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Meet Charles Opondo

From left Neora Alterman, Charles, Dave Murray and Noon Altijani, all colleagues at the NPEU

Published on Wednesday, 14 April 2021

From left Neora Alterman, Charles, Dave Murray and Noon Altijani, all colleagues at the NPEU

I was born and raised in Kisumu in lakeside Kenya. I began my working career in Nairobi, the capital, as a pharmacist. I later re-trained as a medical statistician at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. At the end of my studies, I came to Oxford to join the NPEU as a researcher. I've lived in the UK now since 2013.

My job is to assess evidence on how various things affect the health of parents and their babies. I've just finished working on a paper on the impact of vaping in pregnancy, for instance: who's likely to vape and who doesn't and whether vaping is related to bad outcomes for babies.

Previous studies I have worked on have looked into how outcomes for babies change depending on their ethnicity and the level of poverty where they live. I also worked on a study looking at how a father's involvement in bringing up his children affects their behaviour as pre-teenagers. The study which showed that confident fathers have happier children, was featured on the Guardian and the BBC.

My own father had a big influence in my career choice. He was an agronomist, that is, he worked as a researcher in agriculture. I enjoyed seeing him analyse experiments and write them up using statistical programmes on his computer. On one level I'm a total geek – I really enjoy the statistical analysis – but on another level I chose this type of work because I come from a country that has a lot to improve in its ability to deal with the challenges in healthcare and aspects of people's daily lives. For example, if you look at global league tables of infants who die, the rate in Kenya is 32 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with 3.7 deaths per 1,000 in the UK. So that's a nearly 10 times difference. Every single death brings untold suffering to the families who face these tragedies, and as a health researcher I feel my skills and efforts can make a big difference to people's lives.

I enjoy my life and work here but I do miss the social connections I have in Kenya. I'm still in touch with friends, but we can't go out for a drink of course. Last time I saw my parents and siblings was two years ago. My niece was here last summer and I realise I'm missing my nephews and nieces growing up. And of course I miss the weather and the 12 hours of daylight every day of the year, and I am acutely reminded of this during the winters here.

I think it's positive we are now having conversations in the UK about the role of ethnicity and racism in the health and social outcomes of people from minority ethnic groups. These are difficult issues and difficult conversations to have. But even things that are a negative present an opportunity to improve something, and I have been pleased to see the work that colleagues here at the NPEU have done to highlight some of these disparities.

Updated: Wednesday, 13 October 2021 14:51 (v11)