A letter to my friends from the University of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Scientists in African countries often face uphill struggles to do their work and be part of the international research community. A Swiss researcher used his sabattical to meet some of them and help increase their visibility.
A letter to my friends from the University of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Prof. Dr. Hugues Abriel is the Vice-Rector for Research and Professor at the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at the University of Bern. His research focuses on the roles of ion channels in human diseases (channelopathies), mainly exploring the genetic, molecular, and cellular bases of cardiac arrhythmias. Two years ago, he took a 10-month sabbatical to visit researchers in the French-speaking African academic world, starting at the University of Kinshasa (the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and finishing at the laboratory of medical genetics, University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah of Fez, Morocco. He has recorded a series of podcast featuring French-speaking African scientists to raise awareness of their research. Here he publishes a letter to two physician-scientists he met in Kinshasa.

Lausanne, 12 February 2023

Dear Gerrye and Claude,

I recently received an invitation to write for the online forum from the Federation of European Biochemical Societies. I am writing this letter to you and publishing it on the FEBS Network blog.

Firstly, I hope that this letter finds you both well.

It's hard to believe that it has been more than eight years since we first met at the University of Kinshasa on December 24, 2014. I was invited by the head of the department of paediatrics to talk about genetic channelopathies in children. You were both present as young residents, and I still remember our conversation about your research interests. I was impressed by your passion, dreams, and ambition. We spent a large part of the afternoon under the tree in front of the guesthouse, chatting about genetics, science, academia, and the future of medical genomics.

Since that day, I have been following your progress and accomplishments closely. I saw how difficult it is for you to be "visible" as scientists coming from the centre of Africa, given the many hurdles that you face, including language barriers and a lack of financial resources for research. You told me about your dreams of being part of the global scientific community. Despite these challenges, you demonstrated remarkable resilience and dedication to your work. Now, Gerrye, you are rightly proud to be a Professor of Genetics with a PhD and you, Claude, your stay in France gave you the opportunity to obtain a prestigious certificate of Paediatric Cardiology. You are both active physician-scientists at the University of Kinshasa, one of the largest French-speaking universities in Africa. Your young patients are lucky to be treated by such well-trained doctors!

I truly think you are both an outstanding examples of the modern generation of African scientists we should work with. Your determination and ambition to overcome the challenges you face are truly inspiring, and you are the key to transforming the African research landscape.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for inspiring me to return to RD Congo several times. In 2021 I took my academic sabbatical in Kinshasa and Fez (Morocco). It was an immensely enriching experience that reaffirmed my belief in the importance of promoting scientific collaboration between the "North" and African researchers. Producing podcasts of some of the colleagues I met during those ten months was a great way to explore the world of science communication. It was fun and essential for me to have started this podcast series with you two.

Thanks to your friendship, I now see my role as an academic biomedical scientist from Switzerland entirely differently. You have opened my eyes to the need for greater collaboration between European and African researchers. I am convinced that by working together, we can create more opportunities for young scientists like you and help to promote scientific excellence and innovation in Africa and for the rest of the world.

In closing, I want to thank you both for your friendship and for inspiring me. I wish you all the best in your future endeavours, and I look forward to hearing about your future successes.

Yours, Hugues Abriel

Photograph of Prof. Hugues Abriel (left) and Dr. Claude Kayembe.
Prof. Hugues Abriel (left) and Dr. Claude Kayembe. Listen to their podcast episode.

Photograph of Dr. Gerrye Mubungu (left) and Prof. Hugues Abriel.
Dr. Gerrye Mubungu (left) and Prof. Hugues Abriel. Listen to their podcast episode.

All photographs provided by Hugues Abriel.

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