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Congo : Francine Ntoumi, the fighter of infectious diseases

Francine Ntoumi is a Congolese molecular biologist. She is known for her research on malaria. As a specialist of infectious diseases, she has also carried out work on Ebola epidemic in Congo Brazzaville. She is currently part of a team of eight researchers involved in the study of Covid-19 and its emerging infectious risks worldwide.

After spending more than twenty years in Europe, especially in France where she followed her entire university studies and began her career, Francine Ntoumi joined the Faculty of Health Sciences at Marien Ngouabi University in 2014 as a professor.

This Congolese biologist specialized in immunology and infectiology has become known through her extensive research on malaria in Africa. It was during her postdoctoral thesis at the Institut Pasteur in France, from 1993 to 1995, that she became interested in this pathology and parasitic diseases, at a time when malaria killed many pregnant women in Africa. Following her extensive research on malaria, she led the Multilateral Malaria Initiative (MIM) in Tanzania from 2007 to 2010. In 2012, she launched the Congolese research program on plasmodial infection during pregnancy and conducted studies to monitor the resistance of plasmodial strains to antimalarials. The researcher wishes one day to develop a vaccine against this disease.

Committed to the fight against Ebola, AIDS, tuberculosis, coronavirus…

In addition to malaria, Francine Ntoumi has conducted research on other infectious diseases such as Ebola. She led a project funded by European Union during the Ebola epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa to assist the Congolese health ministry in preparing the tools for the response to the disease. She also coordinated the Central African Regional Network on tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS and Malaria (CANTAM). She is currently part of an interdisciplinary and partnership scientific committee of eight researchers created by the Development Research Institute (IRD) to conduct research on the emerging infectious risks of covid-19, in Africa, but also in Asia and Latin America. The team is also responsible for advising IRD leaders on decisions to make in relation to the pandemic.

Promote scientific research and women’s access to science

As a researcher, her ambition is to develop scientific research in Congo. In 2008, she created the Congolese Foundation for medical research. The organization aims to develop scientific research and public health in the country and foster the emergence of top Congolese researchers. Through her initiative, she has developed the first molecular biology laboratory at the main Congolese university where she supervises many young Congolese researchers. She is also committed to encouraging more girls to pursue scientific studies. In 2016, she launched the “Women & Sciences” project sponsored by L’Oréal group and European Union. As part of the project, she sensitizes schoolgirls across the country to take an interest in scientific careers.

Francine Ntoumi holds a PhD in science from Pierre-et-Marie Curie University, obtained in 1992. She was a laboratory chief in the medical research unit at Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon. She was also head of laboratory and associate professor at Tübingen University in Germany from 2000 to 2005.

She has received several awards and distinctions, including the Kwame Nkrumah Prize of African Union for women scientists in 2012, as well as the Georg Forster Scientific Prize of the Alexander-von-Humboldt foundation in 2015. In 2016, the Institute of France awarded her the Christophe Mérieux Prize for her research on infectious diseases in Central Africa.