Dr Letitia Obeng
DATE OF BIRTH:10th January 1925
TIME OF BIRTH: 12:noon
PLACE OF BIRTH: Anum, Ghana
LONG: 0 W 2
LAT: 6 N 5
TIME ZONE: GMT 0
SUN SIGN: 19 Capricorn
MOON SIGN: 23 Cancer
LETITIA EVA TAKYIBEA OBENG
understanding the relationship between freshwater ecosystems
and equitable health opportunities continues to have a global impact.
Letitia Eva Takyibea Obeng was the first Ghanaian woman to obtain a degree in zoology and the first to be awarded a doctorate. She is described as "the grandmother of female scientists in Ghana".
Dr. Obeng received an honorary Doctor of Science Degree at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s inaugural independent graduation ceremony in 2017. Dr. Obeng graduated from Liverpol School Tropical Medicine in the 1960s, studying blackfly the vector for the Onchocerca volvulus nematode which causes river blindness.
Of her time at LSTM, Dr. Obeng said “My work at LSTM equipped me with a valuable understanding of important aspects of freshwater ecosystems… due to my experiences and association with LSTM I was able to return home and do something. LSTM is a fantastic organisation and I will always look back to my time in Liverpool with great fondness.”LSTM shared this tribute to Dr. Obeng.
Dr Obeng’s choice of study was influenced by time spent at her father’s rural farm in Ghana, where she was entranced by the myriad of plants and insects she discovered there.
Her early love of flora and fauna saw her embark on a Zoology and Botany Degree at Birmingham University in 1952, returning home to teach zoology at the College of Science and Technology in Kumasi. She trained many of Ghana’s early pharmacists, agriculturalists, and doctors.
Her husband sadly died in 1959, leaving Letitia to raise three small children. After this life changing event, she answered a call to move to Liverpool in 1962 with her children aged 8, 6 and 3. She began studying for a PhD at LSTM, focusing on Simuliidae, or black fly - the vector for onchocerciasis (river blindness.)
Reflecting on her life, she has said that she and her three children received an excellent welcome at LSTM. With their nanny in tow, they travelled around North Wales each weekend to take water samples from the rivers and streams there. She says her work at LSTM equipped her with ‘a valuable understanding of important aspects of freshwater ecosystems.’
After studying at LSTM, Dr Obeng and her family returned home. Ghana’s hydroelectric project had recently been launched and the River Volta dammed to create a lake that would eventually cover 4% of the country.
Dr Obeng’s freshwater knowledge gave her a clear insight into potential ecological perils that could arise from a project of this scale. She lobbied for the establishment of an Institute of Aquatic Biology, which she went on to lead. This gave her the scope to set in motion important monitoring, research, and studies of the country’s inland water systems, including Lake Volta, helping to preserve them in a healthier state for people and wildlife.
In 1972 Dr Obeng was invited to take part in the UN Human Environment Conference in Stockholm. In 1974 she was recruited by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as the officer in charge of water and soil, in the Global Environment Programme.
In 1980, she was appointed Director of the UNEP Regional Office for Africa and UNEP’s Representative to Africa, where she worked with the 53 Environment Officers of the African region to produce a programme of action for the African environment.
Order of the Star of Ghana
In 2006, Dr. Obeng was awarded the Order of the Star of Ghana — the country’s highest civilian honor.
The award was the culmination of a lifetime of acheivement and recognition: Dr. Obeng was the first Research Staff at the National Research Council, later recieving that institution’s Award for Distinguished Career and Service to Science and Technology (after it had been renamed to the CSIR), as well aas the first female Fellow and President of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences.