The Discipline of Statistics in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS) hosted a five-day biostatistics short course on the Pietermaritzburg campus on the topic: Quantitative Monitoring and Evaluation of Health Trials.

Organisers of the event were the SMSCS; Department of Biostatistics and McGoldrick Professional Development Program in Public Health at the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health (HSPH); Africa Academy for Public HealthDeveloping Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science Africa (DELTAS) as well as the sub-Saharan Africa Consortium for Advanced Biostatistics (SSACAB) training programme.

The workshop fell under the Africa Research Implementation Science and Education (ARISE) Network, a capacity building initiative comprising eight African countries in which HSPH is a supervisory organising partner.

Academic Leader of Research in the SMSCS, Professor Henry Mwambi, opened the workshop and welcomed delegates to the short course.

‘The goal is to be relevant,’ said Mwambi, ‘and this workshop is doing exactly that because you will see the link between the theory of statistics and real application that is trying to evaluate programmes within interventions for disease. It is the ideal programme for enhancing excellence in biostatistics in the region.’

The 34 participants came from a diverse range of institutions across Africa, including CAPRISA, various disciplines within UKZN, Human Sciences Research CouncilAIDS Healthcare FoundationNational University of Science and Technology (NUST) Zimbabwe, Al-Neelain University in Sudan and Stellenbosch University.

Mwambi said this course is important in meeting the SSACAB’s objectives of increasing excellence in biostatistics in South Africa.

Dr Sarah Anoke, Scientific Director of the McGoldrick Professional Development Program, and Ms Jesca Batidzirai, a Statistics lecturer and PhD Fellow at UKZN, delivered the training which comprised course material developed by Professors Marcello Pagano and Bethany Hedt-Gauthier and utilised in HSPH graduate courses. This was the fifth in a series of these courses offered throughout Africa this year by Anoke.

‘We have noticed a real need for this material in applied fields,’ said Anoke, explaining that the value of the course is in participants’ learning of statistical intuition and developing a sense of judgement about how to approach problems.

‘It’s about operationalising goals and having judgement around knowing what to measure and how to measure it to aid decision-making,’ said Anoke. ‘We also focus on the importance of communicating statistical information clearly to laypersons, giving interpretations and explanations.’

The programme was rich in content, enabling participants to cover a considerable amount of material. One outcome is that UKZN will henceforth be able to repeat the material in other short courses.

Six UKZN facilitators assisted Anoke, namely SMSCS lecturers Batidzirai and Ms Danielle Roberts; Statistics PhD candidates Mr Innocent Mboya and Mr Robert Keli; and PhD graduates Dr Elphas Okango and Dr Omololu Aluko.

Participants progressed considerably during the week and expressed interest in integrating the material at their institutions. UKZN and the HSPH aim to continue collaborating to make UKZN a hub for excellence in biostatistics training.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Swastika Maney