‘High quality, reliable clinical and public health research depends critically on rigorous statistical methodology for study design and analysis. I have established research networks and acquired a reputation as an established biostatistician. Unfortunately, in Southern Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa more generally, there is there a dearth of statistical and biostatistical expertise. For leading international studies of African populations, this often results in dependence on northern partners as Principal Investigators (PIs) or Co-PIs for critical input into study design and analysis plans.  Therefore, there is a recognised and urgent need for investment to develop and train African biostatisticians to provide statistical leadership in clinical studies conducted in Africa.’

These are the words of Associate Professor Freedom Gumedze, Head of Department of Statistical Sciences at the University of Cape Town (UCT), stressing the importance of his field of work.

Assoc Prof Gumedze explains that his research focuses on ‘the development and application of statistical methods in biomedical and clinical research. I have published 60 articles in peer-reviewed international journals.’ His h-index at Google Scholar is 24 and at Web of Science is 18 – with over 4 000 citations in Google Scholar.

‘My methodological research encompasses the development of methods for analysing multivariate longitudinal measures data. These include methods for handling missing data; the detection of outliers/robust estimation; survival analysis; joint analysis of longitudinal data and survival data, and accounting for competing or semi-competing risks; models for recurrent events; and design and analysis of clinical trials and meta-analysis. The principal applications of this work are established and emerging infectious diseases (e.g. TB, HIV and COVID-19) and non-communicable diseases (e.g. heart failure, rheumatic heart disease, diabetes and TB pericarditis).’

The importance of collaboration

He continues: ‘I have established a strong collaborative network, including firstly clinicians in cardiology investigating heart failure-related conditions such as hypertension, rheumatic heart disease, cardiomyopathy and TB pericarditis in patients co-infected with TB and HIV. Secondly my network is with experts in  dermatology, investigating hair-related diseases among Africans, including their association with HIV status. Thirdly, it is with infectious disease research focused on diagnosis, treatment and prevention strategies for TB, HIV and SARS-CoV-2 in Africa.’

In stressing the importance of collaborating with researchers from various fields, he provides crucial input at planning and statistical analysis stages of the research. He also contributes broadly to writing up and publishing the research. ‘As was evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, statistics plays a crucial role in the analysis of data and making informed decisions. There is also now an emerging era of data science that combines statistics, computer science and mathematics. Statistics is at the centre of this emerging discipline.’

He is currently a co-investigator in four ongoing studies: disseminated HIV-associated TB, cardiomyopathy, TB pericarditis, and radiation therapy for COVID-19. His research work has a substantial national and international footprint. For example, he has been a visiting scientist at the Population Health Research Institute, Hamilton, Canada, and at Rothamsted Research, UK.

‘I have also been an invited member of review panels or scientific committees for the National Research Foundation (NRF), European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (ED-CTP), and Africa Research Excellence Fund (AREF), MRF, UK and MRC-UKRI. I am currently a member of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) South African Basic Sciences Platform (SABSPlat).’

Passion for education and training

Assoc Prof Gumedze obtained a BA (Statistics and Demography) from the University of Swaziland, a BSc Hons (Statistical Sciences) from UCT, an MSc (Mathematical Statistics) from UCR and his PhD (Statistical Sciences) also from UCT. He has been mentored and supported by many people. Some particularly special people include the late Prof Tim Dunne and the late Prof Bongani Mayosi, his wife Lulu Gumedze, Emeritus Associate Professor June Juritz, Prof Jane Hutton, Prof Robin Thompson, Dr Sue Welham, Dr Gugu Gule and Prof Lehana Thabane. The entire Department of Statistical Sciences at UCT – staff and students – also deserves a special mention.

Today he makes a big contribution as a researcher, but also as an academic.  He is passionate about postgraduate training in statistics and biostatistics. ‘I supervise postgraduates and provide mentorship to young colleagues.  I also pursue these interests through my activities in the National Graduate Academy for Mathematical and Statistical Sciences (NGA-MaSS) where I am a member of the executive committee. NGA-MaSS has a mandate to train postgraduates in mathematics and statistics in South Africa, especially those in academia.’

Not only is Assoc Prof Gumedze a NITheCS Associate, but he was a member of the SA Department of Science and Technology Expert Working Group on Reconfiguration and Restructuring of the National Institute of Theoretical Physics that established NITheCS.

His scholarship has been recognised by research funding awards from the NRF and the Academy of Medical Sciences, UK. He was a recipient of the Newton Advanced Fellowship and has a C1 researcher rating from the NRF. His increasing international reputation is witnessed by being elected to the Executive Board of the International Biometric Society for two terms (2015-2018 and 2019-2022 – as the only member from Sub-Saharan Africa). He has been a member of the executive committee of the South African Statistical Association.

Advice for young researchers and students

Does Assoc Prof Gumedze have advice for young scientists?  He says one should see marathon running as a metaphor for the young researcher or student. ‘Running teaches you discipline and resilience. You realise that things don’t come easily. You have to train and you have to make sacrifices. You have to endure discomfort and expect adversity.’

He continues: ‘You can’t train for a marathon in two weeks, and you can’t acquire a complex skill in a few weeks either. The aim of learning and training is to develop the mental and physical adaptations that will allow you to perform.’