Centre for International Health
PhD Candidates

Rhoda Namakula: My study at CIH contributes to an HIV free generation in Uganda

Armed with 10 years of experience in laboratory-based research, Rhoda Namakula is now a PhD candidate at CIH

Rhoda Namakula
Rhoda Namakula

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Rhoda Namakula hails from the East African nation of Uganda. She already secured her BA and MA studies in laboratory sciences and immunology respectively from her homeland. She has an over ten years experience as a laboratory technologist and researcher. She says her work at Makerere University Johns Hopkins University (MU-JHU) Research Collaboration where she was part of the International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials Network (IMPAACT) and Prevention of Mother To child transmission (PMTCT) studies has laid the ground for her current PhD study here at CIH under IGS at the University of Bergen, Norway.

Armed with 10 years of experience in laboratory-based research,  Rhoda is now part of an ongoing randomized controlled trial in Uganda “Early versus late BCG vaccination in HIV-1 exposed infants in Uganda” funded by CISMAC, as a PhD candidate working on an immunology component in this randomized controlled trial.

I have witnessed the immense contribution made by Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) and Prevention of Mother to Child Transmision (PMTCT) in the lives of HIV positive people. Thanks to PMTCT, HIV positive mothers can now give birth to healthy children. However, these children are still exposed to the virus during the neonatal period.

According to Rhoda, studies have shown that these children suffer greater morbidity and mortality from infections as compared to children born to mothers who are HIV negative. The reason(s) for these outcomes are uncertain but would probably be due to immune compromised state leading to their increased susceptibility to disease. She underlines the fact that Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) is normally given to all children in developing countries at birth. BCG has been suggested to protect infants against a variety of non-mycobacterial pathogens, which is referred to as Non Specific Effects (NSEs) of BCG, and thus has beneficial effects beyond protection against TB.

Rhoda’s Immunology sub-study therefore aims to identify immunological responses through examining adaptive and innate immunity induced by BCG in HIV exposed uninfected children, which would be responsible for the NSEs. That is what Rhoda is passionate about and looking for in her PhD study.

Speaking of the meaningful contribution of her research project, Rhoda says this PhD position is providing her with a world-class environment to harness knowledge of immunology and broaden her perspective and understanding of infectious diseases especially regarding HIV in relation to BCG vaccination. This is valuable to the Ugandan community that is burdened with infectious diseases, drug-resistant pathogens and high morbidity due to such infections. Skills in basic science can be used to provide better understanding and management of these illnesses. In addition, such knowledge can be used in innovation of new therapeutic agents and vaccines.