Newsletter: December 2020
We wish all our friends, colleagues, students and collaborators a safe and peaceful Holiday Season!
Congratulations to our newest NRF-rated researcher
SACEMA researcher, Dr Olatunji Adetokunboh recently received a C-rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF). NRF defines C-rated researchers as established researchers with sustained recent records of productivity in the field and are recognised by their peers as having produced bodies of quality work, the core of which has coherence and attests to ongoing engagement with the field. Olatunji joined SACEMA in September 2019 as a National Public Health Liaison/Researcher. We are extremely proud of Olatunji and celebrate this achievement with him!
SACEMA talks Science
As scientists, we are accustomed to communicating our research to other scientists. However, there is often a disconnect when we have to communicate our science to the general public. Despite the challenge, science communication is an essential aspect of doing science; afterall, research aims to inform both policy makers and those who will benefit from our research outcomes. To this end, Jive Media Africa presented a two-day virtual science communication workshop to all SACEMA staff and students between 21 and 35 years of age. Click here to read more.
Implications of COVID-19 in high burden countries for HIV/TB
The triple burden of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), tuberculosis (TB) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is one of the major global health challenges of the twenty-first century. A thorough understanding of HIV/TB and COVID-19 pandemics is important as the three diseases interact. A systematic review was conducted to evaluate different studies on SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV or COVID-19 associated with HIV/TB co-infection or only TB, to understand the interactions between HIV, TB and COVID-19 and its implications on the burden of the COVID-19 among HIV/TB co-infected or TB patients, screening algorithm and clinical management. Fourteen studies were included for descriptive analysis and seven studies were included in the meta-analysis. Click here to read more.
Key questions for modelling COVID-19 exit strategies
SACEMA’s Director Prof Juliet Pulliam and Research Fellow Dr Carl Pearson recently co-authored a paper entitled “Key questions for modelling COVID-19 exit strategies”, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London — Series B in August.This paper was a large collaboration, resulting from a workshop on “Models for an exit strategy” as part of the Isaac Newton Institute’s Infection Dynamics of Pandemics programme. The paper explores how models can contribute to decision-making related to loosening of restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. It emphasizes the need for better parameterization of epidemiological models, the importance of capturing heterogeneity, and requirements for data collection. Click here to read more.
The scale and dynamics of COVID-19 epidemics across Europe
SACEMA research fellow, Brian Williams recently co-authored a paper entitled “The scale and dynamics of COVID-19 epidemics across Europe”, published in the Royal Society Open Science. In this paper the researchers found that countries in Europe with fewer deaths locked down earlier, had shorter epidemics that peaked sooner and smaller populations. As lockdowns were eased, they expected, and duly observed, a resurgence of COVID-19 across Europe. Click here to read more.
Giving birth to a teenage-sized baby! Isn't that impossible!
Professors John Hargrove and Glyn Vale, together with colleagues at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Universities of Bristol, Greenwich, and California Riverside, recently published an essay that explores the extreme reproductive strategy of tsetse and how the control of this disease vector is influenced by an enormous nutritional investment in its young. Click here to read more.
Congratulations to our 2020 graduates
Elisha Are graduated from Stellenbosch University with a PhD in Mathematics. His dissertation, entitled “Extinction probabilities for tsetse (Glossina spp.) in a world of changing climate”, was supervised by Prof John Hargrove. Elisha accomplished a great deal during his time at SACEMA. Click here to read more.
Geoffrey Fatti graduated from Stellenbosch University with a PhD in Epidemiology. His dissertation, entitled “An evaluation of the effectiveness of task-shifting health systems approaches, including community-based and pharmaceutical care models, for HIV treatment and prevention programs in South Africa”, was supervised by Prof Usuf Chikte and Prof Jean Nachega.
Zenabu Suboi graduated from Stellenbosch University with an MSc in Mathematics. Her thesis, entitled “Calibrating models to data: a comparison of methods”, was supervised by Dr Marijn Hazelbag, Prof Juliet Pulliam and Prof Wim Delva.
Tijani Ahmad Sulaimongraduated cum laude from Stellenbosch University with an MSc in Mathematics. His thesis, entitled “Defining and assessing the Spectrum of TB disease: application to diagnosis and prognosis”, was supervised by Prof Alex Welte.
Arrivals and departures
Lactatia Motsuku joined SACEMA in the second semester of 2020 as a PhD candidate in Epidemiology at the Department of Global Health. Her research supervised by Dr Mazvita Muchengeti, Ms Cari van Schalkwyk and Prof Juliet Pulliam, focuses on liver cancer and Hepatitis B virus in South Africa. Lactatia will be focusing part-time on her PhD while being employed as an Epidemiologist at the National Cancer Registry Department of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
At the end of August we said goodbye to Dr Joseph Sempa, who took up a position as a Senior Lecturer at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. Joseph has been part of the SACEMA family since 2014 when he enrolled as a PhD student. After completing his PhD in 2017, he joined the Measuring Infection team as a postdoctoral research fellow, working with Prof Alex Welte on antiretroviral treatment monitoring. Joseph will continue to collaborate with SACEMA as a Research Associate. We wish him all the best with his career and look forward to continuing our collaboration with him.
We also bid farewell to Emanuel Dominic who took up a position as a Data Science Consultant at Wimmy. Emanuel joined SACEMA in 2017 as an MSc student, and after graduating with an MSc in Statistics, he was appointed as a Junior Researcher in 2019, where he worked closely with Prof Juliet Pulliam on various projects. Emanuel will also continue to collaborate with SACEMA as a Research Associate. We wish him all the best with his career and look forward to continuing our collaboration with him.
SACEMA Seminar Series
SACEMA hosted 3 international seminar speakers in November.
Prof Katie Hampson, Professor of Disease Ecology and Public Health, and Wellcome Senior Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow, UK presented a seminar entitled “Spatial scale of transmission explains how rabies circulates at low prevalence”.
Dr Finn McQuaid, TB Modelling and Analysis Consortium (TB MAC) Secretariat Epidemiologist, and Assistant Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, presented a seminar entitled "Modelling the Impact of COVID-19 on TB".
Dr Kathleen O’Reilly, Assistant Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSTHM), presented a seminar entitled “Polio eradication – the challenges and opportunities”.
51st Union World conference on Lung Health
Dr Florian Marx and Abigail de Villiers “virtually” attended the 51st Union World conference on Lung Health from 20-24th October. The impressive opening ceremony featured influential dignitaries, such as President Bill Clinton and World Health Organization Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Click here to read more.
POPIA Virtual Training Workshop
Lee Kirk attended the Protection of Personal Information Act of 2009 (POPIA) virtual training workshop, hosted by JP Executive Communications on 24 and 25 November 2020. The workshop was specifically designed for Administrative Professionals, who deal with various forms of personal information in the execution of their daily activities. Attendees came from private sector companies and higher education institutions. Participants were taken through the definition of personal information, what processing means, the risks during performing their jobs, conditions for processing information and enforcement provisions among other key topics that were unpacked. The Protection of Personal Information Act of 2009 (POPIA) will come into effect on 1 July 2021.
SACEMA Research Days 2020 - Virtual Edition
SACEMA’s annual Research Days meeting went virtual this year. The meeting, which took place over 3 days, 7 - 9 September 2020, was attended by eighty-two people, including SACEMA bursary holders, their supervisors, postgraduate students from the Biochemistry Department working with Prof Jacky Snoep, the SACEMA-affiliated South African Research Chair (SARChI), representatives from the National Research Foundation, as well as various other researchers and collaborators affiliated with SACEMA. Click here to read more.
SACEMA Roadshow 2020
SACEMA hosted its first virtual Roadshow to introduce prospective bursary applicants and young researchers to SACEMA. Invitations were sent to all Higher Education Institutions and Research Centres across all nine provinces of South Africa. The Roadshow included six virtual presentations held between 29 September and 8 October. SACEMA’s Director, Prof Juliet Pulliam, kicked off each session with an “Overview of SACEMA” and all the opportunities SACEMA has to offer, followed by presentations from SACEMA students and research staff on their current research. The final showcase focused on the “Applications of Mathematics in Biology and Medicine”. Training coordinator, Faikah Bruce, presented on the structure of the BSc Honours degree, with a focus in Biomathematics, offered by the Mathematics Department, Stellenbosch University. This programme is run in conjunction with the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences – South Africa. An overview of the application process of the scholarship opportunity associated with the programme, was included in the talk. SACEMA will continue to host a number of Roadshows to showcase any of their upcoming programmes and opportunities.
TCA Writing Course
The Conversation Africa (TCA) developed a self-paced/self-study online science communication course. The 90-minute course is interactive, short and packed with empowering tools to help scientists unpack and communicate their research, insights and expertise with the general public i.e. beyond academia. The Conversation Africa offered the training to a number of SACEMA’s academics, staff, PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, and Research Associates. A total of 18 participants registered, completed the course and received certificates of completion. Participants reported that it is a great resource when writing for the media, and found many useful tips on how to transition from academic writing to writing for the media.