Abla Sibai wins the 2020 L’Oreal UNESCO For Women in Science Award

by MainGate Staff
Spring/Summer 2020

Professor of Epidemiology Abla Sibai is the recipient of the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science (FWIS) Award for Africa and the Arab States. She was recognized for her pioneering research and advocacy to improve healthy aging in low- and middle-income countries and for the impact of her work on health and social policy programs. The FWIS award honors five scientists with a unique career path that combines exceptional talent, commitment to their profession, and courage to excel in a field where just a quarter of researchers are women and only 11 percent of senior academic positions are held by women. FHS now proudly boasts two FWIS laureates (Dr. Najat Saliba won the award in 2019 for her pioneering work identifying toxic air pollutants).

One of the last graduates of AUB’s erstwhile School of Pharmacy in 1977, Sibai was profoundly affected by the ravages of the civil war on Lebanon’s population, especially its vulnerable older members. After earning a master’s degree in epidemiology at FHS, she went to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for her PhD before coming back to join the FHS faculty. She has since built a global reputation in public health research and practice. Her advocacy on behalf of senior populations is especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, as medically fragile seniors are more vulnerable to infection and have been shunned or discriminated against on that basis.

Determined to improve quality of life for senior citizens, Sibai has focused on turning policy into practice. “We founded the Center for Studies on Aging in 2008 and, two years later, AUB’s University for Seniors (UfS) program. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, UfS provides opportunities for older populations to remain engaged socially and challenged intellectually. It demolishes stereotypes by creating a positive image of aging in our region. It has been societally transformative, empowering, and emancipating,” she said.

Sibai personifies the benefits of lifelong learning. She is motivated by the “continuous opportunity to conjure public health from the ashes of conflict and despair.” Always advocating for others, Sibai exhorts Arab women, and women scientists everywhere, to “Keep learning! Learning knows no boundaries. Be in the driver’s seat. If I can do it, so can you.”