SCHOLARSHIPS: Kogi-born physician, Angie Toluhi wins American Universities Fellowship prize for academic excellence
Angie Toluhi, a Kabba-born physician who championed a number of initiatives to improve the health of mothers and children in her home country, will complete her UAB training before returning to her native Nigeria to continue her work.
Angelina “Angie” Aduke Toluhi, MBBS, MPH, a doctoral student in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Public Health, was awarded an American Association of University Women International Fellowship.
Toluhi’s $20,000 fellowship award will help fund her doctoral education at UAB. Recipients for this highly competitive award are selected for academic achievement and demonstrated commitment to women and girls. Recipients are non-U.S. citizens who plan to return to their home countries to become leaders in business, government, academia, community activism, the arts or scientific fields.
Prior to coming to the United States to study at UAB, Toluhi worked as a physician in her home country of Nigeria. Toluhi has added significantly to public health and health development in Nigeria, specifically in the areas of health systems strengthening, strategy development, technical assistance and program management of health projects; HIV care, support and treatment; public health promotion; and maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition.
After earning her medical degree and completing her internship, Toluhi began her career caring for patients in a rural, government-run clinic under the compulsory National Youth Service Corps program.
“By the time patients came to the clinic, they were in very poor health,” Toluhi said. “It was concerning that so many people were not seeking care earlier or were not educated on disease prevention and proper health and nutrition. I was the only doctor in that clinic, and I decided that it would be more beneficial to go into the communities and educate rather than waiting for patients to come see me. Thus, together with the other members of the medical team, we ran mobile clinics every two weeks in different parts of the local government.”
For more than 15 years, Toluhi worked in Nigerian communities to develop and promote health interventions. She has a strong professional interest in maternal and child health and nutrition and has championed many initiatives to improve the health of mothers and children in Nigeria. Her observation that many children in rural communities in northern Nigeria are malnourished led her to institute a nutrition education intervention that recorded an 80 percent success rate in rehabilitating children with moderate malnutrition using a locally available cereal-soy-groundnut blend.
Historically, Nigeria has faced multiple polio outbreaks. As head of the Health Systems Strengthening Unit of the Catholic Relief Services in Nigeria, Toluhi worked with her Core Group Partners Polio project team to address this health crisis. They trained and supported roughly 800 women in rural and semi-urban areas of two northern Nigeria states to serve as peer influencers for other women, encouraging and supporting them to ensure that their children receive essential vaccinations. Her team also implemented a male peer-educator program to encourage men in the culturally patriarchal Nigerian north to allow their wives and children access to basic health services. As a result of their efforts and those of other development partners, the country has not reported any incidence of wild-polio virus infection or outbreak for more than two years. Hopefully, Nigeria will be declared polio-free in 2020.
“Just encouraging vaccines uptake in the communities is not enough,” Toluhi said. “Men are the decision-makers in most African communities, and many of them were highly skeptical of the sources of the vaccines, as well as the contents and potential dangers of using those vaccines. There was a high level of misconception and misinformation.”
Sharing practical education in a way that respected sociocultural norms proved to be an effective strategy.
“It is important to understand and respect traditions, cultures and norms,” Toluhi said. “Building key relationships and working with already established government, traditional and religious structures helped us achieve our ultimate goal of getting children immunized against the disease.”
CRS was a sub-recipient to Family Health International for the implementation of The Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria’s HIV treatment, care and prevention program in five states of Nigeria. The Global Fund HIV project, which was under her purview, tested and counseled more than 100,000 women for HIV in 2018-19, and placed more than 1,000 women on lifesaving antiretroviral therapy. She also had oversight of the adolescent HIV project, for which she and her team worked with adolescents learning about their HIV status and navigating the turbulence that sometimes follows disclosure.
Toluhi supervised the Nutrition International-supported Vitamin A Supplementation project, which saw VAS coverage for children age 5 and younger increase to 72 percent from 8 percent and to 91 percent from 36 percent within a year in the two project states.
“Many children learn about their diagnosis around the time they reach adolescence, an already turbulent time,” she said. “We had special clubs situated within health facilities where the youth could meet others just like themselves and share information, talk to trained health counselors and peer educators, and also learn important life skills.”
This type of work translates well to her doctoral work at UAB, supported by the Sparkman Center, to conduct research to identify contextual factors driving HIV infection in certain geographical areas and within certain populations in Nigeria. She also is a Sparkman fellow.
“UAB is the perfect place to earn my doctoral degree in public health,” Toluhi said, “The Maternal and Child Health concentration of the program is very practical, and some of the health issues in the Deep South are comparable to what I see in Nigeria. There are great opportunities for research, improving outcomes and building partnerships.”
“UAB is the perfect place to earn my doctoral degree in public health … There are great opportunities for research, improving outcomes and building partnerships.” – Angelina “Angie” Aduke Toluhi, MBBS, MPH
Toluhi credits the UAB National and International Fellowships and Scholarships team with helping her through the AAUW application process.
“Dr. Ashley Kuntz is so supportive,” she said. “She provided feedback on how I could communicate my work and research in a way that could be understood by a wider audience. She has a great understanding of the nuances associated with applying for fellowships.”
Toluhi obtained her medical degree from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria; and her master’s degree in public health from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. She also has garnered a variety of certifications, including Certified for Public Health by the National Board of Public Health Examiners, USA; Project Management Professional by the Project Management Institute, USA; International Health Consultancy by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, U.K.; Health Systems Strengthening Results Based Financing (World Bank); and Development Project Management. In 2016, she received the Innovator of the Year Award from Nutrition International (formerly the Micronutrient Initiative) for her work in addressing micronutrient deficiencies in women, young girls and children in Nigeria.
“I have been inspired by Angie’s advocacy for women and girls since the first day we met,” said Ashley Kuntz, Ph.D., director of UAB’s National and International Fellowships and Scholarships. “I am thrilled the AAUW has recognized her extraordinary potential to apply what she learns at UAB to continue improving health outcomes in Nigeria.”
AAUW has awarded more than $115 million in fellowships and grants to more than 13,000 scholars and organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and 150 countries, one of the largest scholarship programs for women in the world.