Celebrating Environment’s outstanding PhD student

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Thelma Abu
Thelma Abu (PhD ’22) knew she wanted to pursue her PhD in Health Geography at Waterloo partly because she wanted to work closely with her PhD advisor, Dr. Susan Elliott, an accomplished health geographer whom Abu shares a similar interest in water security research. Abu was also drawn by Waterloo’s reputation for research innovation and the Water Institute being ranked as one of the top research institutions globally.

Abu’s dissertation research focused on understanding the factors and processes that shape access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in healthcare facilities and the contribution of these services to emergency preparedness in health systems in Kisumu, Kenya.

“WASH services are necessary for infection prevention and control to ensure the safety of healthcare workers and patients,” Abu says. “The importance of these services cannot be overemphasized with the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, these services are woefully inadequate in health settings especially those located in informal settlements and rural areas.”

Her research calls for integrating WASH services in universal health coverage plans because access to water is a basic human right that should be prioritized globally.

Pursuing a PhD is a very demanding process and Abu recognizes that every academic journey is unique and filled with a range of emotions. She offers one piece of advice for other students pursuing their PhD:

“One thing that kept me going was researching an area I am passionate about, which is the reason why I started this journey in the first place. So, I will say do work in an area that brings you joy and makes you want to know more every day.”

Abu recalls taking a trip to the Niagara Falls region with her lab mates at the Water Institute as one of her fondest memories.

“I will miss my very supportive lab mates at the Geographies of Health in Place lab, I was very fortunate to have met each one of them. I will miss walking into the lab and brainstorming my ideas with them,” Abu says. “I built some lifelong friendships as well in this community that I will cherish eternally.”

Currently, Abu is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto Mississauga, working on health equity in the Greater Toronto Area. Abu also looks forward to accepting a tenure-track position as an assistant professor at a university in the United States.