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Prof. Rachel Mbogo making strides in academia

Prof. Rachel Waema Mbogo, Director, Graduate Research and Training at the Strathmore Institute of Mathematical Sciences, spent the last one week at the Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM) in Bellevue, Washington, USA. She took the trip to the institute that provides support to disease eradication programs and other global health endeavors through a variety of modeling and statistical approaches, with the aim to learn more about mathematical modeling tools especially the IDM’s Epidemiological MODeling software (EMOD).  “Other than learning EMOD, I initiated collaboration with Dr. Anna Bershteyn who is a senior Research Manager of the HIV/TB center at IDM, and an Affiliate Assistant Professor of Global Health at the University of Washington,” she says.

Eradication and management of HIV

The impact of her research will be felt in the eradication and management of HIV by prescribing anti-retroviral treatment in an optimal way. According to the Kenya HIV estimates 2018 report from the Ministry of Health, the total number of people living with HIV in Kenya is estimated at approximately 1.5 million with children under 15 years of age accounting for 7% while 12% represents youth between 15-24 years of age.

“We have grants that support the treatment but the numbers of those affected does not seem to go down. We cannot cure the illness yet; through research, we want to find out how we can manage it. For the moment, we have discovered how to give anti-retroviral in an optimal way. It is necessary to find out the patient’s viral load and use that to choose the line of treatment to be administered.”

Promotion to Associate Professor

Prof. Mbogo has initiated other research partnerships with Stellenbosch University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany and the National AIDS Control council (NACC), Kenya. Her impressive and long list of publications propelled her to the position of an Associate Professor, a post she earned four months ago. She joins two other female professors that Strathmore takes prides in.

To achieve this milestone, at a time when there are few female professors in mathematics in the country, is no mean feat. “One of my main challenges has been maintaining work-life balance. I have found myself declining research travel grants because my role as a mother and wife cannot allow me to leave the family.” To counter this, she has a strict policy: she makes a clear distinction between research and family time.

Her love for mathematics was sparked by her mathematics teacher back in high school. “I had a mathematics teacher who was passionate about the subject. His lessons were enjoyable and he was easily approachable; he made me fall in love with mathematics.”   

The support from family and mentors has also been a factor in her success. “What has aided me to remain in STEM is my passion for mathematics and mathematical science research and support from my family. I have had a supportive husband; he especially encouraged me while I was pursuing my doctorate.”

The last born in a family of seven girls and two boys also attributes her success in academia to her elder brother Prof. Waema. “My brother earned his doctoral degree while I was in my first year in university and was promoted to professor when I got my undergraduate degree. My dad passed away when I was still very young and my mum was left with the burden of raising the nine of us. She was hardworking and ensured we all got the basic education.”

PhD in record two and a half years

Dr. Mbogo has a broad background in the application of mathematical modeling applied to biology, with particular expertise in dynamical systems and stochastic processes for modeling HIV and malaria. She studied a Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics at the University of Nairobi and later a Master’s degree in Industrial mathematics where in her thesis, she applied mathematics in understanding disease dynamics. She completed her PhD within a record two years. She enrolled for a PhD in Biomathematics in November 2011, completed it in November 2013 and graduated in June 2014.

“I was determined to complete it. I had good and reliable supervisors who were readily available for consultations. I am lucky to have met mentors who have encouraged and inspired me all through my academic journey. My research mentors, who include Prof. John Odhiambo, have inspired, mentored and held my hand through my academic progression.”

Her journey to full professor continues. “This new title comes with respect from others and it will now be easier to attract grants. I also see myself as an asset to the university because I now represent the university.”



The article was written by Wambui Gachari. 

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