PhD programme: Tonderai Mapako

Tonderai joined the National Blood Service Zimbabwe (NBSZ) in 2001 and subsequently completed a MSc in Biostatistics at the University of Hasselt, Belgium in 2004. He began his PhD as part of T-REC in 2011, and is researching risk modelling of blood safety within NBSZ. So far, he has undertaken 17 training sessions, and presented his research at four national or international conferences. He has also published his initial findings in the journal Transfusion (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/trf.12311/abstract).

Tonderai is carrying out analytical research in order to apply mathematical and statistical risk models to blood transfusion services. Zimbabwe has a HIV epidemic which presents challenges for blood safety, as donors come from the general population. The NBSZ educates potential donors, and asks them to declare their known HIV status or rate their risk of HIV. However, prevalence of HIV in new blood donors is currently at 0.6 percent. In other settings, the rate is less than 0.2 percent, and this is the target for NBSZ. Tonderai is examining the relationship between donors and HIV in the general population and its implications for blood donation. He wants to inform NBSZ on how best to identify and attract low risk populations to donate blood.

Tonderai is also working to calculate the residual risk for transmitting HIV and Hepatitis B and C in donated blood. He is using the most recent models to address the probability that NBSZ is transfusing an infected unit of blood. Tonderai is also carrying out a cost-benefit analysis of operations at NBSZ, including the current risk-mitigation strategy of not using first-time donor blood. This is because of the early window period of HIV, which may not be detected with the current tests that are in use. When the research is completed, Tonderai will review all the risk-management strategies in place, present the evidence and make recommendations for NBSZ policy and practice.

Tonderai recognises the importance of research capacity building support within NBSZ. Various African blood transfusion services urgently need local solutions to the specific challenges they face. Building a critical mass of local scientists will allow blood safety professionals to consider relevant and localised evidence from research activities, ultimately improving the national blood service.

Tonderai says, “There should be more south-to-south research collaboration. This will support the provision of more local evidence to enhance research work and the transfusion service itself.”

 

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