Dr Zelalem Getahun Dessie, who was awarded a PhD degree in Statistics during the UKZN Spring Graduation virtual ceremony, was described as a ‘success story’.

The description was made by the Dean and Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science at UKZN Professor Delia North.

After completing his MSc in Statistics at Hawassa University in Ethiopia, Dessie decided to pursue his PhD studies in biostatistics through UKZN.

‘UKZN is one of the most prestigious universities in the world that truly nurtures the next generation of scientists,’ said Dessie, whose PhD research focused on joint Markov modelling for longitudinal HIV disease progression monitoring with multiple biomarkers.  Dessie chose this topic as he was eager to advance his biostatistical knowledge and skills.

Dessie applied mathematical techniques to model HIV/AIDS progression based on either viral load count, quality of life (QoL) scores or CD4 cell count. He used joint Markov models and modelling when identifying risk factors for patients’ QoL, immunological and virological outcomes on treatment.

‘My research provides alternative methods for disease progression data analysis,’ said Dessie. ‘This is especially helpful for biostatisticians, epidemiologists and health researchers as the methods can either be used by themselves or as complementary tools to gain more insight into the variety of factors associated with long-term virological, immunological outcomes, and QoL dynamics.’

Dessie has published seven research articles in high impact peer-reviewed journals (six in Q1 and one in Q2) and has one under-review article in a Q1 journal. Moreover, he has presented his work at international conferences. He plans to pursue a career in academia and hopes to secure a postdoctoral fellowship abroad to gain a global perspective.

Dessie thanked the DELTAS Africa Initiative SSACAB for financial support during his studies. He also expressed his deepest gratitude for the guidance provided by his supervisor, Professor Temesgen Zewotir, who encouraged, supported and trusted him throughout his PhD. ‘I am also extremely indebted to Professor Henry Mwambi and Professor Delia North, for sharing their knowledge and for always being available and supportive,’ he said. 

‘Dr Dessie completed his PhD in record time and also published many papers in Q1 and Q2 journals,’ said North. ‘He is such a success story.’

Dessie had one further word of thanks to offer:  ‘I am forever indebted to my lovely wife Maryamcher Getachew, for her unconditional love, and always believing in my ability to succeed.’

Words: Samantha Ngcongo

Photograph: Supplied