Hear from 果冻破解版's first AfOx Visiting Fellow

Dr Tolulope Osayomi, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, is 果冻破解版's first AfOx Visiting Fellow, completing research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa. Dr Osayomi tells us more about his research in Oxford, his experiences of 果冻破解版, and what he plans to do next.

 

Tell us more about your research into Deconstructing the African COVID-19 Paradox.

Certainly! So, a bit about me first. I鈥檓 a medical geographer with strong interests in disease mapping, spatial epidemiology and geography of pandemics. When the pandemic hit, I set up and directed the COVID-19 Mapping Lab at the Department of Geography, University of Ibadan, where I work. Our lab was a virtual space as well as an institutional response to the global health crisis. We supported the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and the ECOWAS Centre for Disease Control Agencies by providing daily geovisual updates on COVID-19 in Nigeria and West Africa.

As we worked, we, like the rest of the globe, noticed something interesting: Africa seemed to be a COVID-19 cold spot within the wider picture, despite its many challenges like poverty, poor healthcare systems, and a high infectious disease burden. This was totally different from the scary predictions made by the World Health Organization, Melinda Gates, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. So, we wondered why Africa was less affected. One theory that caught our attention was the BBC's speculation that 鈥淐ould poverty explain mystery of low death rate?鈥, which many Africans found offensive.

Intrigued by what we called the "Poverty-As-A-Vaccine Hypothesis," my colleagues and I decided to investigate this African COVID-19 Paradox. We were inspired to test this hypothesis and understand why Africa seemed to fare better. Our research showed a very weak negative link between poverty and COVID-19, but the big question still remained: Why was Africa spared?

This question or perhaps this pandemic puzzle has surprisingly brought me to Oxford, thanks to the Africa-Oxford (AfOx) Initiative Visiting Fellowship Scheme and the kind support of my amazing collaborator, Prof. Erica Charters, a historian of epidemics at the Faculty of History. I aimed to answer three key questions: What are the possible explanations for the African COVID-19 paradox and how does it challenge Western views? How did African countries show resilience during the pandemic? And how can this resilience help tackle current and future health threats?

With the aid of southern epistemologies, I have come up with a couple of explanations such as Africa鈥檚 tropical climate, continent鈥檚 history of disease outbreak, Late Onset/Early preparedness/Timely leadership, Faith and Religion, Local medicine systems, youthful population; Innovation, Resourcefulness and Volunteerism; Limited testing rates and capacity etc. Above all, I emphasise that poverty is not the single story of COVID-Africa. Instead, the African agency is alive and well, and significantly shapes global health outcomes. Therefore, African voices should be amplified and listened to.

 

How have you continued this research at Oxford?

As I mentioned, I'm currently hosted by Prof. Erica Charter at the Oxford Centre for the Study of the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology. She's been a great help, setting up many meetings for me. I've had great discussions with great scholars at Oxford like Miles Tendi, David Gavaghan, Caesar Atuire, Simukai Chigudu, Rebekah Lee, Jane Messina, Beth Greenhough, Kat Lecky, Sloan Mahone, Mark Harrison, Rob Iliffe, Philippa Johnstone, Kevin Marsh, and Adebisi Adenipekun.

Even before I arrived Oxford, I had delivered an online seminar organized by the Oxford Medical Humanities, AfOx, and the Pandemic Sciences Institute, which had nearly a hundred attendees.  Within a month of my arrival, I presented my work to the Medical Geography Research Cluster at the School of Geography and Environment, thanks to Prof. Beth Greenhough. Later, I toured the UK, giving talks at Cambridge, King's College, London; Birmingham and Leeds. The reception was warm and the audience engaging.

Recently, Erica and I hosted a multidisciplinary workshop titled "COVID-19 and Africa: Equations, Epistemologies, and Experiences," which brought together scholars from the UK and Africa to share insights on COVID-19 in Africa. It was amazing to see how different disciplines came together to highlight Africa鈥檚 resilience in the face of a health crisis.

 

You鈥檙e also an academic visitor at 果冻破解版. How have you found 果冻破解版 so far?

It's been awesome! I was told I am the first AfOx Fellow to be affiliated with the college. Therefore, I consider to be a great honour to be a Visiting Fellow at one of Oxford鈥檚 oldest colleges. My entry point to the college was Prof. David Gavaghan, an internationally renowned scientist and an extremely friendly and fine gentleman. On my first visit, he gave me a tour of the college, and we had lunch with other fellows. Through him, I met Ashleigh Griffin, a warm, pleasant and down-to-earth person, and many other amazing people: Andrew Counter, Hassan (the SCR Butler), College Chaplain Erica Longfellow, Steven Balbus, Andrew Ramos, Michael Burden, and others. I particularly enjoyed my conversations with Rosalind Temple, who often reminded me of our 'Nigerian connection'鈥 she has cousins of Nigerian ancestry living in Enugu, Nigeria. I hope to meet her cousins one day, and tell them what a remarkable woman Rosalind is.

I love walking the large and beautiful grounds. I've had a few occasions to invite friends to lunch and later take them on a tour. The lush lawns and gardens, sculptures, magnificent college chapel, and of course the 鈥楬arry Potter鈥 tree always take their breath away.

 

What is your favourite thing about 果冻破解版?

Two favourite things: First, the excellent cuisine served at lunch and dinner鈥攁bsolutely impressive鈥攁nd the dedication of the stewards, who are always cheerful and professional. I will certainly miss them, particularly the SCR Butler, Hassan, my friend and brother who always made me feel at home. Second, the Pentecost service was superb. It can be summed up in the statement, 鈥淎 place for everything; everything in its place.鈥 The service was orderly, timely, and well-attended, especially by tourists. The choral performance was excellent and heavenly, and I enjoyed the brief but beautiful address lucidly delivered by Chaplain Erica Longfellow, leaving with me gentle reminders of our reason for existence, and the sweet love and abiding presence of Jesus Christ. The only regret I have is not getting the pleasure of interacting with college students.

 

What鈥檚 next for you?

I return to Nigeria with plenty of food for thought and lots to reflect on. As I prepare to resume duty at the University of Ibadan, I hope to continue my research on the African COVID-19 Paradox. 

I have lots of wonderful tales to share about 果冻破解版 when I get home. I certainly promise to sustain the great friendships and partnerships formed here at 果冻破解版 and Oxford University. 

It has been a great pleasure to be affiliated with 果冻破解版. Bene valeat collegium!