Researcher Spotlight : Halfan Ngowo

This week, Elle has put Halfan Ngowo under the spotlight. Halfan is no stranger to hard work, having been involved in multiple impressive projects thus far in his short career! Now, he tells us about his new PhD based around Population and Ecosystem Health…

Halfan Ngowo article picTell us about your background.
I completed an undergraduate degree in Applied Statistics at Mzumbe University, Tanzania. I got the opportunity to do an internship with a renowned research institute in Tanzania: The Ifakara Health Institute (IHI). For two years, I worked as a research officer on various projects centred around communicable and non-communicable disease. Following this period, I shifted to a malaria research group, in the department of Environmental Health and Ecological Sciences (EHES), that focused on mosquito ecology and tools for vector control and surveillance. A year later, I joined the University of Glasgow for a Masters course (MSc QMBCE); this was a life-changing period, as I was able to acquire many skills in quantitative analyses of ecological and epidemiological data. In my final project (which was later published), I was looking at how variations in household microclimate affect outdoor-biting behaviour of malaria vectors‌. Since then, I have been working for IHI as a research scientist in Fredros Okumu’s Lab, supporting the group in data analysis for different research projects.  Recently, in mid-January 2019, I joined the University of Glasgow again, but this time as a PhD student and a member of IBAHCM.

What is the focus of your research and why is it important?
My PhD will focus on quantifying the ecology and control of Anopheles funestus, a vector of malaria transmission in Tanzania. Worldwide, malaria still claims the lives of over 400K people each year. The current literature suggests that most (>85%) of malaria transmission, especially in Tanzania, is mediated by one mosquito species: An. funestus. This species appears to have very low abundance in south-eastern Tanzania but is highly resistant to commonly used insecticides in comparison to the famous Anopheles arabiensis. Research has revealed very little about this notorious mosquito species due to the difficulties associated with colonising it under laboratory conditions or in self-sustaining colonies. I will be studying how its life cycle thrives from one stage to another alongside the best control measures that can be implemented in additional to the current intervention which are long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS).

Why did you decide to do your PhD in IBACHM/UofG?
There were several reasons why UofG and not somewhere else: the first was due to the existing collaboration between my home institute, IHI, and IBACHM through different life-changing research projects. Secondly, the good technical and supervisory experience I received when doing my masters course encouraged me to return to do my PhD with IBACHM. Also, getting a PhD with IBACHM will vastly improve my quantitative skills on analyses of ecological data especially in the field of malaria control, which will sharpen my scientific career.  

What do you find most interesting about your work?
Firstly, I really love quantifying ecological processes through statistics and mathematics; this has been my passion for a long period. Deeply focusing on understanding the ecology of this mosquito species (An. funestus) is particularly interesting since so little has been done on this species. As this mosquito species is the current vector of malaria transmission in Tanzania and other parts of Africa, I believe my contribution in understanding its ecology could have a large impact on how we control its survival and disrupt its transmission capability.    

What is the most positive aspect of your PhD?
In the bigger picture, this PhD will give me an opportunity to find new collaborations with other early career researchers at IBACHM and build some long-term partnerships in my area of interest. I am really looking forward to an exciting 3 years as a member of IBACHM. 

What has been the most challenging aspect so far?
The only challenging aspect so far was keeping up with paper work: at the beginning, there were a lot of things that had to be done before I could comfortably settle down and focus on my research. 

What advice would you give to anyone doing or considering PhD?
If you want to focus on your area of research interest and become a prominent scientist, then do a PhD. This will not only sharpen your research capacity, but also give you the opportunity to train and support other researchers in a given field of study. To those considering a PhD, don’t register for it just because there is funding for living expenses and fees: you should really love doing what you do and enjoy the 3(ish) years.

Tell us about your plans for the future
First, I aim to learn important skills from prominent researchers in my area of expertise here at IBACHM. I wish to become a competent quantitative ecologist in the field of malaria and vector control and be able to use existing data to find solutions and drive implementation of new approaches towards elimination of malaria in Tanzania.  

First published: 22 February 2019