The opportunity to engage with a captive and diverse audience interested in tackling issues of health inequity is what motivated Dr Tolullah Oni, a senior lecturer in the School of Public Health and Family Medicine, to apply for a Next Einstein Forum (NEF) fellowship.
As a recent recipient of this prestigious award, Oni will join academics, policymakers, former Nobel laureates, United Nations officials, politicians, civil society members and journalists at the first forum in Senegal in March 2016.
Apart from the opportunity to showcase her research at the forum, Oni says she is particularly excited about exploring her "parallel interest in science and society and the application of research findings in improving society, [in addition to] participating in a broader conversation on science development and research on the continent".
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Oni's passion for public health is rooted in a long-standing desire to study medicine from an early age. During her medical studies she completed an intercalated Bachelor of Science in International Health, which sparked an interest in diseases of global importance and the factors that influence health policy and outcomes.
The realisation that many health conditions are rooted in social determinants inspired her to switch tracks from clinical to an academic career in public health and epidemiology.
Oni's research investigates the co-existence and interaction between chronic infectious and non-infectious diseases, and the impact of the physical and socio-economic environment on the health of populations living in unplanned urban settings.
Her previous research has reported the high rates of co-existence of diseases such as diabetes and hypertension among HIV and TB patients, highlighting the need to re-design healthcare delivery to be responsive to changing population health.
As co-chair of the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS), last year she was instrumental in organising a workshop on the theme 'Science and Society in Africa', along with other SAYAS members. This year, Oni hopes to take the workshop out of the academic setting and into the community, where she believes such conversations are more pertinent and powerful.
On campus she is currently contributing to the organisation of an urban health workshop. The workshop seeks to bring different disciplines working on areas connected to health together to identify complementary sets of skills and to foster interdisciplinary research.
Within her department she convenes the fourth-year medical course Health in Context, which combines child health, family medicine, public health, health promotion, palliative care and community engagement.
"As a future health professional, when you see an individual, you don't just think what are they presenting with. You also think about what is the family dynamic, where do they sit within the community, where do they sit in the societal structure and what are the impacts of that on their health" she says.
Story by staff reporter. Photo by Michael Hammond.
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