From church support to Cambridge scholarship: LASU graduate recounts struggle

After recently being awarded, the prestigious King’s College Quantedge and Rowan Williams Scholarship to pursue a Master of Philosophy in Population Health Sciences at the University of Cambridge, the second-best University in the world according to the QS Ranking, Akingbola Adewunmi, a recent graduate of Lagos State University College of Medicine, has become the admiration of many. A catalyst for social impact, Akingbola Adewunmi is fervently dedicated to reshaping the narrative of the Nigerian healthcare system through his advocacy initiatives, conducted under the banner of HealthDrive Nigeria. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, he speaks on how he excelled in the university without money to pay his fees, yet pioneered several humanitarian services. He also shares some experiences of his humble beginning.
You were recently honoured with the prestigious King’s College Quantedge and Rowan Williams Scholarship to pursue a Master of Philosophy in Population Health Sciences at the University of Cambridge, the second-best University in the world according to the QS Ranking. How did this come to you? Were there deliberate efforts you made to achieve this feat?
Well, Yes. I started by applying for admission to the University of Cambridge for their Masters of Philosophy program in Population Health Science in my final year of medical school. I got admission in early 2023 and I applied to a couple of scholarships but I got rejected for all of them, including the Rowan Williams Scholarship which eventually contributed to my full funding. In summary, Cambridge and Oxford Universities have a collegiate system where every admitted student is allocated to a college, also subject to approval by the college. Kings College, one of the best colleges named after HRM King Henry, saw that I didn’t have any funding and the deadline was close by, and they reached out to me through Cambridge Trust (a central body that coordinates scholarships) that they have a scholarship similar to Rowan Williams (that rejected me). They asked me to transfer from Wolfson College to theirs to become eligible for the scholarship (Kings College Quantedge scholarship). They allowed me to informally meet the founder of the Quantedge scholarship via a Zoom call, and on the last day (July 31st) for scholarship considerations, I received an email that I had been awarded full funding from both Kings Quantedge and Rowan Williams.
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The King’s College Quantedge scholarship, established in 2020 by the philanthropic Quantedge Foundation, headquartered in Singapore, traditionally selects a single scholar each year. How does it feel like being selected as the single scholar this year?
Traditionally, they select one scholar annually however, on resuming I discovered that they decided to award two scholars; myself and another lady from Bangladesh but resident in London. It is even more humbling to find out that when it involved me, they had to select and award two people. All glory to God Almighty, Jesus always comes through.
So, it feels very exciting that I was given a “one in a lifetime” opportunity to receive world-class training from one of the best universities in the world. Very few people were funded at all this year, and in those few, I received full funding.

Any humble beginnings you would like to share with us? Is your story one of ‘grass to grace’ or a typical ‘Work hard and get results’ accomplishment?
I don’t know really because I am not there yet, I am only just beginning. But I have struggled for everything I have ever had, in my entire life. My JAMB form was bought by my church pastor because we really didn’t have the money, my first-year school fees were paid by my church because my parents couldn’t afford it. Then, through scholarships (including the Indigenous Lagos State Scholarship for academic excellence), engaging in remote jobs etc, I was able to pay my school fees from 300 level till I graduated. 75 percent of my undergraduate expenses were provided by myself, thankful for the scholarship support and measures of family support I got. I also had to engage in remote jobs to make money. Things even got worse when I lost my mother in 2020.
In summary, It is extremely stressful, and somewhat depressing to emanate from such a background because achieving anything becomes very difficult automatically. I didn’t enjoy the luxury of being a normal student because I had to keep thinking of how I would be sustained financially throughout medical school.
Being a Cambridge scholar is the only period of my life that I am completely at peace with being a student. Never having to worry about finances because it is all taken care of.
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Things have been difficult, but nobody had to know. That was my thought process throughout medical school. I still went by my student activities and thankfully, my medical education wasn’t affected.
Reading your profile would be a great motivation to many, especially as a recent graduate of Lagos State University who has carried out several humanitarian services on health care delivery. How are you able to study as a student and yet carry out these humanitarian services?
I achieved total self-awareness quite early, in my first year at the University and I was able to keep myself open-minded. When I transferred to the College of Medicine with a CGPA of 4.95/5.00, I knew that I wouldn’t have a lot of problems academically if I continued to do the necessary. However, at the 200 level, I began to get involved in diverse activities and had to forcefully learn time management. So, I simply established mechanisms that would continually keep me on my toes academically; The LASUCOM Quiz Team and ensuring that a category of my friends are very academically inclined.
Tell us about your advocacy initiatives, conducted under the banner of HealthDrive Nigeria.
HealthDrive Nigeria is a non-profit project I kickstarted with colleagues to tackle the menace of infectious diseases in Nigeria, but now we’re expanding to include HIV and Malaria. We started out by educating people about viral hepatitis, then we moved to conduct free Hepatitis B rapid diagnostic tests and then to carry out highly subsidized Hepatitis B three-dosed vaccinations.
You employ strategies to combat infectious diseases, with a specific focus on combating Viral Hepatitis B. How do you achieve this? And do you have success stories on this? Kindly share with us.
Yes, we simply took the initiative to leverage partnerships. We do have a lot of success stories. We have ensured that all fresh entry students into the College of Medicine at Ikeja take the hepatitis B vaccines at subsidized rates to protect them from the virus. We have screened over 7000 people in total since inception in 2018. Images from most of our outings can be found on our Instagram page.
As a student, how were you able to gather resources and funds to conduct free Hepatitis B surface Antigen tests using the Rapid diagnostic kits and provide subsidized 3-dosed Hepatitis B vaccination exercises?
I did crowdfunding at times, I reached out to certain people who were interested in infectious disease advocacy and they supported some of our projects, including the Lagos State University Management, Lagos BioBank, and LifeCentre medicals. Most times, our partners including SynLab, and Maris Healthplace provide the testing kits. Maris Healthplace and Phillips Pharmaceuticals were our major vaccination partners and they had resource persons that we benefitted from as well.
You also screen over 500 students in Lagos State University’s main campus Ojo annually to commemorate World Hepatitis Day 2022. Why the focus on Hepatitis? Did you have any personal or family experience that tilted your focus to this area?
While growing up, I remember losing two childhood friends to active Hepatitis B disease. When I did my first clinical posting at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, I saw that quite a lot of people were carriers of the Hepatitis B virus and I decided to do something about it. That’s the story of HealthDrive Nigeria.
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What is your advice for students in the medical field looking to make impacts in their communities but may be limited by resources?
I’ll encourage them to start by joining existing organizations or projects, especially ones closely related to their chosen career path. There are numerous projects out there where young people can learn valuable administrative skills, and from there, efforts can be made to impact their immediate communities.
What did you graduate with (results) in the university?
I had stellar results in my first year(4.95/5.00 CGPA), but subsequently, I just did my best and ensured to not fail any professional examinations.
Was there any time you struggled with meeting deadlines in school and carrying out humanitarian services? How did you manage your time?
I never encountered such issues because my academics always came first and above every other activity. However, because I kind of had good time management skills, I was able to manage the rigour of medical school with the stress of implementing social impact works alongside participation in a myriad of activities.
Did your friends in school influence your choices and help you achieve some of your successes?
My friends are my big secret to winning. My inner circle of friends comprises guys who share similar backgrounds and/or share similar enthusiasm, and they’re quite a few. My friends, now called Brothers, have been majorly contributing to my growth, and as our culture is, we motivate each other to continually grow and break boundaries.
What is the next big thing for Akingbola Adewunmi?
The next big thing is graduating from the University of Cambridge in the coming months and getting my master’s degree.
When you finish your scholarship programme at the University of Cambridge, do you intend to come back to Nigeria and continue to give back to society?
Well, my giving back to society never stopped and yes, I do intend to come back to Nigeria to contribute to enhancing the health of the Nigerian population.

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