SACEMA funded UKZN Statistics Student Takes First Prize

Posted on Wed, Sep 21 2011 14:29:00

UKZN Statistics student, Ms Tarylee Reddy has won First Prize in the 2011 South African Statistics Association (SASA) national Postgraduate Student Paper Competition, sponsored by Statistics South Africa.

Reddy’s paper centred on the research she conducted for her Masters on HIV disease progression, outclassed 14 other papers submitted by Masters and PhD students from around the country. Her supervisor, Professor Henry Mwambi, was not at all surprised she won the top award and commented that she is one of the best students he has encountered.  ‘She portrayed a lot of excellent skills in doing her research…she has an amazing capacity to work independently and is very focused,’ he said. 

Head of UKZN’s School of Statistics, Professor Delia North, was over the moon about Reddy’s success: ‘I think this is a fantastic result for the School and the student, but in particular for the supervisor who has a long list of cum laude MSc students in the last two years,’ she said.  Reddy received a bursary from the South African Centre for Excellence in Epidemiological Modeling and Analysis (SACEMA) and is most grateful for their support. 

A few years back Reddy received the third place prize in the Honours competition and her win this year adds to the already impressive record of prizes won by UKZN Statistics students.  Over the past five consecutive years, the School of Statistics boasts five winners of this annual competition in either the Honours or Postgraduate competitions: testimony to the high quality of statistics students emanating from the School. 

According to Reddy, although HIV is prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, little research has been conducted on the rate of HIV progression and the contributing factors.  In her research, she used multistate models to analyse her data which she obtained from the HIV Pathogenesis Programme (HPP) based at the University’s Nelson R Mandela’s School of Medicine.  A key finding, which is consistent with previous research, is that the rate of decline in CD4 count decreases at lower levels.  Reddy said: ‘It was also noted that patients enrolling with a CD4 count less than 350 had a far lower chance of immune recovery, and a substantially higher chance of immune deterioration compared to patients with a higher CD4 countThese findings reaffirm the need to initiate therapy at early stages of the virus which could lead to the development of new treatment strategies and save more lives.

Reddy is indebted to the HPP and Professor Thumbi N’dungu who offered her the use of an advanced dataset from the Sinikithemba study which was conducted on HIV positive individuals in Durban.  Since this was the first time multistate models have been used in South Africa to track HIV progression, Reddy did not have the advantage of being able to communicate with other statisticians working in the same area.  However, she believes that her experience of working at CAPRISA and the MRC, under the mentorship of experienced biostatisticians, has stood her in good stead and groomed her into the applied statistician she is today. 

Reddy is currently employed as a biostatistician at the Medical Research Council (MRC) in Durban.   

(This article originally appeared as a news item on the University of KwaZulu-Natal website)