sustainable socioeconomic development, experts say.

The experts made this call during the launch of an initiative that facilitates networking and mentee-mentor relationships to ignite female students’ aspirations towards careers in drug regulation and pharmaceutical manufacturing in Africa.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, president of Mauritius, while commenting on the launch of Center for Pharmaceutical Advancement and Training’s (CePAT) Women In Science Exchange (WISE) in Ghana last month (14 January), said it is important to engage with young girls for a better feminine representation in sciences to help develop Africa.

“There are no boundaries for women and they can take up challenges that require scientific knowledge.”Jennifer Ahenkora, Accra High School

CePAT is the US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) capacity building programme site based in Ghana and its WISE programme convenes undergraduate and high school female science students with CePAT honorees and global health professionals across Sub-Saharan Africa.

This is done through capacity building and skills development in group mentorship for participating students, knowledge sharing workshops, career guidance trainings and internships to motivate and prepare the next generation of medicines quality champions for Africa’s expanding pharmaceutical industry.

“We are talking about women in the age bracket of 15-22 and it is here that the difference is made because women are not being encouraged with sciences. There is a lot of stereotyping in the way science is being taught, the infrastructure [too] doesn’t encourage the girls to stay in school,” Gurib-Fakim says.

She adds, “We need more advocacy [and] more mentoring to take these girls by the hands. If we engage with the girls to make them realise that they can do anything from a very tender age, we can see more girls in sciences.”

According to Patrick Lukulay, vice president, USP’s Global Health Impact Programs, Africa, it is not enough to wait until people get out of the universities to take up the profession but it is more important to go downstream to start building future leaders so that they would become more effective in what they do.

He says, it is undebatable that girls are disadvantaged, particularly in Africa and there is great need to change this dynamic. “We have to do it very aggressively because we know the potential that women have. We know the influence they have in communities. If you prepare them well there’s cascade effect,” he adds.

Lukulay says that women champion health-seeking behaviour in Africa, and convincing them of quality could have the most impact even in terms of health outcomes.

WISE programme, he explains, is aimed at building human resource capacity, giving them core competency in drug regulation.

Lukulay says, “It is not enough to just focus on in-service training … It is crucial to go to high schools and universities impacting those principles”.

“We are trying to provide opportunity whereby high school students are invited to the centre to interact with professionals, trying to establish linkages between high school and university students with women that have skills that could impact on them.”

Ronald Piervincenzi, chief executive officer of the USP, says it is important to access quality medicine and it is useful to have many women in the network, hence the need for building their capacities in the continent at early ages.

According to Jennifer Ahenkora, a student at Accra High School, the mentoring has given confidence and taught her the value of women in society. “There are no boundaries for women and they can take up challenges that require scientific knowledge,” she tells SciDev.Net.

Ahenkora notes that she feels inspired and encouraged. She intends to work hard to meet the objectives of the mentoring project. “Talking and interacting with the mentors has given me a new level of understanding and inspiration and I want to go to great heights in achieving the reasons for which the project has been created,” she says.

Disclaimer: The US Pharmacopeial Convention sponsored Ochieng’ Ogodo to attend the event in Accra, Ghana.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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