Prof. Margaret Gyapong charts course for female scientists

BY: By Charles Andoh
Prof. Margaret Gyapong
Prof. Margaret Gyapong

Professor Margaret Gyapong has become the third woman in the world and first black African lady to receive the coveted Outstanding Female Scientist Prize from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP).

The EDCTP is known for laboratory work and supporting clinical and vaccine trials across the world.

It recently reviewed its mandate in its EDCTP2 programme to include implementation research which acknowledges the role of social scientists in health research.

This makes Prof. Gyapong the first social scientist to receive this award from the global scientific body.

The first winner was a gynaecologist and the second a biomedical scientist.

Prof. Gyapong is the Director of the Institute of Health Research (IHR) and Coordinator of the Centre for Health Policy and Implementation Research (CHPIR) at the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS), Ho

Prof. Gyapong is the Director of the Institute of Health Research (IHR) and Coordinator of the Centre for Health Policy and Implementation Research (CHPIR) at the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS), Ho, in the Volta Region.

It was under her leadership that the centre was designated as a World Health Organisation Tropical Disease Research (WHO/TDR) Satellite Training Centre for Implementation Research in 2018.

Helping humanity
The award recognises her involvement in research and innovation activities in sub-Saharan Africa.

A medical anthropologist by training, Prof. Gyapong’s interests are in malaria, Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and implementation research.

Prof. Gyapong (3rd left), with her supervisor, colleagues and friends during her PhD Thesis Defence day in 2000 in Switzerland

The EDCTP award also identified her as a leader in research, bringing together the experiences of research institutions in Africa, Asia and Europe.

In an interview with The Mirror, Prof. Gyapong said she was proud of what she was doing to help humanity, and to have been recognised by a global scientific body like EDCTP was no mean achievement.

Even though she could not pursue her childhood dream of becoming a dietician due to financial challenges at the time, she said she did not regret choosing the social science path because it had offered her a lot of opportunities to help people for the benefit of society.

Prof. Gyapong (3rd left), during one of her fieldworks in Dodowa in the Greater Accra Region

“When I read and saw great women making it and winning awards like these, I always dreamt of getting there, and here I am. This is one of the prestigious awards to get in the field. After I was awarded, I received a message on twitter from a friend who said I had lifted high the flag of social scientists.

“The award means a lot to women and social scientists because it brings us to the fore. I am humbled and thankful to God for bringing me this far,” she said.

Prof. Gyapong said she had planned to use her current award to set up a fund for brilliant, needy female students in memory of her late mother, Madam Dora Gertrude Odey Quaye, and sponsor a prize for the Most Outstanding Female Scientist at UHAS, where she lectures.

Pivotal role
On International Women’s Day in March 2021, Prof Gyapong was celebrated by the WHO/TDR as one of 15 women who championed mentorship and collaboration among scientists tackling infectious diseases in low and middle income countries.

This was because of the pivotal role she plays in helping society.

In May this year, she was ranked by the World Scientist and University Ranking 2021-AD Scientific Index 2021 as number four in UHAS, number 13 in Ghana and 550 in Africa.

In 2017, she was one of the 12 women, across the world, to receive the first Heroines of Health award for her work in drawing attention to the needs of women suffering from the consequences of NTDs.

She has also been profiled in TDR Global, an arm under the UN/WHO, for some of her achievements in Implementation Research and work on NTDs.

Her great achievements have offered her a lot of opportunities to serve in different positions across the world.

Prof. Gyapong is passionate about the development of women

Prof. Gyapong is currently a member of the Sight Savers Board of Trustees, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute External Review Board, the task force for Global Health Campaign Effectiveness Advisory Board, WHO Scientific and Technical Advisory Group (STAG) on NTDs, the WHO/AFRO Advisory Committee on Health Research and Development and Advisor on Capacity Building and Training in Malaria for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health WHO Rethinking Malaria programme.

Encouragement to women
The social scientist encouraged women and challenged them not to allow anything to stop them from pursuing their dreams.

However, she cautioned them not to neglect their families as they climbed high in their academic and professional ladders.

“You cannot say because you are a woman and have other roles to play, you cannot strive for excellence. Hard work with excellence always pays off. During my studies and working, I have encountered a lot of challenges which at some point made me feel like giving up, but I kept on going with a lot of encouragement from my family and friends. I have always told myself that I will never trade my family for anything — even though I will work hard to achieve many things for society,” she said.

In 2017, she was one of the 12 women, across the world, to receive the first Heroines of Health award

She was, however, full of praise for her husband, the Vice Chancellor of the UHAS, Prof. John Owusu Gyapong, and their three daughters for the immense support and encouragement in every aspect of her life.

“If there is anybody who has pushed me to do what I could not, that person is my husband. At some point on my academic ladder, when I wanted to throw in the towel, my husband held me on and gave me every reason to stay on and achieve what I wanted to,” she said.

Prof. Gyapong (left) is a member of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute External Review Board

In addition to her many roles, Prof. Gyapong is a lay preacher, Sunday School teacher, mother and a counsellor.

She is a member of the Tema Joint Church and the RIIS Congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, Ho.

Academic background
She started her primary education at the Swiss School (Formerly Ramseyer Memorial School) in Accra and moved to continue from Class two at the Tema Parents Association School in Tema from 1971-1976. After passing her common Entrance Examination, she gained admission to the Aburi Girls Secondary School where she pursued and successfully passed both her Ordinary and Advanced Level Courses in General Arts (1976-1983).

She has won many local and international award

She proceeded to the University of Ghana to pursue a Bachelor of Science Degree in Home Science, and later, a Master of Science Degree in Medical Anthropology from the Brunel University of West London, United Kingdom in 1995.

To develop her potential as a public health researcher, she continued for her Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Cultural Epidemiology from the University of Basel, Switzerland, between 1997 to 2000.

The social scientist has delivered papers and speeches at different conferences across the world

Prior to joining UHAS in 2017, she spent almost 25 years as a researcher at the Ghana Health Service and was foundation Director of the Dodowa Health Research Centre from 2005 to 2016, transforming it from a small research station to an internationally acclaimed research centre.

Her interests are in socio-cultural aspects of tropical diseases, implementation research, health systems, maternal and child health.

It’s family time: Prof Gyapong with her family

The social scientist is working on NTDs, specifically Female Genital Schistosomiasis, which presents as a regular gynaecological problem affecting women endearing it to being misdiagnosed and mistreated as a sexually transmitted infection.

Prof. Gyapong is full Professor of Applied Health Social Science at UHAS, and adjunct professor of Global Health at Georgetown University.

She has 105 publications in peer reviewed journals to her credit.

Prof. Gyapong (3rd right) at an anniversary ceremony at the Tema Joint Church

She and her husband are blessed with three daughters — Akosua (an HR professional in training), Afia (a medical doctor) and Yaa (a data analyst in training).

As an ardent supporter of the Liverpool Football Club, thanks to her husband, Prof. Gyapong is grateful to God that she never walks alone.