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Researcher Spotlight: Prof Abdisalan Noor

17 Jul, 2015

Abdisalan-Mohamed-Noor-Black-and-White-1Professor Abdisalan Noor is a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the Kenya Medical Research Institute/Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KEMRI-WTRP) in Nairobi, Kenya. He is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford, in the Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health. He works on a wide range of projects covering malaria, mapping and malnutrition, and we asked him to tell us more…

What are you working on?

I am funded by the Wellcome Trust to work on methods for mapping Plasmodium falciparum malaria risk in low-transmission countries in Africa. I am also a co-applicant on a Wellcome Trust Sustaining Health grant to investigate the social, spatial and environmental determinants of malnutrition in Kenya.

My other research is based on developing epidemiological profiles of malaria for high burden countries, in order to support rational planning of malaria control. This is a project supported by the UK Government under the Information for Malaria (INFORM) project, but it is built on science funded by the Trust.

What does your average day involve?

I always keep a list of things to do. I start the morning by responding quickly to important emails and then as part of my role as the Director of the Nairobi Programme, have a quick meeting with the Head of Operations.

I then attend to any issues within the Programme and follow this with updates from members of the Spatial Health Metrics group that I lead. After that I focus on the rest of my day’s work, which involves assembly and analysis of data, drafting of manuscripts, reading theses from my students, reviewing papers I have been assigned from journals and documents from technical committees that I sit on. I also try and find time to read important publications in my field and often travel to my study countries. This requires some substantial preparatory work.

Malaria prevalence in Africa, 2000-2010

Malaria prevalence in Africa, 2000-2010

Why is your work important?

Malaria is a major contributor to the burden of disease in Africa. My work on mapping malaria transmission intensity, assessing the impact of malaria control in Africa, and helping countries use sound epidemiological evidence for control, all contributes to better ways of controlling malaria.

What do you hope the impact of your work will be?

I hope the work will provide useful insights into the malaria epidemiological transition in Africa, and contribute to sound malaria control policies. I have an emerging interest in general health vulnerabilities of African households, the role malaria plays and their resilience and adaptive mechanisms.

How did you come to be working on this topic/in this field?

It was down to an unexpected twist in my life. I trained in surveying and geographic information systems in an Engineering Faculty but never really wanted to pursue a traditional career in surveying or related work.

I was interested in research and got a position as an unpaid mapping intern at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi. A few months into my internship an advert came out in the newspaper for a research assistant position at the Nairobi office of the KEMRI-WTRP under Professor Bob Snow. I interviewed for this post, got it, and have not looked back since.Abdisalan Noor

How has Wellcome funding helped you/your research/your career?

Immensely! The Wellcome Trust funded my PhD studies and has since been a primary funder of my work. The Trust has been supportive of my work and more broadly that of the Kenya Major Overseas Programme.

Which question about your work do you most dread – and why?

“How many people die of malaria in Africa?”  There is no precise data to answer this question.

Tell us something about you that might surprise us…

I don’t like heights – but I do like classic cars!

What keeps you awake at night?

Work and the welfare of my family and staff.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

The best piece of advice I have been given is ‘Always start with asking the right question’.

The chain-reaction question, set by our previous spot-lit researcher, Dr Lolitika Mandal, is this: What will you do if one of your ongoing projects gets scooped? (i.e. Someone else publishes results on something you’re working on before you publish yours?)

Interesting question. This is not uncommon especially where more than one group is working on the same question. Multiple groups involved in working on the same research area is not always such a bad thing as it allows for different but complementary approaches.

If someone scoops one of my ongoing projects it is natural that my initial reaction would be one of disappointment, which may take a few good days!! However, I would move on to asking whether my ‘competitors’ have done a good job of answering the fundamental questions and whether there are remaining important unresolved issues. Very often there are.

You can find out more about Prof Abdisalan Noor’s work on the KEMRI-WT website, and you may also be interested in these papers: The changing risk of Plasmodium falciparum malaria infection in Africa: 2000–10: a spatial and temporal analysis of transmission intensity and Malaria Control and the Intensity of Plasmodium falciparum Transmission in Namibia 1969–1992.

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