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Nigerian pharmacist with a passion for healthcare change wins prestigious Swansea scholarship

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A pharmacist who grew up in a community where access to basic healthcare supplies was a luxury has secured a scholarship to further her studies at Swansea University.

Lovelyn Obiakor says the desire to help improve public health in her home community of Eziama-Nneato in Abia State, Nigeria, has driven her passion for education and led her to successful application for the University’s annual Eira Francis Davies Scholarship.

A delighted Lovelyn is now looking forward to coming to Wales to study a MSc in Public Health and Health Promotion in the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Science.

The full tuition fee scholarship is awarded to one outstanding female student per academic year. It was established in 2012 by the late Eira Francis Davies and aims to help women from countries whose economic, social and cultural background might present challenges and barriers to the realisation of their potential.

Swansea University’s Singleton Campus (Image: Swansea University)

Lovelyn said: “Seeing young children die from high fever and women die during labour were the most traumatising experiences of my childhood. I felt I had to do something about it, no matter what it took.

“As I was raised in a community where girls were not generally sent to school, I had to challenge the status quo to believe I could study pharmacy and one day help mine and other remote communities.

“This far-fetched dream to brave the odds and change the sad experiences of my childhood has been my motivation since I was 13.”

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Lovelyn’s determination led to her winning a scholarship to study pharmacy and she hopes to be an inspiration not only to girls in her community but also to parents who didn’t believe in sending their daughters to school.

She feels the master’s course will give her vital public health training she can use when she returns to Africa.

She said: “The Nigerian healthcare system is weak with inadequate healthcare promotion and poor access to quality, affordable healthcare.”

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According to UNICEF, Nigeria has the highest number of unimmunised children with vaccine-preventable diseases accounting for up to 40 per cent of all childhood deaths.

She said: “There are also gross inadequacies in research and statistics needed to inform health policies and plans.

“Strengthening the health system and its capacity is imperative for building a healthy country that can work towards developing other sectors and the economy. The master’s course offers a multidisciplinary and research approach to examining the determinants and helping to find solutions to global health challenges.”

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Lovelyn is now looking forward to coming to Swansea in September and enjoying the University’s multicultural diversity and the warm welcome it offers to international students.

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She added: “Living and studying in Swansea will also give me the opportunity to learn Welsh which is something I find very interesting and so captivating it also helped influence my decision to apply here!”

Lovelyn described the scholarship as the opportunity of a lifetime. She added: “I look forward to delivering on long-term, strategic projects and initiatives in Nigeria which promote inclusive and quality healthcare and education, contributing to the goal and objectives of Eira Francis Davies Scholarship scheme.”

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Education

“Stuck in a catch-22”: parents drive their children to school because they are concerned about traffic

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New polling data released for Living Streets’ Walk to School Week (16-20 May 2022) finds that traffic is one of the biggest barriers to children walking to school, with 17 per cent of parents in Wales naming it as a reason their child doesn’t walk.

With over 460,000 pupils in Wales, it would mean tens of thousands of them are being denied the physical and social health benefits of being more active.

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Schools being too far away from home (18%) and cars parked on pavements (17%) were also barriers for Welsh parents.

The latest data suggests just 50 per cent of primary school aged children in Wales walk to school.

Stephen Edwards, Chief Executive, Living Streets said: “We’re stuck in a catch-22 where families see driving to school as the safest way to protect their children from traffic.

“Leaving the car at home will reduce chaos and road danger around the school gates. It’s also a great way for children to learn about road safety in a real life setting and build their confidence in managing risk.

“Walk to School Week is an excellent opportunity for families to give walking to school a go and reap the health and social benefits of moving more.”

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Living Streets works with schools, local authorities and parent groups to help improve the walk to school.

Stephen Edwards continues: “We want to enable as well as encourage more families to walk to school. We’re here to help parents who are worried about safety around their child’s school. Car-free zones, 20mph limits and better crossings can all help make the walk to school safer and we’re here to help people campaign for them in their area.”

For more information on Living Streets’ walk to school campaign, visit livingstreets.org.uk/WalkToSchool

(Lead image: Shutterstock)

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Health

Swansea scientists develop new method to detect viruses in a pinprick

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Scientists at Swansea University, Biovici Ltd and the National Physical Laboratory have developed a method to detect viruses in very small volumes.

The work, published in Advanced NanoBiomed Research, follows a successful Innovate UK project developing graphene for use in biosensors – devices that can detect tiny levels of disease markers.

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For many parts of the world that do not have access to high-tech labs found in hospitals, detecting viruses such as hepatitis C (HCV) – could save millions of preventable deaths worldwide. In addition, biosensors such as this could be used at the point-of-care – opening effective healthcare in difficult-to-reach settings.

What makes the detection of viruses in such small volumes possible is the use of a material called graphene. Graphene is extremely thin – only one atom thick – making it very sensitive to anything that attaches to it.

By carefully controlling its surface, scientists at Swansea University were able to make the surface of graphene sensitive to the HCV virus. These measurements were done with graphene specialists at the National Physical Laboratory.

In the future, it is hoped that multiple biosensors can be developed onto a single chip – this could be used to detect different types of dangerous viruses or disease markers from a single measurement.  

Ffion Walters, Innovation Technologist at Swansea University’s Healthcare Technology Centre said: “Highly sensitive and simplistic sensors have never been more in demand with regards point-of-care applications. 

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“This collaborative project has allowed us to realise proof-of-concept real-time sensors for HCV,  which could be especially beneficial in resource-limited settings or for difficult-to-reach populations.”

Professor Owen Guy, Head of Chemistry at Swansea University, said: “At Swansea University, we have now developed graphene-based biosensors for both Hepatitis B and C. This is a major step forward to a future single point of care test”

Dr Olga Kazakova, NPL Fellow Quantum Materials & Sensors added: “NPL was delighted to be part of this multidisciplinary team. Participation in this project allowed us to further develop our metrological validation facilities and apply them to the characterisation of graphene biosensors and aid in solving an important challenge in the health sector.”

Lead image: Graphene device chip attached to an electrical connector, with two 5 μL HCVcAg samples (one applied on each graphene resistor). (Image: Swansea University)

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Science

Public health professor becomes Fellow of Academy of Medical Sciences

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A Swansea University public health expert has been honoured by the prestigious Academy of Medical Sciences

Professor Ronan Lyons, Clinical Professor of Public Health at Swansea University Medical School and one of the two Directors at Population Data Science, is one of 60 outstanding biomedical and health scientists admitted to the Academy’s influential Fellowship.

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The new Fellows have all been recognised for their remarkable contributions to biomedical and health science and their ability to generate new knowledge and improve the health of people everywhere.

Professor Lyons’s research focuses on the use of health information to support the targeting and evaluation of health and non-health service interventions to improve prevention, care and rehabilitation.

During the pandemic, his team have used insights from the rich health data in SAIL Databank to support policy decisions to protect the public, including providing intelligence to the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Group and subsequently feeding into the UK’s SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies).

Professor Lyons said: “I am delighted and honoured to be selected as a Fellow by the Academy of Medical Sciences.

“This undoubtedly reflects the widespread appreciation of the contribution research conducted using the SAIL Databank make to individuals and society. 

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“It is also recognition of the fantastic team science approach in Population Data Science at Swansea University and our dedication to the advancement of health research through our many collaborations across the UK and around the world.”

The Academy of Medical Sciences is the independent body in the UK representing the diversity of medical science. Selected from 366 candidates from across the UK, the 60 scientists chosen marks the highest number of new Fellows ever elected.

Academy President Professor Dame Anne Johnson said: “It gives me great pleasure to welcome these 60 experts to the Fellowship to help to address the major health challenges facing society.

“The diversity of biomedical and health expertise within our Fellowship is a formidable asset that in the past year has informed our work on critical issues such as tackling the Covid19 pandemic, understanding the health impacts of climate change, addressing health inequalities, and making the case for funding science. The new Fellows of 2022 will be critical to helping us deliver our ambitious 10-year strategy that we will launch later this year.”

The new Fellows will be formally admitted to the Academy next month.

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(Lead image: Swansea University)

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