Sun, 31 Oct 2021 Interviews

'Africa needs brain awareness'

Prof Amadi Ihunwo, Secretary-General of SONA Prof Amadi Ihunwo, Secretary-General of SONA

Governments in Africa and their agencies, as well as corporate entities including media across Africa need to assist in creating awareness about neurological diseases on the continent, secretary-general of the Society of Neuroscientists of Africa, SONA, Professor Amadi Ihunwo, tells MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING on the sidelines of the 15th biennial SONA conference in Accra, Ghana. He advocates more funding for research in neuroscience and therapeutic intervention in neurological diseases and mental illness by governments across the continent. Excerpts:

Q: Kindly tell us what SONA is all about; and, the objective of this conference, and at this time?

A: SONA is a non-profit organisation registered in Nairobi, Kenya in 1993. SONA functions as the umbrella organisation for the regional and national neuroscience societies and groups in Africa. SONA is also an affiliate of the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO). The Mandate of SONA ‘To promote research, teaching and advocacy in Neuroscience in Africa and hold an international conference every two years.

Although this conference was initially slated for April, it was rescheduled to October 2021 to allow for both in-person and virtual participants.

Q: Why the choice of Accra as the conference venue this year?

A: The Ghana Neuroscience Society (GNS) secured the hosting right at the 4th SONA Conference at the General Assembly of SONA in Lagos Nigeria in 2019.

Q: The theme 'Neurological disease in contemporary Africa'. But how aware are the ordinary people in contemporary Africa of neurological disease? How can governments and corporate entities, including the media, across Africa give greater support to research into, and the teaching of, neurological diseases on the continent? And how can SONA create more public awareness of neuroscience among the youth in Africa?

A: It is because these neurological diseases in Africa have not been given the required attention on the continent that the conference was designated with this topic.

National Governments and their Agencies, Corporate entities including Media across Africa are welcome to assist in creating first the knowledge base for our citizens on the workings of the brain, especially that it is not a structure that we see with the naked eyes at the butchery like the liver, kidney, etcetera, fund research in Neuroscience and therapeutic intervention in Neurological diseases and Mental illness.

SONA encourages Brain Awareness Activities which are driven by the Youth. As a matter of fact, our desire is that the knowledge of the brain must start from the primary school level and ascend. We would like to see information on how the brain works being translated into local languages.

Our conferences do also have an objective of engaging Government and other other stake holder, hence we do have an IBRO Global Engagement Event in this Conference directed at“Drug Addiction: Comparing National Responses in African Countries”. Within this context we will like to have several stakeholders engaging Neuroscientists in their respective countries on Mental Health Wellness

Q: What do you expect to change in the neuroscience narrative in Africa after this conference?

A: To continue advocacy on Mental Wellness through providing information on the brain in health and disease and draw attention to the need for continuing teaching and funding research in Neurosciences. We envisage more Organizations committing to funding Brain related Initiatives on the African continent through funding research, capacity building with equipping designated Neuroscience Laboratories.

Q: Kindly tell us who Professor Amadi Ihunwo is? Tell us about yourself?

A: Professor Amadi Ihunwo is a Nigerian but resident in South Africa. I am a Professor of Anatomy and a Neuroscientist at the School of Anatomical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg South Africa. My research area is on Comparative Adult Neurogenesis and Gliogenesis looking at the generation of new cells in the adult brain in mammalian and avian species and the factors that affect the process at different life stages. My tenure as the Secretary-General of the Society will be ending this year (2017-2021). I am a Councillor, Representing Africa on the Council of the International Society for Neurochemistry (ISN).