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Elsevier Foundation Awards Women Scientists From Developing World at AAAS Annual Meeting

From left, Elsevier scholars Sri Fatmawati, Etheldrera Nakimuli, Ghanya Naji Mohammed, Magaly Blas, and Sushila Maharjan. | Juan David Romero

Five women researchers were awarded the 2016 Elsevier Foundation Awards for Career Women Scientists in the Developing World during the 2016 AAAS Annual Meeting, for their commitments to research and potential to impact health and economies in developing nations.

The winning Elsevier scholars—Dr. Ghanya Naji Mohammed (Yemen), Dr. Magaly Blas (Peru), Dr. Sri Fatmawati (Indonesia), Dr. Sushila Maharjan (Nepal), and Dr. Etheldreda Nakimuli-Mpungu (Uganda)—received the awards at the 13 February Gender & Minorities Networking Breakfast, an event was hosted by AAAS and led by Shirley Malcom, head of Education and Human Resources Programs at AAAS, and Yolanda George, deputy director of the same program.

The winners are dedicated women scientists who achieved excellence in their research fields, despite often having few resources, poor equipment, and dispiriting working conditions, said Tonya Blowers, program coordinator for the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), which launched the awards in 2012 along with The Elsevier Foundation and The World Academy of Sciences.

“This award is important recognition of the difficult choices they have made and will encourage other women from challenging backgrounds to follow their own scientific dreams,” Blowers said.

Each winner received a cash prize of $5,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to attend the 2016 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., granting them the opportunity to network and attend mentoring and science communication workshops. An additional $2,500 award was announced at the breakfast, donated by retired Boeing executive Martha Darling and her husband Gil Omenn, a past president of AAAS.

This year, the five winners were recognized for their accomplishments in nutrition, psychiatry, biotechnology, women’s health, bioenvironmental sciences, and epidemiology, according to The Elsevier Foundation. The award also celebrates mentoring young women scientists who are pursuing careers in agriculture, biology, and medicine.

“Mentorship can make a big difference, especially for women and minorities who are entering careers dominated by white men,” said Seema Kumar, vice president of enterprise Innovation, global health, and policy communication at breakfast sponsor Johnson & Johnson. “It can be lonely, so if you are the only woman or only minority walking into a room full of men or people not like you, it is extremely intimidating and hard.”

The five women spoke about their research and their struggles—sometimes comic and sometimes touching—of how their research has made them leaders in their communities and around the world.

“You cannot imagine how many emails I have received from several parts of the world asking me about my work since the press release about the Elsevier award went out,” said Blas, an associate professor of Public Health at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, whose research focuses on the use of Information and Communication Technologies to solve health problems, particularly those associated with sexually transmitted diseases.

Blas said she hopes the award will help people understand there is more in Peru than just Machu Picchu and also help people inquire about the research conducted by women all over the world, rather than focusing on asking them how they manage their duties at home and in the lab.

“I want to thank my husband, my parents, my children, my supervisor, and also my students. Because this award is not for me, this is for us, this is our work, and this is our research,” said Fatmawati, who researched the medical potential of natural substances from plants and fungi, like Jamu, a traditional Indonesian herbal medicine given to her as a child.

The other awardees included Maharjan, who researches the antibiotic potential of the bacteria Streptomyces in various soil biotypes in Nepal; Mohammed, whose research focuses on natural products isolated from Yemeni herbal plants for disease prevention; and Nakimuli, who developed group psychotherapy intervention for HIV in various villages and communities in Uganda.