I will contribute to the fight against infectious diseases in Africa

Jean Nepomuscene Hakizimana is a Rwandan pursuing his Ph.D. studies in Food security and Agribusiness at the Southern African Centre for Infectious Diseases Surveillance (SACIDS Foundation for One Health) hosted at the Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania under a scholarship awarded to him by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, icipe, through the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF).  The Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), one of PASET’s flagship programs is the first Pan-African science fund that provides doctoral scholarships for African scientists aimed at catalyzing the training of 10,000 PhDs in Applied Sciences Engineering and Technology (ASET) fields.

Hakizimana in the Laboratory

To Hakizimana, getting the PASET-RSIF scholarship for his Ph.D. meant so much for his career and personal development. The Ph.D. whose scholarship confirmation letter he received on 21st March 2018 and accepted, is to-date, he believes, the best career decision he ever made. The excitement was palpable and the enthusiasm about the offered opportunity was commitment towards achieving his career goals and professional growth.

Hakizimana’s research in his Ph.D. project was built on his previous research experience with Transboundary Animal Diseases (TADs) but this time with special focus on genomics and molecular epidemiology of viral diseases of food security and livelihood importance. TADs hinder poverty and hunger alleviation, an important component of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations (SDGs) and the African Union Agenda 2063. Jean’s Ph.D. project exploits the advances in genomics and molecular epidemiology technologies and innovations to mitigate the effect of these diseases for an improved livelihood and well-being of livestock farmers.

Under the supervision and mentorship of senior scientists at Sokoine University of Agriculture one of the RSIF African Host University (AHU), Ghent University an RSIF International Partner Institution (IPI) and the Rwanda National Industrial Research and Development Agency, he has no doubt that the outcome of this study will positively impact on Livestock farmers and contribute to food security and livelihoods.

To-date, Hakizimana  has published in high impact factor peer-reviewed journals, for instance Viruses (impact factor of 3.816; Hakizimana et al 2021; see link), Frontiers in Veterinary Science (impact factor of 2.245; Hakizimana et al 2020; see link) and BMC Veterinary Research (5-year impact factor of 2.179; Hakizimana et al 2020;see link) as outputs emanating from his Ph.D. research.

In addition, the experience and expertise gained earned him a research grant (grant NO. I-1-B-6269-1) from the International foundation for Science (IFS) to advance his research on African swine fever in countries neighboring Tanzania and his abstract has been selected for a travel grant by the United States of America Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP) to share his research findings with the international scientific community during the Global African Swine Fever Research Alliance (GARA) scientific meeting.

With the high-quality skills and specialized knowledge gained during his Ph.D., Jean hopes to contribute to the training of the next generation of students, researchers and innovators in his area of expertise. He intends to contribute and get involved as a researcher and teacher in the fight against infectious diseases so that he can contribute to the alleviation of the burden of these diseases in Africa where their impacts are greatest.

Despite the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, Jean kept moving forward but at a slower speed compared to the momentum he had garnered prior to the pandemic. Specifically, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted his research activities involving collaboration with other institutions where physical presence was required. By working from home and going to the laboratory only when necessary as well as adhering to the travel restrictions, he managed to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19. All the Conferences he was supposed to attend were moved to online, thus during the lockdown, the online alternative was used for specific trainings and conferences in his research area. Positively, the University administration was very supportive with the adoption of the Regulations and Guidelines for Higher Degrees to support online training and management of postgraduate studies in April 2020.

According to Hakizimana, Africa needs home-grown expertise that can tackle new risks such as climate change and global pandemics. RSIF, as an Africa-led initiative with the objective of strengthening the science, technology, and engineering capability in sub-Saharan Africa for its socioeconomic transformation, is useful to advance knowledge, promote research and help the African society discover innovative solutions to overcome its most pressing problems. Clearly, the RSIF program is increasing the quality of scientific research in the region, and Jean is happy to be associated with this initiative and what it stands for.

Conact Mr. Jean Nepomuscene Hakizimana hakizimana.jean@sacids.org

RSIF Scholar Mabwi Humphrey desires to use his PhD to find solutions linked to food, nutrition and health

Mabwi Humphrey’s journey to his PhD studies began with his desire to join academia as a teaching and research -scientist. Upon completing his MSc degree in Molecular Biology & Biochemistry from the Northeast Normal University in China in 2015, Mabwi took up a teaching/research assistant role at his alma mater, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Kenya. This is the same university where he had completed a bachelor of science degree in Biology/Chemistry. However, one of the key requirements for being a teaching/research assistant was to pursue a PhD. Fortunately, this was in line with his long-term goal of becoming a full time academic and researcher. However, despite this zeal, he lacked the funding to purse a PhD. His dream became closer to reality, when he came across the PASET RSIF PhD Scholarship in 2018! Since 2018, a total of 184 PhD Scholarships distributed across 20 countries in Africa, have been awarded. The first cohort in 2018 had 15 students and one of them is Mabwi Humphrey a Kenyan.

Mabwi busy in the Laboratory

Mabwi, who was part of the first cohort of 15 PASET RSIF students, is currently at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), Gangneung Institute of Natural products undertaking his research as part of his PhD in Biotechnology at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania.

Managed by icipe, The Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), one of PASET’s flagship programs is the first Pan-African science fund that provides doctoral scholarships for African scientists aimed at catalyzing the training of 10,000 PhDs in Applied Sciences Engineering and Technology (ASET) fields. Priority is given to contributing member countries, the faculty of universities who lack Ph.D. Because funding for PhD training in Africa is very rare, RSIF has provided an excellent opportunity for them  to pursue their PhD training and advance research careers.

Joining the PhD Program

Mabwi started his PhD journey in 2018 when he received the RSIF Scholarship and he expects to graduate in 2022 and became RSIF’s first cohort of Alumni. Sokoine University (SUA), his host University in Africa, academically enjoys a good reputation in Tanzania, especially because its curriculum features comprehensive professional training in agriculture courses in diverse fields, ranging from veterinary medicine, food processing, food bioengineering, to food quality analysis courses. However, the PhD curriculum lays special emphasis on research and there is less emphasis on coursework, as part of the PhD training. The Southern African Centre of – Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS-ACE) at SUA, which hosts the RSIF program at Sokoine university has exposed Mabwi to various practical laboratory and transferrable skills training opportunities.

Mabwi’s PhD thesis is on Functional Foods against Gut Microbiome Dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is associated with a number of diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, colon cancer and diabetes mellitus – modern-day Lifestyle diseases. The purpose of his research is to discover novel functional foods against dysbiosis. Because of the exposure at SACIDS-ACE, Mabwi initially developed his study on Bovine microbiomes with a purpose of tracking pathogens in beef industry. However, upon joining the sandwich program at Korea Institute of Science and Technology, he felt the need to amend his proposal from bovine microbiomes to study human microbiomes in order to align it with requirements of both his supervisor at Sokoine University and at Korea Institute of Science and Technology. To-date, he has published a paper in computational and structural Biotechnology journal and submitted his second paper for publication.

Catching the Dream

Upon completion of his PhD study, Mabwi would like to pursue a postdoctoral research to build his nascent career in academia and research and prepare him for leadership and management roles. He is glad for the funding from RSIF as well as the opportunity to study at both Sokoine University of Agriculture and the Korea Institute of Science and Technology. He also appreciates the RSIF seminars, webinars, courses and soft skills coordinated by icipe which equipped him with various important skills not only academia but also for careers in biomedical research, food biotechnological, pharmaceutical/nutraceuticals industries and management positions with the aim of improving food and health systems in Africa.

He admits that Covid 19 has greatly impacted on his academic and social life. It has changed how he works and spend his extra time, which inevitably has impacted his studies. Delivery of some of his laboratory reagents have been delayed. He has also been required to work from home or in the laboratory in shifts. More recently he was forced to quarantine for almost two weeks after a lab mate tested positive for Covid 19. Further, opportunities for conferences and seminars to present his research findings are now limited.  The limited time with his supervisor, having fitness rooms closed and sports activities cancelled has had a toll on him and many other students. These have delayed his experiments and changed his day-to-day routine hence impacting on my PhD progress.

Based on his experience, he would advise the more recent RSIF scholars to ensure that they commence their matching discussions with IPIs as soon as possible, i.e. when the student joins the RSIF funded PhD program to eliminate major proposal amendments upon transitioning to the IPI.

Contact Mr. Humphrey Andalo Mabwi mabwi.humphrey@kist.re.kr