Meet Marilyn Ronoh, Mathematician and Mawazo Scholar

Marilyn Ronoh_Research Symposium.PNG

Reducing HIV/AIDS Risks in Young Kenyans: An Awareness Mathematical Model

By Marilyn Ronoh

I was initially exposed to the use of mathematical methods to study infectious diseases while pursuing my masters in Applied Mathematics at the University of Nairobi.  My research focused on mathematical modelling of Rift Valley Fever in Kenya, a viral disease that affects livestock and wild animals but can be transmitted to human beings via infected mosquitoes. This work inspired me to pursue further studies in mathematical epidemiology for my doctorate degree which led me to my current research topic on modelling the dynamics of HIV among adolescents and young adults in Kenya, an area of increasing importance in our ongoing fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Kenya.

Kenya has made significant gains in controlling the HIV/AIDS epidemic over the past decade, cutting the prevalence of the disease by almost half from 10.5% of the population in 1996 to 5.9% in 2015. However, a spike in new infections among adolescents and young adults, young women especially, is threatening to undo decades of progress. According to the National AIDS Control Council, about 18% of people living with HIV in 2015 in Kenya were adolescents and young adults, aged 15 – 24 years, and they contributed to about 51% of new HIV infections among adults and the prevalence was twice as high amongst women than men. According to my mathematical model, our strategy of increasing the education of young women in HIV awareness may not be effective in securing HIV prevention amongst them. New approaches are desperately needed to model disease transmission and prevent resurgence.  

Mathematical models use mathematical concepts and terminology to describe a real-world system and are governed by specific rules and assumptions. When fitted to clinical data, these models prove to be extremely helpful in understanding the disease dynamics. Through my research, I use a mathematical model to explore the effects of increasing comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS among Kenyan adolescents and young adults on the incidence and prevalence of the disease in this demographic group. Using real epidemiological data on transmission, transition and control parameters to analyse all these scenarios, my model gives far more accurate predictions than existing models.

My work so far has unearthed a startling trend. Increasing comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS amongst young women has a more direct relationship in decreasing new infection rates amongst young men, and vice versa. In other words, in order to decrease the new infection rates amongst young women, we may need to increase HIV/AIDS education amongst young men. This vital research discovery could in turn influence relevant policies geared at promoting the well-being of the adolescent and young adult populations, ultimately reducing or completely eradicating new HIV/AIDS infections in their cohort.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marilyn Ronoh is a part time lecturer and a PhD student enrolled in the University of Nairobi’s School of Mathematics. Her research title is “Mathematical modelling of HIV/AIDS transmission dynamics coupled with awareness among adolescents and young adults in Kenya”. Outside her research, she is a member of the Kenya Women in Mathematics Sciences Association and is passionate about mentoring high school girls and showing them the positive side of mathematics.