Women's Month 2023: Dr Edina Amponsah-Dacosta

Women’s Month 2023: Dr Edina Amponsah-Dacosta

August is Women’s Month, and this year the National Research Foundation (NRF) is celebrating the remarkable contributions that have been made by women researchers for the betterment of humanity. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Dr Edina Amponsah-Dacosta is a Research Officer and Evidence-Informed Decision-Making Specialist at the Vaccines for Africa Initiative (VACFA), University of Cape Town (UCT). She received an NRF Innovation Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2022. 

What impact did the NRF have on your studies/career?

I was awarded an NRF Innovation Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2022. This fellowship ensured that I could dedicate my time to my research activities without undue financial constraints.

What has been your study/career journey?

I have always been passionate about a research and academic career in the field of health sciences. My career journey began with an undergraduate degree in Microbiology and Biochemistry (2009) and an Honours degree in Microbiology (2010), both at the University of Venda.

Between 2011 and 2017, I completed my Master’s of Science and Doctorate degrees in Medical Virology at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University. Recognising the importance of linking laboratory research with broader public health priorities, I then took up a Master’s in Public Health (Health Policy and Systems Specialisation) at UCT which was awarded in 2019.

My Postdoctoral Fellowship (2018 – 2022) with the Vaccines for Africa Initiative (VACFA) at UCT was a unique opportunity to apply my strong interdisciplinary background in leading exciting research projects in Vaccinology, aimed at developing local innovative solutions to some of the greatest health challenges experienced within the African region. My academic background and research output so far helped me secure a faculty position at UCT as a Research Officer which I took up in January 2023. 

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

In line with VACFA’s vision of “An Africa free of vaccine-preventable diseases”, my research focus draws on my strong interdisciplinary expertise in pursuing the goal of expanding the reach of lifesaving vaccines and reducing the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases across the African region.

I am the Principal Investigator of a Gilead Sciences-sponsored project assessing the neglected burden of viral hepatitis among HIV-exposed uninfected and infected paediatric populations. I am also interested in scaling-up health system capacity to support under-utilised immunisation programmes such as hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination, Human Papillomavirus vaccination, and maternal immunisation programmes. I am also involved in conducting clinical trials and systematic reviews, postgraduate teaching and supervision, and co-organising the Annual African Vaccinology Course hosted by VACFA.

At the health policy level, I am involved in the development of evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) resources, Vaccinology and EIDM courses, and capacity development workshops geared towards members of National Immunisation Technical Advisory Groups (NITAGs) across the African region. This work forms part of the NITAG Support Hub (NISH) project which is underwritten by the World Health Organization and made possible with funding from The Wellcome Trust. I also serve as an affiliate member of the African Academy of Sciences.

Why is your research/work important?

The African region is disproportionately affected by vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs), meaning that the need for health interventions is greater. By understanding the burden of VPDs within our populations, we are able to identify those who need vaccines the most and demand equitable distribution of this lifesaving intervention.

My research, therefore, focuses on better understanding how diseases happen and how to improve the use of vaccines among populations in order to prevent those diseases. This research matters because vaccines are one of the best public health tools against some of the most devastating diseases experienced across the African region.

There is still a long way to go to truly achieve equity and a sense of belonging for women, be it within the research community or society in general. How do you envision yourself contributing to this space?

As a female scientist, I am acutely aware of the barriers we face in attempting to achieve our research and career goals. Barriers such as limited financial, technical, social, and mentorship support are oftentimes disparaging and make an already taxing career path even more improbable. There is a need to yield and share research spaces and resources, as well as intensify efforts aimed at creating inclusive research cultures without undue barriers to career progression for female scientists within our setting.

I am a firm believer in the role that representation plays in creating a radical shift and for this reason, I remain committed to pushing for gender transformative research leadership in my immediate sphere. I am also passionate about mentoring emerging researchers and hope to deepen the role of womxn in STEM through these avenues.

What advice do you have for girls who are interested in STEM-related careers?

There is now a wealth of resources about diverse career paths (compared to when I started off) and I’m delighted to see this. Platforms, such as this one, are a great opportunity to scope different career journeys and trajectories and I’d encourage those interested in STEM-related careers to explore these resources or reach out to help make informed decisions.

This work is licenced under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 South Africa (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ZA) license. Please view the terms for republishing here.

Related Posts