February 19, 2021

#AlumoftheWeek – Olatunji Olugoke Johnson – AIMS Tanzania’16

This week, we caught up with AIMS Tanzania alum, Olatunji Olugoke Johnson from Nigeria!

Q: Tell us about your journey at AIMS.

Johnson: I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Statistics at the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Nigeria, graduating with a First Class and at the top of my class. I first heard about AIMS as an undergraduate student. I was attracted to the prospect of studying in an environment that mainly focused on mathematical sciences, with access to lecturers from various universities worldwide.

One year of studying at AIMS was a remarkable experience that I can never forget, and the memory will live with me forever. AIMS has been a catalyst for my career success.

The most exciting thing about AIMS is the focus on the learning process instead of the exam model. AIMS provides a 24/7 learning environment, power and internet supply, and I made the best use of the opportunities. At AIMS, I learnt everywhere and at any time of the day. The building at Bagamoyo was very spacious with a lovely beach beside it. I regret not making more use of the beach than I did. 

One of my memories about AIMS was the end of term party, an occasion to relax and see the visiting lecturers and my classmates’ social side. 

Q: Tell us about the impact AIMS has had on you.

Johnson: Programming is one of my skills that I am very proud of, and it all started at AIMS. AIMS provided an opportunity for me to learn as many programming languages as possible, including Python and R. I used R throughout my PhD and continued to develop the skills to the extent that I now develop packages and web application tools in R. These tools have been handy to my research, in conveying results to collaborators and allowing people with limited programming skills access to user-friendly statistical models.

 The challenging problems given to me at AIMS developed my problem-solving skills. I found this skill very handy till now as it has helped me be critical with my research and develop the resilience needed to survive as an academic.

Through AIMS, I met my PhD supervisor, and I am very grateful for that.  I became interested in spatial statistics after undertaking a course in geospatial methods for public health applications at AIMS, taught by Prof Peter Diggle, Dr Emanuele Giorgi and Dr Michelle Stanton. I was fascinated by how statistics have been used to solve public health challenges, especially in developing countries. As a result, my Master’s project focused on the use of geostatistical methods to identify areas of a high burden of river-blindness in Cameroon. And this experience solidified my decision to apply for a PhD in Statistics and Epidemiology, where I was able to enhance my biostatistics knowledge.

Q. Which of the SDGs is most important/relevant to you? How do you plan on addressing it in your work?

Johnson: My research focuses on developing novel geostatistical methods to address public health problems. With a focus on mapping neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), my work aligns with SDG 3, “ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages”. Precisely, my work responds to target 3.3; to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, NTDs, and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other infectious diseases by 2030. 

My research identifies areas of high prevalence of NTDs and evaluates how the intervention’s impact directly contributes to meeting the SDGs. Africa accounts for about 50 per cent of the global burden of NTDs, with 47 African countries being endemic for at least one of them. I have contributed my geospatial skills to the analysis of soil-transmitted helminths (STH) dataset in Zimbabwe to understand the progress made towards the elimination of the disease.  My result of the work was published in a paper titled “Elimination of STH) morbidity in Zimbabwe: results of 6 years of deworming intervention for school-age children”.

Q. What is your message to current AIMS students and young people across the continent?

Johnson: Make the best use of your time at AIMS. Make the best use of the learning experience; it is such a rare experience. It is not even available in developed countries.  Learn as much as you can because you are just privileged to be there at this very point in time. When you look back a few years from now, you will be glad you passed through AIMS, and every second spent at AIMS will be worth it.

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