I am a young Lecturer-Researcher born March 23rd 1988 in Benin, a francophone country in West Africa. My career is therefore based both on lecturing and on scientific research. In terms of lecturing, holding a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree in Biomedical Analysis, I have acquired the skills of a laboratory technician. These knowledges, both theoretical and practical, enabled me to obtain a PhD in Environment and Health Sciences. After a placement at the Polytechnic School of Abomey-Calavi, I conducted educational activities in the Department of Human Biology where I had to teach General Microbiology and Medical Microbiology. Other courses were later put to my charge. These included the teaching of General Microbiology at the Interfaculty Center for Training and Environmental Research for Sustainable Development; Animal Health Experiences at the Faculty of Health and Food Hygiene and Occupational Risk Management at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.
Being a lecturer in Benin means first of all to be willing to sacrifice one’s personal life for the benefit of students training. I am fortunate to be a biologist trained and recruited in a Polytechnic School. This means that our trainings attract many students. However, we do not really have what it takes to cope with the challenges of time. Initially, the Canadians had helped our school a lot. Over time, the number of students has increased tenfold. I currently teach microbiology to nearly 200 students in the second year of their Bachelor’s degree. Obviously, this is too much. The laboratory has not changed and the equipments are sometimes older than me. My bacteriological oven in the laboratory is almost twenty years old. Supreme sacrifices must therefore be made by forming pedagogical groups and, therefore, repeating the manipulations as many times as possible.
Secondly, education in Benin is currently undergoing major restructuring. As for me, I still have the grace to belong to an institution in which the vision of leaders is the strengthening of an efficient education system in spite of the limited funds. The school team and the Rector of my Institution are constantly undertaking pedagogical training for the lecturers recruited. Moreover, the training modules are daily improved and upgraded to international conditions and standards with the help of a committee set up by the Rectorate. In spite of all these efforts, a tendency to the disappearance of the practical works is to be denoted. The large number of students poses serious problems. This is why we make a lot of requests for donations of equipment and materials in human biology.
In my field, for example, we do not have a Master’s degree in Medical Microbiology. With my team, I am currently considering the introduction of a special training programme in Molecular Microbiology and Applications (MsC) in order to prepare our students to benefit from thesis scholarships as well as those trained abroad. Finally, being a lecturer in Benin means having a vision, a clear and positive vision of the future, the only one based on the youth very well trained and dynamic.
In terms of research, my research activities can be divided into three main areas:
- the problems of market gardening and the hygienic quality of foodstuffs
- applications of microbiological techniques to the resolution of development problems
- exploration of Benin’s flora for the treatment of infectious and non-communicable diseases
The activities of the first research axis were used, in part, to carry out my PhD thesis, whose theme was about a highly consumed vegetable in Benin: Solanum macrocarpon Linn. The study determined medicinal and nutritive properties in the leaves and fruits of this plant. However, the finding was that these vegetables had a defective bacteriological and toxicological quality resulting from the use of poultry droppings as agricultural inputs during growing. This study proposed an alternative that was validated and which consisted in the implementation of an anaerobic biodigestion system based on simple local material. This resulted in a significant reduction of more than 95% in bacterial loads and heavy metal content. The results of this study make an important contribution to protecting the health of the consumer of S. macrocarpon in particular and leafy vegetables in general.
In addition, and within the framework of this first research axis, the sanitary quality of meat carcasses was evaluated by the research and characterisation of Escherichia coli O157, an emerging serotype, feared for its particular virulence. This aspect of the study evaluated the risk of contamination of meat by this species.
After the defense of my thesis in 2013, I was recruited as a permanent Lecturer-Researcher in the Department of Human Biology of the Polytechnic School of Abomey-Calavi. I conduct my research activities in the Research Laboratory in Applied Biology (Polytechnic School of Abomey-Calavi). I also work in the Laboratory of Biology and Molecular Typing in Microbiology, Faculty of Sciences and Techniques, University of Abomey-Calavi.
The second axis allowed me to propose answers to development problems (sanitation, health problems, quality control of foodstuffs and products used in biology). It also allowed me to evaluate some microbiological diagnostic methods for a more efficient management of biomedical laboratories focused on quality results with minimal investment.
As for the third axis, it consisted in the exploration of the Beninese flora for the treatment of diseases. The aim of the works undertaken was to highlight the therapeutic effects, the chemical composition of the plants and the exploration of their level of toxicity.
The work carried out in these different research axes contributed to a better knowledge of the microorganisms responsible for infections in Benin, to improved laboratory practices to optimise various microbiological diagnoses, to improved management of the market gardening sector and awareness of food vendors and to a better knowledge of plant species that can treat bacterial infections and even non-communicable diseases such as hypercholesterolemia.
Being a researcher in Benin is not easy at all. It is true that the Ministry of Higher Education and the Rectorate of the University of Abomey-Calavi are doing a lot of things that show an optimistic vision of the future. I have, for example, received an allowance from my Ministry to conduct my PhD works. Periodically, the Rectorate sets up competitive funds from the University, which contribute to strengthening the technical platform of the laboratories and to train new doctors. However, things remain immense.
In the field of research, the first problem facing Beninese researchers is the language barrier. Doing research in biology nowadays and being able to position itself durably on the world plane, imposes at least the knowledge of the English language. In the face of this, several mechanisms have been put in place. Any candidate for a Master’s degree in Benin must now present a certificate of proficiency in the English language. Secondly, the lack of research funding and equipment remains staggering. I remember that at the beginning of my career, I financed the protocols of my work with my salary. When you have nothing, you have no choice. Most of the research in Benin is done on own funds. Only passion allow you to work in such conditions. I was obliged to carry out my work at the hours of non-attendance of the laboratory by the students. Indeed, it is the same equipment that is used for classical training and research activities. Thanks to God, the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), since the end of 2016, has alleviated my suffering and that of many colleagues of my Institution, the University of Abomey-Calavi.
Thanks to the TWAS-UNESCO, I was able to obtain a substantial donation of equipment to set up and launch a complete unit in Microbiology. I have benefited from a microbiological safety cabinet, a large number of culture media, an autoclave, strain-freezers, refrigerators, trinocular camera microscopes, a bacteriological oven, etc. It was this same funding that allowed me to set up a team of ten young scientists (master and thesis students). These students are mostly women selected on the basis of excellence in their academic studies. The goal is to prepare some dynamic and talented female scientists that can claim international awards in the coming years. This provision even allowed me to win the Leadership Award from the Youth Advisory Body in 2016 in my country. Thanks to the foresight and support of my Rectorate, the acquired equipment will soon be installed and will contribute not only to the practical training of the students but also to the execution of the research protocols without too much difficulty. My work on the efficiency of traditional and aromatic plants is therefore greatly facilitated. I therefore pay tribute to the TWAS, which has had an indelible impact on my career.
Another obstacle that I had to cross and that is, besides, common to many Beninese researchers is the question of publications. Obviously, with limited resources, it is difficult to be able to publish the work in high-impact journals. So we started with some small ones, and that gave us some international evidence of potentiality. Subsequently, we have a lot of collaboration in Tanzania, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and worldwide, with the impact of publishing in higher-quality journals. Participation in more than forty scientific events in the field of biology and chemistry has opened up many axes of international cooperation.