Spotlight on: Deus Thindwa

Every month, CMMID will profile early career researchers who are working and studying at the Centre. This month we asked Deus Thindwa some questions about his research, plans for future and being an early career researcher at LSHTM.
Deus Thindwa

Tell us about your current research

I am a final year PhD student researching pneumococcal vaccine strategies against invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) in HIV-infected adults in Africa. My PhD research is funded by the UK National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Mucosal Pathogen Research Unit (MPRU) at University College London, and supervised primarily by Professor Stefan Flasche at LSHTM, as well as Professor Neil French at the University of Liverpool.

Despite the substantial reduction in pneumococcal carriage and disease among pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) vaccinated children in low-income countries, HIV-infected adults remain at high risk of pneumococcal carriage and IPD due to suboptimal herd protection.

My PhD is exploring PCV schedules to:

  • enhance herd immunity through two primary doses with a booster given at 36 months (2+1) or two primary doses with double booster (last dose given during school entry) (2+1+1) and
  • directly vaccinate HIV-infected adults or HIV-infected pregnant women to reduce their IPD risk in concurrence with a 3+0 infant base schedule in Malawi.

A review of pneumococcal vaccine strategies in HIV-infected adults was published in Expert Review of Vaccines setting the scene for my modelling work. To understand the contribution of HIV-infected adults to pneumococcal transmission and hence the impact of their vaccination on herd protection, I published another paper in PLOS Computational Biology.

Further understanding of the potential disparity in carriage susceptibility or transmissibility between HIV-infected and uninfected adults led me to studying their interactions with the rest of the population via social contacts - this work is still under peer review.

How did you first become interested in infectious disease modelling?

During my MSc in Epidemiology at LSHTM, I was fascinated with the infectious disease modelling module, and the use of mathematics to understand infectious disease dynamics, given my background in computer sciences and mathematics.

My pre-PhD time as a research assistant at Imperial College London in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology reignited my passion for using modelling to answer complex issues of pneumococcal disease dynamics and herd immunity during my PhD.

Describe your career journey so far

My undergraduate degree was in Computer Sciences and Mathematics, which I then followed up with an MSc in Epidemiology under a competitive British Commonwealth scholarship in 2012. Before and after my MSc, I had been working with the Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Programme (MLW) in Malawi for nearly six years before joining Imperial. At MLW, I mostly worked as a data manager and epidemiologist to manage large volume of field demographics, epidemiology, clinical and laboratory research datasets, with little attention to analysis.

I decided to move to Imperial to mainly focus on analysis and modelling for the rest of my career, having understood the data generation and management process. I previously worked in HIV/TB, typhoid fever and malaria, before undertaking pneumococcal PhD research. In a few months, I am hoping to submit my remaining research work to peer reviewed publications, as well as my PhD thesis for defence.

What’s your favourite thing about working at LSHTM?

I strongly think it is the friendly people I have encountered. Early career researchers and other senior scientists are able to make time to help out if you have a technical question on statistics, mathematics or computation.

Also, the meet ups at the school bar before COVID-19 were really a great way to meet new people, as outside the School, Londoners are not that friendly! Last, but not least, staff at the School have been very supportive in helping me with scholarship issues to make my life a lot smoother.

Do you have any advice or tips for other early career researchers? 

Yes, I think PhD is the time to gain lots of skills, and asking peers for help is more important than being stuck with a problem for many days. I also loved the LSHTM cafeteria coffee which really help to refresh me during working hours.

Presenting your work is also great experience and a good way to become even more familiar with your work. It can be terrifying to do this in a group with all the smart people in the CMMID, but it helps to build your confidence and understanding of your research work.

How can other people contact you?


Twitter: @deusthindwa


COVID-19 Response Fund

There cannot be any complacency as to the need for global action.

With your help, we can plug critical gaps in the understanding of COVID-19. This will support global response efforts and help to save lives around the world.