Oluwafemi Akande’s research

 

 

Dr Oluwafemi Akande didn’t begin his career in health research. He studied a rather different topic at the Federal University of Technology, Minna, in Nigeria

“I began as a student of architecture,” says Oluwafemi. “When I finished my studies, a lecturer mentioned to me about a potential career in research. And this is what first sparked my interest.”

Hoping to pursue this path, Oluwafemi started attending all the lectures he could to look for gaps and knowledge and think of topics he could develop into a research proposal.

This is where I first identified a relationship between peoples’ built environment – the buildings where people work and live – and well-being.

He became intrigues by outbreaks of infectious diseases, for instance the meningitis outbreaks in Nigeria, and understanding if there were any links between the spread of contagious diseases and the design of peoples’ homes.

Oluwafemi explains how building design could be contributing to poor health.

“Most Nigeria buildings are based on how buildings in developed countries are designed. We have used the same planning, without adapting it to Africa’s needs.

“For example, few people in Nigeria can afford air conditioning. But many windows are not designed with this in mind, and don’t let in very much air. So the result is over-heated homes with poor levels of natural ventilation.”

The poor ventilation and low air quality could be contributing to infectious disease spreading more rapidly and respiratory problems in general.

“Plus, because homes are so hot people often sleep outside, exposing themselves to disease spread by insects, like malaria. And they don’t sleep well, which is further detrimental to well-being.”

So Oluwafemi’s research is focused on understanding the links between building design and infectious diseases, and finding out how health could be improved by new approaches to architecture.

After presenting some early findings at a conference in London, Oluwafemi won a studentship through a competitive selection process from Anglia Ruskin University in the UK to do a PhD there.

“My PhD was more focused on the energy-efficiency of buildings – I was looking into how listed churches that are being refurbished could be made warmer and their energy performance improved without changing the architecture. My supervisors and advisers, Dr Delle Odeleye,  Dr Alan Coday, and Dr Carlos Jimenez-Bescos, were very supportive and helped me learn through to the completion of my PhD.”

During his PhD, Oluwafemi saw the potential to learn the techniques he needed to pursue the research he wanted to carry out in Africa. When he returned to Nigeria, he was committed to staying in Africa and using his new knowledge to follow his passion to improve health.

“That’s why I was so excited when I saw the AREF opportunity of a Fellowship,” he says.

Oluwafemi applied for an AREF Research Development Fellowship in 2016. He found and made contact with Professor Catherine Noakes at the University of Leeds.

“Professor Noakes’ research matches mine exactly,” says Oluwafemi. “She is an engineer with expertise in ventilation, airborne infection risk and engineering methods of control, who uses bioaerosol experiments and computational modelling to assess risk and design new solutions.”

Thanks to the fellowship from AREF, Oluwafemi will be going to Leeds to spend 9 months working with Professor Noakes in June 2017. And he sees the huge potential of this opportunity.

“I will have the chance to learn new techniques and use new equipment. Not only that, it will be a big step in my career by helping me meet new people in the same field and set up potential collaborations.

“I’ve attended the AREF Essential Grants-writing Skills workshop this year too, because my next step will be to apply for my own funding to become an independent researcher.

For me, it’s about having the right advisers, the right support and the right environment to be able to pursue my passion.

Oluwafemi is passionate about using his experiences to inspire more junior scientists stay in research. By helping the next generation and passing on tips and advice, the work AREF does can reach even more talented researchers.

Ultimately, working together, that’s how we’ll build capacity in African health research, and be able to improve healthcare and save lives across the continent.