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Sudan: Hyam Ali, inventor of a diagnostic to detect tropical diseases

Hyam Ali is the inventor of a medical imaging tool for detecting tropical pathologies, in particular mycetoma, a chronic inflammatory disease causing deformities that can lead to disability. In 2021, she was awarded the Young Talent Prize of the “Women in Science Africa” program of the L’Oréal-UNESCO Foundation.

With a PhD in mathematics, Hyam Ali has long been criticized by her relatives for not choosing to be an engineer or a doctor instead of studying mathematics, to be more useful to her country. Armed with an iron will, the Sudanese  pursued her studies in mathematics, notably at the University of Khartoum in Sudan, then at the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Ghana where she specialized in medical imaging, before flying to France where she obtained her PhD in mathematics at the University of Orleans in 2021.

It was after her return to Sudan in 2016 from her studies in Ghana that she realized that her country really needed her and her skills. Teaching at the University of Khartoum, she discovered during a conference mycetoma, a tropical disease, unknown, but which affects populations in Sudan, especially in marginalized areas. A disease located in the subcutaneous tissue, which affects even bones, can lead to amputations, one of the only existing solutions to save the lives of patients.

With her specialization in medical imaging obtained in Ghana, she decided to work on mycetoma for her thesis which she conducted in partnership with the University of Khartoum and the University of Orleans in France. She devoted her work to identifying a mathematical model for diagnosing the organisms responsible for mycetoma through the analysis of biological tissue. Her research allowed her, in particular, to set up a simple, inexpensive diagnosis that can be used in the countryside, knowing that mycetoma is a disease considered “shameful” from which many patients hide.

She then joined Soba University Hospital in Khartoum, which has one of the most advanced research centers on mycetoma. More than 10,000 people with the disease are registered there, a low figure compared to the reality on the ground.

To more easily detect the disease in patients, the researcher has set up a medical imaging tool that compares the strains of mycetoma and the tissues of patients and detects the disease.

Due to the scientific advances she has made in the diagnosis of mycetoma, a disease recently classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the list of neglected tropical diseases, Hyam Ali won the 2021 Young Talents Prize of the Women in science Africa program of L’Oréal-UNESCO Foundation.

Currently teaching mathematics at the University of Khartoum, Hyam Ali is also involved in promoting higher education to young Sudanese girls. She organizes awareness campaigns in schools in Sudan to encourage Sudanese girls to attend university.