Using mathematics to fight disease
In June 2023 the project Math4SDG held its annual meeting in Bergen. We met up with five PhDs in the project to discuss how they will use applied mathematics to combat infectious disease and how the project aims to increase mathematical literacy in Tanzania and Uganda.
Professor Guttorm Alendal from the Department of Mathematics at the University of Bergen (UiB) is the Principal Investigator (PI) of the Mathematics for sustainable development (Math4SDG) Math4SDG project, which is supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) through its NORHED II programme.
Motivating both teachers and students
“In Tanzania 80 per cent of secondary school students fail in mathematics,” says Alendal about the first goal of the project, “and schools often find themselves with 1,000 students for every teacher. We aim to build capacity and motivate math teachers in Tanzania and Uganda so that this motivation spreads to the students.”
He adds two other main goals for the project, to educate 11 PhDs in applied mathematics, statistics, and mathematical didactics, and to increase the awareness of how mathematical methods are being used in our societies. Especially, show the local industry how they can benefit from hiring candidates graduating within mathematical fields.
“This spring the Department of Mathematics has been hosting seven PhD candidates in applied mathematics and statistics for two months. Next year four students within mathematical didactics will visit us. This allows the co-supervisors from Bergen to get more involved in their research projects,” says Alendal before adding:
“We also used the opportunity to arrange the annual meeting in Bergen, with five professors from Makerere University and University of Dar es Salaam visiting UiB for a week.”
Applied maths for disease control
We gathered five of the PhDs in the Math4SDG project to tell us more about their PhD projects.
“I’m currently working on an age structure population model. My PhD project was motivated by an increase of disease in my area when a lot of cows died at my grandfather’s farm. There is also a strong growth in the population,” says Innocent Sosoma from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, “I want to engage in how to control disease and to create models for population control.”
Leonce Leandry is another PhD from the University of Dar es Salaam.
“My main objective is to create mathematical models in epidemiology which can then be used for decision making. We make the models and do the mathematical analysis, before different scenarios for disease control are presented to policy makers,” he says.
Studying antimicrobial resistance
Both Leandry and other PhDs in Math4SDG are looking at how to use applied mathematics to fight antimicrobial resistance.
“My research is on controlling infectious disease, particular typhoid fever. Within that research I will concentrate on existence of drug resistant strains. The goal is to have general control of typhoid fever and that my project will have a direct impact on the lives of people,” says Elimercy Ntagalinda, also from the University of Dar es Salaam.
A fourth PhD from the University of Dar es Salaam, Abdul-rahman Mumbu, is also combining mathematics and research and infectious disease, in his case tuberculosis (TB).
“With the global COVID-19 pandemic I was curious to look at interaction of both this and several chronical diseases such as TB, cancer, and HIV. I want to look at what complications arise when diseases interact. Basically, to investigate drug resistance among patients and show ways to interpret this using mathematics,” he says.
Dependence models in insurance
The final PhD brings another angle to applied mathematics, which could be helpful for health care insurance.
“In my project I’m trying to develop a new serving model based on individual insurance claims and variables, which current models ignore,” says Zabibu Afazali from Makerere University in Uganda.
“Right now, I do some exploratory analysis. The first paper is in dependence modelling and how we are using a new approach developed by colleagues here at UiB. This has never been applied before and we’re trying to apply this on the local government level.”
An opportunity to travel and learn
All the five PhDs are enthusiastic about the opportunity the Math4SDG project gives them to travel and meet colleagues from other universities.
“Travelling and coming to Norway to interact with this group is really important, because I wouldn’t have benefitted as much if I did the PhD at Makerere. We don’t have the professional capacity in this area of actuarial science, so it’s good to be able to interact with professors in this field,” says Afazali.
Her colleagues from Tanzania agree.
“For me this was an opportunity to travel abroad. I have a gained a lot of experience being in Bergen and meeting my supervisor here. This has made clear to me what I need to do and reflect on my PhD work in a different way. It is very motivating to meet like this,” says Ntagalinda.
“At UiB we’ve been interacting with staff and students in several discussions and presentations. Meeting like this I’ve been gaining new skills. This strengthens my experience, my experience, and my vision,” says Mumbu.