Dr. Oluwasanmi Oladapo Adenaiye, known by most at the School of Public Health as “Dr. Sanmi,” is not your typical MPH student.
He arrived in Maryland in 2016 from Nigeria to study at the Maryland Institute Applied Environmental Health, with Dr. Donald Milton as his academic advisor. He is part of the CATCH the Virus research study team led by Dr. Milton, where he helps in the study aimed at finding how to minimize the spread of infections.
Dr. Adenaiye was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, to an engineer father and high school teacher mother in the southwestern part of the African nation. He attended medical school at the University of Ilorin, located in the north-central geopolitical zone of the country.
During his medical school rotations, Dr. Adenaiye noticed patients and sometimes staff catching infections or diseases because of improper sanitation and other problems caused by people living in very close quarters.
“I would see a lot of healthcare providers at some point coming down with illness despite using appropriate protective measures,” he said. Those observations began to spark his interest in public health. “I knew there had to be more effective ways to prevent these from happening beyond the use of personal protective equipment.”
When Dr. Adenaiye left school in 2013, he headed back to the southern part of the country, getting a job in he city of Ogbomosho. The move coincided with the beginnings of the Ebola outbreak that swept western Africa, mainly in the countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
As a first-year intern, Dr. Adenaiye was the first point of contact when new patients arrived at the hospital. As the epidemic began to spread, managing patients who had symptoms similar but unrelated to Ebola became a nightmare. “We were all on high alert and everyone was nervous.”
“I don’t think I ever saw a patient who had Ebola, but you never knew,” he said.
"We would wear full protective gear when seeing new patients—but even that did not take away the fear of contracting the deadly disease," he said. "Also, because of limited resources, test results from patients suspected of the illness could take several days before they became available, thus adding to the trepidation."
“You could not just see but feel the fear in your colleagues, and you were just so unsure what was going to happen next,” he said. “Getting a cold would be like a horror – you begin to wonder whether or not anyone had the illness.”
Nigeria was not the most hard-hit country during the outbreak, but the experience solidified Dr. Adenaiye’s desire to learn more about public health, because of the impact it can have in preventing epidemics and other outbreaks.
Dr. Adenaiye began researching academic programs, and first came across some of Dr. Milton’s research in a newspaper article. He then researched and read other studies and papers written by Dr. Milton. He was particularly interested in Dr. Milton’s research about the way architects can build buildings to minimize exposure to pathogens.
“The natural, social and man-made environments have a lot of influence on our health,” Dr. Adenaiye said. “Though you only have limited control over your biological makeup, you can to an extent control your environment to improve your health outcome.”
"Building on my environmental health knowledge, I hope we can better understand how engineers and architects can better design our buildings in ways that will limit infection transmission in hospitals, workplaces, schools and other parts our built environment," he said.
Once he completes his Master’s degree, Dr. Adenaiye said he intends to go on to earn a PhD, before returning to his home country. "Further down the line, I want to investigate more about the genetic basis for inter-individual variation in the susceptibility to infections. I believe thorough understanding of this will help accelerate the discovery and development of vaccines for the diseases that are currently not vaccine-preventable."
“The battle against communicable diseases is not over,” he said. “We need more resources allocated towards prevention, and not just prescriptions of antibiotics for infection.”