France honours TZ scientist for tackling sickle cell

THE Embassy of France in Tanzania has honoured Prof Julie Makani with an award for her outstanding work in fighting sickle cell in the country.

Presenting her with the Ordre National du Mérite award that translates in English as the National Order of Merit in Dar es Salaam, recently French Ambassador to Tanzania, Nabil Hajlahoui said the badge is bestowed to French citizens as well as foreign nationals, men and women, for distinguished military or civil achievements, which in this case the Tanzanian female scientist has displayed.

He added: “On behalf of my President Emmanuel Macron who encourages excellence in different fields, what Prof Julie Makani has contributed in minimising sickle cells deaths in Tanzania is exemplary.

It is painful to lose a friend or relative to a disease that is manageable once sound attention is provided”. Receiving the award, Prof Makani, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Hematology and Blood Transfusion at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), said the award will further make her work within their Hippocratic Oath that says ‘I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant: I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow’.

She further said the award from the embassy will make her stick to Sir Isaac Newton, the famous English scientist’s saying: ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’. “During my career, there have been many times when I have wondered if I should consider working outside MUHAS or outside Tanzania.

The quote from Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s speech as well as the need that is in the country have made me renew my commitment to remain at MUHAS and remain in Tanzania,” she said.

She said sickle cell disease (SCD) in Tanzania is now in safe hands, as there are many people who have taken on leadership in coordination, health, advocacy, research and training.

The medical researcher, who is known for her research and for the treatment of sickle cell disease in Tanzania, has assisted a lot Tanzania, one of the five nations in the world with the highest rates of annual births of sickle cell disease.

In her quick analysis of the disease, she said it is a genetic disease characterised by a malformation of red blood cells and a low level of hemoglobin whose function is to transport oxygen to the cells, causing seizures, respiratory problems … in patients.

She added: “It was during my doctoral studies in 2003 that I became interested in the clinical epidemiology of sickle cell disease.

A common disease in Tanzania, but which remains unknown. I carried out research on the subject for four years and in 2004, the Wellcome Trust Foundation granted me a new funding to develop a programme on sickle cell disease at Muhimbili University.

This allowed me to put more than 2,000 patients with sickle cell disease under control. This research is one of the most important studies in the world on this disease.” In addition to being a technical expert for the World Sickle Cell Research Network, Prof Makani is also involved in associations.

She created the Tanzanian Foundation for Sickle Cell Disease and co-chairs the Working Group on Sickle Cell Therapy with Hydroxyurea (a method that increases oxygen in the fetus).

She also works with other organisations such as the Regional Network for sickle cell research in East and Central Africa or the Consortium for health, advocacy, research and training in Africa … to establish a national and pan-African network around the issue of sickle cell disease.

In 2009, she received the Archbishop Tutu Leadership Fellowship from the African Leadership Institute.

In 2011, the Royal Society awarded her the Pfizer Prize for her work whose aim is to better understand the molecular, genetic and environmental mechanisms of sickle cell disease.

In 2019, she was included in the BBC 100 Women ranking.

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