KENYA—The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), an international non-profit drug research and development (R&D) organization, has announced the appointment of Prof. Samuel Kariuki as its new Eastern Africa Director.

Prof. Samuel Kariuki is a former Acting Director General at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI).

Prof Kariuki will bring more than two decades of experience in medical research and development in fields including antimicrobial resistance, foodborne infections, and neglected tropical diseases.

Before taking up the role of Acting Director General, he was KEMRI’s Director of Research and Development and Director of the KEMRI Centre for Microbiology Research.

KEMRI is a founding partner of DNDi and a leading institution of excellence in health research in Africa.

‘I am honoured to join DNDi Eastern Africa to help drive DNDi’s mission of bringing the best science for the most neglected,’ said Prof. Kariuki.

Prof. Kariuki noted that the region has made great strides in combatting neglected diseases, demonstrating Africa’s capacity to find solutions to its own problems.

“I look forward to continuing the legacy of researchers, health workers, and communities who have worked tirelessly with DNDi to develop new treatments for neglected diseases over the past 20 years,” Prof Kariuki stated.

Prof. Kariuki is also a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, an Honorary Faculty Member of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, a visiting Professor of Tropical Microbiology at the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, UK, and a member of the American Society for Microbiology.

The Professor has published over 180 papers in peer-reviewed journals and published chapters in four textbooks on clinical microbiology and infectious diseases.

Additionally, he has a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Science in Pharmacology & Toxicology from the University of Nairobi and a PhD in Tropical Medicine from the University of Liverpool, UK.  

In 2022, Prof. Kariuki was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in recognition of his contribution to research in tropical medicine.      

We warmly welcome Prof. Samuel Kariuki to his new role and look forward to working closely with him,” said Dr Luis Pizarro, Executive Director of DNDi. 

Dr. Pizarro also exemplified Prof. Kariuki’s vast experience and strong leadership skills and noted that he had no doubt that Prof. Kariuki would strengthen the collaboration between DNDi and the public and private sectors in the Eastern Africa region and that DNDI would continue to co-create sustainable solutions to help neglected patients in the region.  

The baton is officially passed

Prof. Kariuki succeeds Dr. Monique Wasunna, who steps down after 20 years of successfully heading DNDi Eastern Africa.

Dr. Wasunna will now serve as a DNDi Africa Ambassador, further articulating DNDi’s work in relation to Africa’s health priorities and African stakeholders, as well as playing a vital role in raising awareness of neglected diseases and strengthening partnerships to amplify DNDi’s impact.

From 2003 to 2023, Dr Wasunna served as DNDi Eastern Africa Regional Director and contributed significantly to the expansion of the organization’s clinical research capacity.

During her tenure, over ten clinical trials were conducted in the region to find new safe and accessible treatments for visceral leishmaniasis, visceral leishmaniasis and HIV co-infection, and post-kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis.

Additionally, the first-ever clinical trial for mycetoma and clinical trials for a new paediatric ‘4-in-1’ HIV treatment were concluded.

Dr Wasunna was the founding chair of the Leishmaniasis East Africa Platform (LEAP) – which has worked since 2003 to build capacity for clinical trials in Africa and carry out clinical research in remote settings to the highest international standards.

With her guidance, the Data Management and Biostatistics Centre was established in Nairobi to provide statistical analysis for clinical trials conducted by DNDi and other research organizations.

She also established strong partnerships with ministries of health, academia, public research institutions, embassies, the African Union, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and global pharmaceutical companies.

Dr. Wasunna’s exemplary leadership, DNDI’S Eastern Africa region has played a pivotal role in DNDi’s successful delivery of twelve new treatments for neglected diseases that have saved millions of lives.

In 2020, she was awarded the National Order of Merit (Officier de l’ordre national du mérite) by the government of France in recognition of her exemplary research on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and advocacy for better treatments for neglected patients in Africa.  

Dr Wasunna acknowledged that she had been dedicated to the mission of DNDi since its inception, tirelessly working towards discovering improved treatments for neglected diseases like leishmaniasis. 

“It is with great confidence that I pass the torch to Prof. Kariuki as I know he will build upon existing structures and strategies so that we can continue finding better treatments for people affected by NTDs in the region,” Dr. Wasunna said as she passed on the baton.

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