Gro Brundtland Award winners honored in Taipei (Focus Taiwan)

  • Gro Brundtland Award winners honored in Taipei
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Focus Taiwan

Taipei, March 17 (CNA) The five recipients of this year's Gro Brundtland Award were honored at a ceremony in Taipei on Friday for their outstanding work in the field of public health and sustainable development.

The five winners this year are Fathiah Zakham, an assistant researcher at Hodeidah University in Yemen; Farah Fathima, an assistant professor from India's St. John's Medical College; Phyllis Awor, a post doctoral fellow at Uganda's Makerere University; Wafa Al-Jamal, a prostate cancer research fellow from the UK's University of East Anglia; and Yen Yi-chun, a research fellow at Singapore's Duke-NUS Medical School.

The award was established by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, the winner of the first Tang Prize in sustainable development, to recognize distinguished female researchers in the field of public health and sustainable development.

At the opening of the ceremony, Tang Prize Foundation CEO Chern Jenn-chuan (陳振川) said there remain many unsolved issues in public health and "women are essential to finding solutions to these problems."

The five recipients have excelled in their fields of expertise -- including children's and women's health, medical education and fighting disease -- despite the limited resources and institutional barriers they face, Chern said.

Zakham, who is involved in infectious disease research, told CNA that her interest in the field developed from her passion for genomics, as well as the fact that Yemen has some of the highest concentrations of neglected tropical infectious disease in the Middle East.

She said her biggest hope is to work with scientists from around the world and build a network to fight infectious disease, especially emerging infectious diseases, such as multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, Alkhurma hemorrhagic fever and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Awor, who focuses on children's and women's health policy, said her work involves informing Ugandan government officials about gaps in health policy implementation and suggesting ways to bridge them.

"We need good policies and we need to be able to implement those policies well," she said.

She said a lot of progress has been made worldwide over the last 25 years in the area of children's and women's health. For example, the number of deaths in children under five worldwide has fallen by more than half to almost 6 million in 2015, Awor said.

However, she said, the health system in Uganda is still weak and the maternal mortality ratio remains high at around 350 deaths per 100,000 live births. Lowering maternal deaths and improving the overall health system is one of the main focuses now, she said.

Al-Jamal, who focuses on cancer nanomedicine research, said it is important for female scientists to act as mentors and role models for the young generation because there are a lack of female role models in science.

In addition, it is not easy to secure funds and resources in developing countries and woman have to work hard and be very competitive, Al-Jamal said, adding that her advice for female researchers is to "just keep going."

Jenny Su (蘇慧貞), president of National Cheng Kung University who chaired the organizing committee of Gro Brundtland Week, said the five award winners were chosen from about 40 submissions from 24 countries.

The candidates' research, practice, experiences and leadership in the social sector were among the criteria the jury looked at, Su said.

The Gro Brundtland Award requires that candidates are female, younger than 40 years old, citizens of a developing country or Taiwan, hold a research doctorate and carry out research related to public health or sustainable development.

(By Christie Chen)