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Anionwu contributed to opening the first sickle cell and thalassemia counselling centre in the UK. She helped create the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice at the University of West London. She holds a PhD, was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and is a Fellow of the RCN. She retired in 2007.
Her upbringing had been heavily affected by moving between institutions and family. She spent just over two years living with her mother, a relationship that ended when her stepfather, who didn't accept her and drank heavily, attacked her. For much of her childhood, she was cared for by nuns, including several years in the Nazareth House convent in Birmingham.
Often harshly punished and humiliated for wetting the bed, she remembers being made to stand with a urine-soaked sheet over her head as a punishment for wetting the bed. In the book she recalls, that later in life when working as a health visitor, "I made sure to keep up-to-date with more humane treatments for bedwetting". Nonetheless, she grieved leaving the convent to go and live with her mother. Every period of relative stability in childhood ended in sudden collapse. After an unsettled childhood and estrangement from her father Anionwu visited Nigeria. Her trip influenced her to take on her father's name.[clarification needed]
Elizabeth Furlong won a scholarship to Cambridge University to study classics. She was in her second year when she became pregnant by a Nigerian law student, Lawrence Odiatu Victor Anionwu. Furlong decided to leave Cambridge and look for a job to provide for her daughter and herself.
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Anionwu began her nursing career at a young age after being inspired by a nun who cared for her eczema. At the age of 16, she started to work as a school nurse assistant in Wolverhampton. Later on, she continued with her education to become a nurse, health visitor, and tutor. She travelled to the United States to study counselling for sickle cell and thalassemia centres and courses were not available in the UK. In 1979 she worked with Dr Brozovic[who?] to create the first UK Sickle Cell and Thalassemia counselling centre in Brent. The opening of this counselling centre pioneered the opening of over 30 centers in the UK using the Brent location as a basis.
In 1990 at the Institute of Child Health, University College London, she advanced academically to a lecturer and then later to a senior lecturer. With the help of Professor Marcus Pembrey, Anionwu taught a course at the University College London that was for NHS staff members who worked with communities affected or at risk of sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis.
She was appointed Dean of the School of Adult Nursing Studies and a Professor of Nursing at University of West London. She eventually created the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice at the University of West London. She was the Head/Vice Chairperson until her retirement in 2007. In 2001, Anionwu, along with Professor Atkin, wrote the book The Politics of Sickle Cell and Thalassemia. In 2005, she wrote a book, A Short History of Mary Seacole.
Anionwu is a member and patron of multiple committees:
- Sickle Cell Society
- Nigerian Nurses Charitable Association UK
- Vice President of Unite/Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association
- Editorial Advisory Board of Nursing Standard
- NHS Sickle Cell & Thalassemia Screening Program Steering Group
- Honorary Advisor to the Chief Nursing Officer’s Black & Minority Ethnic Advisory Group
Retiring in 2007, Anionwu remained active in the nursing community and overlooks many projects.
- The development of caring for people with sickle cell disease and thalassemia syndromes: A framework for nursing staff.
- Understanding the contribution of sickle cell and thalassemia specialist nurses.
Throughout the course of her career Anionwu has published many pieces of works. She has written and, in 2016, published a memoir called Mixed Blessing from a Cambridge Union (ISBN 978-0-9955268-0-8).
She has published works related to her field of work and study in many journals. She has written informative pamphlets for family members of a sickle cell patient, nurses who care for sickle cell patients, and information for the general population.
- 1977: "Self Help in Sickle Cell Anaemia". World Medicine 12(25): 86–91.
- 1978: "Sickle Cell Menace in the Blood". Nursing Mirror; 147(3): 16–19.
- 1981: (with A. Beattie) "Learning to cope with Sickle Cell Disease - A Parent's Experience". Nursing Times; 77(28): 1214–19.
- 1982: "Sickle Cell Disease". Health Visitor; 55: 336–341.
- 1983: "Sickle Cell Disease: Screening & counseling in the antenatal and neonatal period". Midwife, Health Visitor & Community Nurse; 19: 402–406 (Part 1, October).
- 1984: (with M. Brozovic) "Sickle cell disease in Britain". Journal of Clinical Pathology; 37: 1321–1326.
- 1985: "Pain Perception in Sickle Cell Crisis". In: A. Baughan (ed.), Pain in Sickle Cell Disease. Sickle Cell Society, 1985.
- 1986: (with H. Jibril) Sickle Cell Disease - A guide for families. London: Collins.
- 1988: (with N. Patel, G. Kanji, H. Renges, M. Brozovic) "Counseling for Prenatal Diagnosis of Sickle Cell Disease and Beta Thalassemia Major. A four year experience". Journal of Medical Genetics; 25:769–72.
- 1989: (with O. O. Akinyanju) "Training of counsellors on sickle cell disorders in Africa". Lancet; 1: 653–654.
- 1991: "Teaching Community Genetics". Nursing; 4(42): 37–38.
- 1992: "Sickle Cell Disorders in Schoolchildren". Health Visitor; 65(4): 120–122.
- 1993: "Genetics - A Philosophy of Perfection?" In: Beattie A., M. Gott, L. Jones & M. Sidell (eds), Reader in Health & Well Being. Macmillan/Open University Press, 1993: 76–83.
- 1994: "Women and sickle cell disorders". In: Wilson, M. (ed.), The Black Women's Health Book, London: Virago Press, 1994, pp. 6174.
- 1996: (with L. Laird, C. Dezateux) "Neonatal screening for sickle cell disorders: what about the carrier infants?" British Medical Journal, 313:407–411.
- 1997: "Haemoglobinopathies". Practice Nurse 25 April:13;374–379.
- 1998: (with J. Chapple) "Health Needs Assessment: Genetic Services". Chapter 12, in: S. Rawaf & V. Bahl (eds), Assessing health needs of people from minority ethnic groups.London: Royal College of Physicians, 1998, pp. 169–190.
- 1999: "In the Shadow of the Lamp. The story of the Crimea’s Unsung Nursing Heroine". Primary Nursing Care, November, pp. 21–22.
- 2000: (with D. Sookhoo, J. Adams) "In the Melting Pot". Nursing Times 96:29, pp. 40–41.
- 2001: "Screening and Genetic Counseling in Sickle Cell Disease". Archives of Ibadan Medicine, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 54–56.
- 2002: "Leg ulcers and sickle cell disorders". Nursing Times, Vol. 98, No. 25, pp. 56–57.
- 2003: "It's time for a statue of Mary Seacole". Nursing Times 99(32): 17 (12 August).
- 2004: "Nursing input is crucial to genetics policy". Nursing Times 100 (25): 18. (22 June).
- 2005: A short history of Mary Seacole: a resource for nurses and students. London: Royal College of Nursing.
- 2006: (with E. Oteng-Ntim, C. Cottee, S. Bewley) "Sickle Cell Disease in Pregnancy". Current Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 16: 353–360.
- 2007: "Making my mark". Nurse Researcher 14 (2): 84–86.
- 2008: "Sickle cell disease: quality of care needs to improve within the NHS". Diversity in Health and Social Care. 15 December, 5:237–9.
- 2009: "Sickle Cell Disease in on the increase and nurses need to be aware". Nursing & Midwifery Council News, Issue 28/May, p. 12.
- 2012: "Mary Seacole: nursing care in many lands". British Journal of Healthcare Assistants, May, Vol. 6, No. 5.
- 2013: "Scotching three myths about Mary Seacole". British Journal of Healthcare Assistants. October, Vol. 7, No. 10.
- 2014: (with A. Leary) "Modeling the Complex Activity of Sickle Cell and Thalassemia Specialist Nurses in England". Clinical Nurse Specialist, September/October, Vol. 28, Issue 5, pp. 277–282.
- 2014: (with C. Staring-Derks, J. Staring) "Mary Seacole: Global Nurse Extraordinaire". Journal of Advanced Nursing.
Anionwu was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2001 for her services to nursing. In 2004 she was awarded the Fellowship Of the Royal College of Nursing (FRCN) for developing the sickle cell and thalassemia counselling centre. In 2007, following her retirement, she was appointed Emeritus Professor for Nursing at the University of West London.
In 2010 she was inducted into the Nursing Times Nursing Hall of Fame for the dedication to the Development of Nurse-led Services. She also received the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award on Divas of Colour. Anionwu was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to nursing and the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal.
- "Professor Elizabeth Anionwu profile: University of West London". uwl.ac.uk. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
- "BME Trailblazers in the NHS Professor Elizabeth Anionwu CBE" (PDF). Retrieved 9 December 2017.
- Agnew, Thelma (2 October 2016). "An extraordinary life: Elizabeth Anionwu". rcni.com.
- "Prof Elizabeth Anionwu to receive a Lifetime achievement award on Divas of colour 2015 – MBW PR". www.mbwpr.com.
- "My Book – Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu". elizabethanionwu.co.uk. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
- "Publications of Professor Elizabeth Nneka ANIONWU" (PDF). Retrieved 9 December 2017.
- "No. 61803". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2016. p. N8.