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Kenyan Scientist George Njoroge Gets Global Award

Dr. Njoroge says all the credit for his undying devotion to science and finding new cures should go to his late mother, Alice Nyaucha

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George-Njoroge
George Njoroge is a native of Kiambu with over 100 patents for his work in immunology and cancer.
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Kenyan scientist George Njoroge was feted with the Pioneer Award for Impact in Science and Medicine in New York. The researcher is also an author and co-author of over 120 scientific publications. His research primarily focuses on finding new drugs and development.

Kenya has produced yet another star, but this time it shines in the scientific field. George Njoroge is a United States-based Kenyan with the Pioneer Award for Impact in Science and Medicine under his belt. He received the award on Sunday, July 14 at the FACE List in New York, an event organized by Face2Face Africa. George is also a senior researcher at Eli Lilly and Merck Research Laboratories’ former Director of Research.

Njoroge received the honor after discovering molecules that could be used in treating a
variety of viral infections. ‘Over the years, I’ve received lots of accolades both here in the USA and other parts of the world. However, I find it quite remarkable to get recognition by an afro-centric organization. This makes me dance joyfully and with exhilaration,’ he said.

Who is George Njoroge?

George Njoroge is a native of Kiambu with over 100 patents for his work in immunology and cancer. He attended Kiawairia and Kamuchege Primary schools before advancing to Thika High School for his secondary education. He received his first-class honors undergraduate degree from the University of Nairobi before joining CASE Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio for a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry.

The 64-year-old says he’s not done despite holding a prestigious position at a global
pharmaceutical company. He wants to move to Naivasha in the next year to be in close proximity with his upcoming biotechnology institute. Njoroge hopes to attract well over 100 doctoral degree holders from all over the world to work in the institute to find a cure for cancer, diabetes, AIDS, and Malaria.

Dr-Njoroge
Dr. Njoroge, second from left, receives honorary doctorate from Mount Kenya University.

After accepting the Face2Face Africa Award, Njoroge said, ‘Africa has to step up the plate and get involved by participating in the global scientific platform, we cannot afford to be left behind. The African content has great brains and an abundance of resources. We only need to embrace the power that comes with biotechnology.’

Other Awards

However, this was not the first time the scientist was on a podium receiving an honorary
award, in 2017, he became the first African scientist to earn 100 patents from the American Patent and Trade Office. This honor also came after the scientist found a
treatment capable of curing some viral diseases. Mount Kenya University also saw
Njoroge’s ability through his research and awarded him an honorary Doctor of
Pharmacy degree back in 2014.

At Merck Research Laboratories, George conducted the research that paved the way for the discovery of Victrelis. Victrelis is the first ever oral drug for Hepatitis C. A US media outlet was quoted saying, ‘Victrelis was approved by the FDA in 2011 and is currently on sale in more than 45 countries worldwide, with over $1 billion in sales. The discovery earned the scientist a coveted 2012 Hero of Chemistry honor, which was awarded to him by the American Chemical Society, which is the largest scientific society in the world.’

With chronic hepatitis currently affecting over 3 million Americans and between 130 and 170 million others around the globe, Dr. Njoroge’s findings are immense. The drug has
already been approved in 43 countries and is currently on sale in 23 of said countries.

Credits

Dr. Njoroge says all the credit for his undying devotion to science and finding new cures should go to his late mother, Alice Nyaucha. She was a practitioner of herbal medicine and inspired his love for science since he was a little boy. The researcher is married to Ester Nyambura, and the couple has two children both pursuing medical degrees.

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The Tale Of Dying Dreams In The Name Of Tradition

Tony Mwebia of the Men End FGM campaign said visits to primary schools show that even as early as age 10, there are far fewer girls than boys.

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FGm
Maasai girls and a man watch a video on a mobile phone prior to the start of a social event advocating against harmful practices such as female genital mutilation at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya. VOA

It was during her first year of high school in rural western Kenya that Mary Kuket says she was “sacrificed to tradition” and her dreams of becoming a doctor shattered forever.

With no explanation, the 15-year-old was given away to another family, who forced her to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), then married her off to their middle-aged son.

“I kept asking my parents why I was being taken and begged them not to send me away, but my father pushed me away, saying that soon I would understand,” Kuket, now 46, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Baringo county. “They never told me I was going to be cut. They never told me I was going to be married to a 45-year-old man. They never told me that I would not go back to school.”

From the fear of being ostracized or killed to the prestige associated with entering womanhood, girls in Kenya are under a barrage of societal pressures to undergo FGM, often with a devastating impact on their education, say campaigners.

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM
A badge reads “The power of labor against FGM” is seen on a volunteer during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Cairo, Egypt,(VOA)

A study by the charity ActionAid Kenya published Monday said despite the fact that FGM is illegal in the east African nation, deep-rooted myths supporting the ancient ritual persist.

Violence ‘normalized’

The survey, based on interviews with almost 400 girls and women in eight Kenyan counties, found that FGM affected not only their health but also their schooling.

“Despite efforts to curb FGM, this type of violence against women and girls is so normalized in some communities. Girls are socialized into believing they must undergo the procedure,” said Agnes Kola, women’s rights coordinator for ActionAid Kenya. “But it is stifling their ability to participate in society, as once they undergo FGM, their schooling is impacted and many never complete their education and progress in life.”

Girls missed school to recover after the procedure and suffered medical complications and trauma that affected their class attendance and performance, the report said.

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM
Students arrive at the start of a social event advocating against harmful practices such as female genital mutilation at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya. VOA

Seen as a rite of passage in many communities, FGM also acted as a trigger for girls as young as 11 to become sexually active and married off as they were perceived as women — often ending with child pregnancy.

As a result, fewer girls than boys in Kenya’s FGM-prevalent counties were finishing their primary education, and even fewer were transitioning to high school, the study said.

While national figures show secondary enrollment of boys and girls in year one to be almost equal, in some FGM-prevalent counties, enrollment of girls in the same group is less than half that of boys, according to government data.

‘Ticket for marriage’

An estimated 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM, which usually involves the partial or total removal of the genitalia, the United Nations says.

FGM
Girls sit in the yard at Kalas Girls Primary School, Amudat District, Karamoja, Uganda, Jan. 31, 2018. They each escaped home after their families tried to force them to undergo FGM or to enter into marriage. VOA

Despite being internationally condemned, it is practiced in at least 27 African countries and parts of Asia and the Middle East, and is usually carried out by traditional cutters, often with unsterilized blades or knives.

In some cases, girls can bleed to death or die from infections. FGM can also cause lifelong painful conditions such as fistula as well as fatal childbirth complications.

Kenya outlawed the practice in 2011, but it continues as communities believe it is necessary for social acceptance and increasing their daughters’ marriage prospects.

One in five females aged 15 to 49 in Kenya has undergone FGM, according to U.N. data.

The study in eight counties found fear of being rejected for marriage, ostracized by the community or even killed was pushing girls to undergo FGM.

In the eastern county of Garissa, Muslim communities were cited as saying anyone who was not circumcised was not permitted to worship and could easily be killed.

FGM
Amran Mahamood used to circumcise young girls in Hargeysa, Somalia, but stopped after a religious leader convinced her the rite was not required by Islamic law. VOA

“Religiously, we are told that circumcision makes girls to be clean before God, and it is only after undergoing this practice that the girls can be allowed to read the Quran or to worship,” said a woman from Garissa, cited in the report.

Elsewhere, girls and women said they were expected to undergo FGM to comply with cultural expectations of marriage.

“FGM is considered as the community-given ticket for marriage, thus it results in automatic suitors or bidders, which is absolutely the parent’s choice,” said the report. “Young men will ensure their wives get circumcised at the time of marriage.”

Progress hindered

Soon after being cut, the girls, who are drawn from communities in which up to 98 percent of women and girls have undergone FGM, said they struggled to continue with school.

They were absent for weeks to heal and also suffered infections and trauma, according to the report.

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM
 A Masaai villager displays the traditional blade used to circumcise young girls August 12, 2007 in Kameli, Kenya. Maasai are a pastoral group mostly clustered in the Rift Valley. They practice circumcision on both boys and girls during puberty years as a rite of passage to adulthood. 

The practice also provides social sanction for girls to be married off or have sex, often resulting in pregnancy.

Tony Mwebia of the Men End FGM campaign said visits to primary schools show that even as early as age 10, there are far fewer girls than boys. “Sometimes it’s just one or two girls compared to a whole lot of boys,” he said.

Campaigners said government and civil society had neglected remote, insecure regions where FGM was most prevalent. They called for specific budgets to be allocated to these areas, using positive messaging to engage with communities, and for better coordination between charities.

For Kuket, however, all is not lost.

After 20 years of marriage and seven children, she went back to school, finished her secondary education and has enrolled to work toward a degree in community development.

Also Read: ‘The Restorers’: Kenyan Girls Use Technology to Combat Female Genital Mutilation

She is also a prominent human rights activist in her community in western Tangulbei, where she rescues girls who are being forced to undergo FGM and pushed into child marriage.

“I don’t want any other girl to go through what I did,” she said. “FGM is a barrier to a girl’s progress in life — it ruins their lives.” (VOA)