Dr. Ahmed Abd El Wahed is currently the head of the Virology lab at the University of Goettingen, Germany and a visiting professor at Cairo University, Egypt. He obtained a degree in Veterinary medicine from the Mansoura University, Egypt. After graduation, and with an interest in host/virus interaction, he conducted a research on poxviruses and obtained a master in Virology in 2006. Dr. Abd El Wahed, continued to Germany to further hone his research skills, where he developed a method for rapid mapping of antibody targets, which have significant impact on diagnostics and vaccine development.
Dr. Abd El Wahed lauded the mentoring of Prof. Gerhard Hunsmann specifically in project proposal development and scientific text writing and Prof. Hans-Joachim Fritz’s contribution to his total development as a scientist as indispensable to his progress. After obtaining his PhD in biology in 2011 and together with Prof. Frank Hufert, Prof. Manfred Weidmann and other colleagues, they launched a new adventure of “research to impact” which culminated in the development of a mobile suitcase laboratory for rapid detection of pathogens such as hemorrhagic fever viruses at low resource settings. He conducted his initial field trial in Senegal in 2013 with the support of local scientists including Dr. Amadou A Sall.
In 2013 he was a recipient of the Young Investigator’s Award at the ASTMH for the development of this diagnostic tool. He considered this feat as one of the significant strides that impacted his scientific maturity. As a result of that same meeting, he would meet with Prof. Axel Kroeger and Dr. Dinesh Mondal, with whom they were able to get fund from three different organizations to implement the mobile suitcase lab for the detection of leishmania cases. Dr. Abd El Wahed also has ongoing project funded by the German Research foundation to support research on paratuberculosis in Uganda and Sudan. He indicated that a critical requirement of these grants was the need to for all the work on the project to be done in Africa with junior African scientists so as to build their capacity.
Dr. Abd El Wahed revealed that rabies was a huge problem in a number of African countries including Egypt, and that partnering with a mentor in Prof. Mohammad Shalaby, their team had started to build a consortium in order to employ the rapid diagnostic method for the surveillance and also deploy oral vaccines for stray dogs. He was enthused about the Egyptian government’s effort in being able to eliminate schistosomiasis and filariasis. He was hopeful that with the collaboration of the policymaker, private sector and community, Egypt would eliminate rabies before 2030.
In spite of the noteworthy successes, he decried the inadequate funding for research and poor public education as drawbacks to the control and elimination efforts in NTDs. He noted the added advantage, if private sector would be involved and share in disease elimination efforts. Dr. Abd El Wahed also considered social media as a perfect platform in recent times to disseminate information though great caution needed to be taken to avoid false message.
As true of many scientists, he has tasted of the bitter pill of seeing manuscripts, research proposals and application rejected. He shared an example of the manuscript on the first development of the suitcase lab being rejected 6 times. However, after its deployment in the detection of Ebola-infected cases during the recent outbreak, his fame went wide and granted interviews with institutions such as the Wall Street Journal, Aljazeera and DW, besides being reported in big media houses such as the BBC and CNN. Dr. Abd El Wahed said, “I have learned from my rejected applications more than the accepted ones. The take-home message, never give up.”
Dr. Abd El Wahed said attending conferences was very important for young early-stage scientists to build networks. He encouraged them to publish any good or negative results no matter how scanty they were since the scientific community would benefit from them. He hoped that researchers will not forget that the university was established to help the community and thus research must be based on real problems and bring relevant solutions to the locals. He advised that policymakers and community members‘ engagement should always be prior to undertaking any research so as to gain their ownership, support and involvement. He also encouraged scientists to simplify language and communications to make it understandable to the locals and policymakers.
When asked about the source of the motivation for his innovation to run a Summer School in partnership with African and German Universities for young African scientists, he noted that the idea started, when his colleague Dr. Kamal Eltom asked him to host 10 of his students for practical training in Germany. He proposed to the Volkswagen Foundation to support such activities, and discussed the possibility to train African young researcher in Africa, first to get them to know each other and second to use the local infrastructure in Africa. He indicated that though Africa had some excellent capacities, we lacked a lot of intra-collaborations and often preferred to conduct our research abroad. Thus, the summer school was to raise a generation of African Scientists with more links to the continent and more collaborations with other African colleagues.
In positioning the ARNTD to be able to build a cadre of young scientists interested in NTD research, he praised the call for proposal in the Small Grants Program as a great opportunity for young Africa researchers to realize their ideas. He wanted the Network to be more active on Social Media and create its own YouTube channel to disseminate knowledge. He advised that it would be best to have national focal point persons to disseminate information about the ARNTD and also encourage young researchers to join.
He stated that currently, the ARNTD was a powerful player in Africa and recognized internationally and that more involvement from policymakers and African donors in our activities was urgently needed. Dr. Abd El Wahed called for the recognition and highlighting of core facilities all-over Africa to facilitate world-class research on the continent. He encouraged members to help create a list of diseases based on local/national problems. He suggested that the idea of an ARNTD-accredited training certificate on NTD would be a plus for the network. He encouraged the Network to explore collaborations with Asian counterparts to strengthen our role as international player.
To strategically position ARNTD as a relevant network of African NTD experts to shape/influence the setting of research agenda and policy formulation in NTD burdened countries, he indicated that representation of the ARNTD in the African Union and African CDC, and any means to bridge the communication gap between scientists and politicians could guarantee the implementation of our research.
Dr. Abd El Wahed is married to a pharmacist and they have two beautiful daughters. He told ARNTD that his wife was usually the first to assess his work, celebrate the success and encourage him during the difficult moments. He lauded the continuous prayer, support and encouragement from his family as motivations to his continued career.