Patricia Bi Asanga Fai—SETAC Africa Immediate Past President
Delphine Delire, SETAC Europe Communications Manager
Patricia Bi Asanga Fai fulfilled her term of service as SETAC Africa President from September 2013 to October 2015. Prior to officially being elected into the position, she concurrently filled the roles of vice president and acting president until her official election as president in order to assure the smooth running of SETAC Africa’s operations. She represented SETAC Africa at the SETAC World Council.
Under her leadership, SETAC Africa became an independent geographic unit (GU). In 2013, she initiated the 6th SETAC Africa Conference in Lusaka, Zambia, which was the first meeting organized as an independent GU. At the same time, the global SETAC Global Horizon Scanning Project was launched at this meeting, where 76 participants from 18 countries worldwide were present, 10 of which were African countries. The questions resulting from this workshop are being used to shape research and development efforts in the areas of environmental toxicology and chemistry in Africa in order to seek African solutions to African problems. “We were privileged in SETAC Africa to be selected to host the first in a series of SETAC Global Horizon Scanning Project workshops,” said Patricia. Since then, workshops have been conducted in other GU’s and will culminate in a global workshop at the 7th SETAC World Congress/37th SETAC North America Annual Meeting in 2016 in Orlando, with the result of a prioritized list of the most important worldwide research questions to help guide future SETAC research.
At the 2013 Lusaka meeting, it was decided that Nigeria would host the 2015 SETAC Africa meeting, but due to unfortunate and difficult national circumstances, it was agreed to hold the biannual conference in Langebaan, South Africa. However, the 2014 regional meeting, as initially initiated, still went on in Nsukka in January 2015 and was led by Ikechukwu Onwurah, current president of SETAC Africa, and Otitoju Olawale, the GU's current vice president. Throughout this time, Patricia was an integral supportive presence in helping to facilitate these efforts.
After the regional meeting, the focus was set on the organization of the 7th SETAC Africa Conference in Langebaan, South Africa. The conference was held in October 2015 and a total of 127 abstracts were received with 118 of them accepted (69 for platform and 49 for poster presentations). The meeting was a success, attracting 80 participants from sixteen countries. Under the theme “Identifying Knowledge Gaps and Research Priorities in Africa: A Pivot for Sustainable Environmental Development,” two keynote speeches and two conference guest presentations were given, resulting in more scientists getting inspired to start research in the fields of nanotechnology and molecular toxicology.
During the meeting, a course on risk assessment with special focus on African issues of concern was held. Patricia has often said, “Continued capacity building is very important in Africa,” and she strived to make this happen during her time leading the GU. One topic of capacity building identified as a large need in Africa was in the area of risk assessment. Enormous efforts were made by members of SETAC’s Ecological Risk Assessment and Human Health Risk Assessment advisory groups to develop a course on risk assessment that was applicable for SETAC Africa. A summary of this successful meeting can be found in the Globe issue of 19 November.
Organizing conferences and meetings in Africa was and is not an easy task! Some African countries are facing political instability, which makes the organization and attraction of people to such places difficult. Patricia and her colleagues faced numerous challenges and through their hard work drove change and growth in SETAC Africa. “This was a very daunting task as the challenges were sometimes insurmountable, but with the continued support of the entire SETAC family, we made some progress,” declared Patricia. “In all cases, the SETAC World Council (SWC) members have been very attentive and have worked hard to either propose solutions or examine our proposals in order to help us overcome our challenges and to stage a successful meeting.”
Patricia was very active as SETAC Africa’s representative to the SWC. One of her main missions was to encourage SETAC Africa members to participate in the SETAC Africa (SAF) activities during the SETAC North America and SETAC Europe annual meetings. Patricia often said, “Some of the members I met while attending other SETAC GU meetings have been very instrumental in organizing and participating in our conferences, and I want to encourage others in SETAC Africa to make those same connections for the future.”
During the time of Patricia’s leadership, SETAC Africa membership has increased significantly from 84 to 151 members, achieving a nearly 80% increase. But Patricia still feels there are more challenges and opportunities available for growing SETAC Africa membership. “Since academia constitutes the majority of the membership, more efforts still need to be implemented to gain the attention of government and business members.” Students make up around 30% of the membership.
Patricia made tremendous efforts in SETAC Africa and delivered substantial results. There are still lots of challenges that remain and opportunities for progress in a growing GU. Fundraising remains an issue, which dependents on maintaining viable collaborative relationships with both local and international organizations. Patricia has stated, “In order to raise the necessary funds, we need to compile a list of organizations we want to collaborate with and develop a coherent strategy. We also need to develop and present a solid and relevant scientific program in order to attract as many SETAC Africa members as possible and make them participate actively in various advisory groups within SETAC, as these capture cutting-edge science and cut across most disciplines.”
SETAC is grateful for the hard work and dedication Patricia has provided during her time as president, and we thank her for her willingness to serve SETAC. She ended her service as president during the 7th Africa Conference. She is succeeded in her position by Ikechukwu Onwurah. We wish him lots of success during his time as SETAC Africa President!
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