Edna Chilenje-Manda graduated with a Master’s in Applied Sciences at University of Kwazulu-Natal with distinction. Using Mathematics models she was able to link immunological and epidomiological dynamics of HIV infection, yielding data useful in predicting the progression of the infection within and outside the host. In this interview she talks to FATSANI GUNYA.
Who is Edna Chilenje Manda
I was born 26 years ago in Blantyre at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital on the 30th January 1991 to late Mr and Mrs Mcheka-Chilenje. I am the first born in a family of three with two brothers. I grew up mostly with my grandparents.
I went to Tukombo and Phwezi Girls for secondary school till 2006. I proceeded to University of Livingstonia for my undergraduate studies and attained a Bachelor of Science in Education with credit in 2011. In 2013 got a scholarship from the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Cape Town, South Africa to pursue a Masters Degree in Mathematical Science; I graduated in June 2014 with distinction. AIMS recruits best students all over Africa in Mathematics and Sciences and provides scholarships every year. In January 2015 I got another scholarship because of my results at AIMS and I started a research masters in Applied Mathematics at the University of Kwazulu-Natal in Durban South Africa which I completed the same year and graduated in April 2016 with Cum Laude (distinction).
Take us through your employment record
After my studies at University of Livingstonia, I worked as a secondary school teacher at Tukombo Girls Secondary school for a year and a half teaching Mathematics, Biology and Physical Science. That’s the only employment history I have so far [laughs].
Of what significance was your Master’s study programme?
My field is Mathematical Biology. This is an interdisciplinary scientific research filled with a range of applications in biology, biotechnology and medicine. The field is also called bio-mathematics to stress the mathematical side and also the theoretical biology side. Mathematical Biology aims at the mathematical representation, treatment and modeling of real life biological processes, using a variety of applied mathematical techniques and tools.
What I did in my study is largely technical. I wish I could be any simpler in my explanation. But I guess I will still be able to communicate somehow. I used mathematical models to link the immunological and epidemiological dynamics of HIV infection. This involved the design of a new model, using the continuous systems of non-linear ordinary differential equations, by directly linking them within-host dynamics (interactions between Langerhands cells, CD4+ T-Cells, CCR5 (R5) HIV and CXCR4 (X4) HIV), and without -host dynamics of a basic compartmental HIV/ AIDS model.
In a nutshell, my work yielded data useful in predicting the progression of the infection within and outside the host.
The significance of applying mathematics to biology has recently been an explosion because of the many problems we have in Africa and also the world, including infectious diseases (HIV, TB, Cholera e.t.c) which are a threat to human lives. Solutions to such problems help policy makers in coming up with ways to fight or eradicate infectious diseases, coming up with vaccines as well as ways of administering treatment among other things.
You scored wonderfully in your Master’s programme; any secret behind this?
Not a secret as such but I am always positive in every area of my life. I am a big dreamer (I dream all that I can because I believe the sky is not even the limit). I am also determined and passionate of what I do. I persevere, because sometimes things do not work as planned so it is good to hang in there and hold on until something works out. I just do not give up easily. I have faith and I laugh and smile a lot; I am so cheerful that people ask if I ever get angry.
Is there anyone you would like to acknowledge for the role played in your studies?
Of course there are and a lot of them, too. I thank God for life and wisdom. My supervisor Dr Chirove deserves special mention. Above all, I am thankful to my family; my husband George Manda, my brothers, grandparents, aunties and uncles; they have been supportive all along. And then I have close friends without whom I am not sure I would do anything!
On the other hand, it feels great for I have managed to display, through my achievements that Mathematics and other science subjects know no gender as long as you are willing to learn and are determined you can make it.
Why do you think earned you the PhD scholarship?
I am very organised; I plan and make good use of my time very well because I believe in the saying ‘making hay whilst the sun shines’. I am currently reading for my PhD in applied Mathematics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Do you have plans to come back and serve your country after your PhD studies?
I will definitely come back home to work , in the next 5-10 years I see myself being one of the Female Professors in Mathematics in one of our universities in Malawi.
Any word of motivation to younger girls?
My advice is that they should always plan their time, stay focused and work hard at everything they do. To my fellow women I would say, remember dreams are not female and have no gender so always know what you want and tell yourself that the sky is not even the limit.
But let me also say it has never been any easier for me to get to where I am. I would like to remind Malawian girls and women who tend to shun the sciences that dreams have no gender.
Personally, I have been inspired by this one quote from one John von Neumann who said ‘If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realise how complicated life is”. As such, I have come to realise that all things in nature occur mathematically.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I like listening to inspirational music, especially Hillsong and Chris Tomlin. I also I also like reading inspiring literature. And then there is travelling which enables me learn news things from peope of different cultural backgrounds. But nothing beats the feeling of having a dish of Nsima, beef and some vegetables, which, admittedly I still miss sometimes in the course of my studies and its travelling demands! n