Changing the face of health
Professor Djikeng, Director of CTLGH, has been recognised in a new national campaign as one of 10 people changing the face of health.
As part of the nationwide Decade of Health campaign, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Professor Appolinaire Djikeng, Director of the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH) has been highlighted as one of 10 academics changing the face of health in the UK.
The Decade of Health campaign, which runs for six weeks from the 16 October, is sharing collaborative and pioneering research which benefits people on a global scale. The campaign showcases the work of Professor Djikeng and CTLGH.
Professor Djikeng explained how it feels to be recognised as part of the Decade of Health campaign:
It’s an honour. I’m humbled to be one out of the ten, but I think that the nomination really highlights and recognises the work that we’re doing at the Centre. It’s not about me 100%, it’s about the work that many, many people within the Centre do. And I want to use the opportunity to say that the work at the Centre is truly collaborative because the Centre is a joint venture between three organisations; The University of Edinburgh through the Roslin Institute, Scotland’s Rural College and the International Livestock Research Institute. So, if there’s any credit it should go to these three organisations and the work that we do at the Centre.
He also explained how the partnership represents the leading scientific endeavours both at the Centre and within the UK. Although linking agricultural development to human health is not a traditional link, the work of CTLGH shows “that you can achieve good human health through excellent agricultural development.”
The Decade of Health campaign highlights collaborative pioneering research being conducted in the UK that benefits the health of people around the world. It aims to encourage knowledge and skill sharing on health issues to “build a healthier, stronger and safer future for us all.”
Covid-19 and the fragility of food
The pandemic has shown the fragility of the food system and the level of impact that can be experienced when it is put under pressure. When ‘lockdown’ measures were introduced in a range of countries, many people rushed out to buy food which in the UK led to shortages of certain items and restrictions on how many items people could buy.
Professor Djikeng said: “It was the beginning of us appreciating how vulnerable our food systems are. I think that Covid-19 has really exemplified how fragile the food system is in low- and middle-income countries and I think it is very important that our collective efforts will help to strengthen the systems in these countries and make them more resilient should anything like this ever happen again.”
A personal mission
Professor Djikeng describes his research in genomics as a personal mission to help improve the lives of people living in low- and middle-income countries. Growing up in Cameroon, where his parents were small holder farmers, Professor Djikeng knows first-hand the challenges that farming families can face. He quoted a former colleague who said that many of us won the genetic lottery by being born in a certain time or place. Professor Djikeng feels that he won that lottery: “I won the lottery as I came from a small holder farming family, but with some means to address the challenges that could otherwise lead to a much different path in life. So, I owe my education to small holder farming, to poultry and pig farming. The income from their sale gave me the opportunity of an education and I’m very fortunate to have acquired a good education. I’m very fortunate to be doing this, so I think that’s really why it is a personal mission.”
When he was a teenager, Professor Djikeng started dreaming about the difference he could make to African livestock systems to help the people who rely on farm animals for food and income. His dedication to make a difference to people’s lives has remained with him throughout his career. In 2007, two years before he left the US to return to a job in Kenya, he started to think about the impact that he wanted his research to achieve. Whilst in Nairobi, he spent time training and mentoring other young scientists and began to make the connection between the bioscience and agricultural development.
Professor Djikeng feels that you can have great research, but the challenge is translating that into solutions that can help to address the problems faced by people.
The work of the CTLGH
The Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health was established in 2014 with the vision of creating more resilient, productive, efficient and environmentally sustainable livestock production systems. It has achieved a lot over the past six years. The Centre’s Vision 2030 document reflects on some of the key achievements as well as plans for the next decade.
CTLGH is also committed to supporting knowledge exchange and capacity building. In the last five years it has trained several scientists from low-and-middle income countries in a range of research areas, such as genome technologies and data science in agriculture, and hosted several research placements at its three research nodes in Addis Ababa, Edinburgh and Nairobi.
One of the reasons Professor Djikeng was originally attracted to working at the University of Edinburgh is due to its international status and collaborative research outputs. He said: “I’m really pleased that through the work that I do here I can continue to strengthen that international presence of the University.”
CTLGH has set ambitious goals over the coming decade, which will see the team continuing to change the face of health and make positive impacts on peoples’ lives.