Nigerian malaria researcher joined the Milwaukee laboratory for a cultural exchange beyond the bench

Nigerian malaria researcher joined the Milwaukee laboratory for a cultural exchange beyond the bench |

Nearly two years ago, a malaria researcher named Dr. Abel Olusola “Sola” Idowu left Lagos, Nigeria and emerged into the frosty, winter air of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milwaukee, a quintessential Midwestern American city, may not be associated in many people’s minds with global health, but this Fulbright Scholar knew better: this journey was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Sola had pursued a Fulbright Visiting Researcher scholarship to continue his PhD research, which focused on how Plasmodium falciparum develop resistance to antimalarial drugs and the public health implications of such resistance. Not only would he be exposed to new ideas and techniques, but it was also “an opportunity for cultural exchange that would promote understanding among people of different nations,” Sola recalls. He chose Milwaukee for the opportunity to access the research facilities and learn from the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) and City of Milwaukee Health Department Laboratory (MHDL), which he knew would help expand his technical capabilities and enhance the quality of his research.

My research at MHDL enabled me to learn new skills, especially in molecular techniques, and to appreciate processes in a public health laboratory with the kind assistance of the wonderful staff of the laboratory,” Sola said. “The state-of-the-art facilities at MHDL and the UWM College of Health Sciences were an eye opener for me. Overall, it was a rewarding experience that enabled me to accomplish my doctoral research objectives.” It also helped him build a network with other researchers, as his research collaborations extended beyond Milwaukee to the Malaria Branch of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta and the Wadsworth Center, the New York State Department of Health’s laboratory.

As he had foreseen, though, his research findings weren’t the only lessons he took away from his time in the US: Sola formed new relationships, both professional and personal, and experienced firsts such as surviving a Wisconsin winter, eating new American cuisine, volunteering at a local food pantry and Habitat for Humanity, and visiting historic sites in New York, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Chicago.

I returned to my country with fond memories of my time in the US and look forward to (the) future opportunity to visit again,” Sola said.

Building a Culture That Grows More than Pathogens

Supporting research and experiences like Sola’s is part of MHDL’s larger, ongoing efforts to develop a strong laboratory workforce—both locally and globally—and cultivate a culture that encourages staff to work beyond the laboratory bench.

Over the last five years, MHDL has hosted internships and research rotations for over 60 local students, and, in addition to countless student tours, the laboratory’s leadership and staff routinely participate in career fairs, academic and community outreach events. MHDL has also hosted several international professional and student groups, including Nigerian public health professionals participating in the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, students from Kashiwa High School in Japan, and public health laboratory professionals from India and the Botswana Ministry of Health. The lab also hosted another University of Lagos PhD student, Dr. Nwamaka Igbokwe, who researched E. coli and antimicrobial susceptibility testing in drinking water at UW-Milwaukee and MHDL in 2012.

Laboratory Director Dr. Sanjib Bhattacharyya leads his staff by example through his involvement in global lab efforts, particularly around infectious diseases. Bhattacharyya, a current member of APHL’s Global Health Committee and the Milwaukee Global Health Consortium (MGHC) Advisory Committee, has served as CDC’s Influenza real-time PCR trainer, provided coaching and mentoring to public health laboratory professionals, Ministry of Health in Lesotho and Uganda, participated in APHL’s National Center for Public Health Lab Leadership coaching program. He has also represented APHL at the World Summit on Antivirals in Kunming, China, lectured on Influenza in India and gastrointestinal pathogen testing in Monaco. Closer to home, Bhattacharyya, an adjunct faculty at UWM, is engaged in dialogs with Zilber School of Public Health to develop public health laboratory leadership and management curriculum to integrate with school’s global health programs.

MHDL leadership and passionate laboratory staff work together to engage their local and global community to build strong public health laboratories and protect public health.

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Author: Journal’s unapproved edits distorted my ideas

Researcher Floribert Patrick Endong had been looking forward to seeing his paper in print. Several months after he submitted it to Gender Studies, the journal told him in March that it was online. But when he read it, Endong was disappointed to see some changes he had not approved, which he believed “deformed much of … Continue reading Author: Journal’s unapproved edits distorted my ideas

Gender-based violence researcher now up to 10 retractions for plagiarism

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HIV paper pulled for lack of consent, errors

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Lesson learned: “What makes a journal great?” essay pulled for plagiarism

In 2011, a Nigerian journal published an essay entitled “What Makes a Journal Great” by its newly appointed editor, outlining his editorial philosophy — a philosophy that apparently includes lifting text from another source. That’s right — the Nigerian Medical Journal is now retracting the essay by Francis A. Uba, a surgeon who currently is provost of the […]

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Journal runs retraction, editorial over duplicate submission of pathology paper

The International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has taken a hard stance against overlapping publications in a recent retraction note and editorial. Shortly after publishing a paper about the glycosylation patterns of endothelial cells in usual interstitial pneumonia, IJOEM editors discovered that it had been accepted by the Scholarly Journal of Biological Science two weeks before […]

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A unicorn: Journal publishes euphemism-free plagiarism notice

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On the Ground in Nigeria: Ebola Response

Nigeria volunteers

By Lisa Esapa, CDC-Nigeria

For the last few months, there has been a constant buzz about Ebola among my friends and colleagues in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. Everyone had a theory about if, when, or how Ebola would come to Nigeria. When we heard about a probable case in Lagos, my heart sank. Lagos is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with a population of 15 to 20 million people. Lagos is crowded and loud, with sprawling slum areas that occupy the spaces between the river banks, markets, and developed areas. The stakes for stopping this outbreak from spreading are incredibly high.


CDC Ebola Response team members working in EOC in Lagos, Nigeria.

For the past 17 months, I’ve been stationed in Abuja, Nigeria, with the Global Immunization Division, working on polio eradication and routine immunizations as part of CDC’s emergency response efforts. I was deployed from Abuja to Lagos just over a week ago to work on setting up Nigeria’s own Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for Ebola. I’m a public health advisor, which I have learned in my 6 years at CDC means I have to be a jack-of-all-trades. This is certainly true for this response. Nine CDC staff in Lagos are working with Nigeria and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on infection control, airport screening, contact tracing, epidemiology and surveillance, communications, and management. I fit into the last category, but really my job is to be sure that all the different pieces are coming together and working. Our days start around 7:30 am with discussions over breakfast at the hotel. We then move to the Ebola EOC, temporarily located in a psychiatric hospital.

The drive to the EOC is the first adventure of the day. Traffic in Lagos can be quite challenging; lanes are congested with cars, while street venders move between the lanes of traffic at intersections selling daily papers—Ebola is the headline in 80 point font in all of them.

Talking to people, you can tell they are nervous and scared. Part of the work of the EOC is to put out accurate messages on prevention and counter the misinformation about Ebola that circulates. For example, the current rumor is that drinking salt water can prevent Ebola. There is a lot of stigma around Ebola and anyone associated with the disease. Many of the people who had contact with Ebola patients have been shunned by their communities. We are working with UNICEF and the U.S. Consulate to determine ways to support this group of people.

Nigeria Volunteers

Volunteers assemble for a lesson on personal protective equipment in Lagos, Nigeria.

During the course of the day, some team members go to an isolation ward (which houses the current patients), the airport, the lab, or the U.S. Consulate. In a “typical” day, I may work on a number of varying tasks, such as finalizing guidance documents that can be shared with states or healthcare workers, meeting with teams leads and partners, drafting a budget for specific activities, and explaining Nigerian culture to the team members. Luckily, this is part of my toolkit—being able to work in a different culture and help ensure my team doesn’t run into problems. Even a job like coordinating the motor pool is no small task, since security is always a concern in Nigeria and we have to travel in armored vehicles around the city. Connectivity has also been a major challenge this week. Sometimes the simplest tasks, like sending an email, can be the hardest to achieve!

The days are long; the team arrives back at the hotel between 9pm – 10pm each night. As we eat dinner, we discuss the events of the day and plan for the next day. The pace is extremely hectic, but, we all understand the urgency of the situation. We are all tired and at times frustrated when things don’t happen as quickly as we might like. In this type of environment, patience can sometimes wear thin.

Yesterday, we got word from the hospital that another one of the patients with Ebola had died. This was the fourth death from Ebola in Nigeria. I might not have known the patient personally, but I’m still deeply saddened by the news. We’re all a part of the response and working as hard as we can to ensure that no one else will become infected. With the bad news, there was also good news from the hospital that other patients are recovering and may be ready for discharge in the coming days. Compared to other countries in the West Africa Ebola outbreak, case numbers in Nigeria are low and we’re all holding our breath hoping that we’ve done enough to prevent any further spread of the disease.

For more on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, visit

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