In keeping with the tradition of recognizing its outstanding graduating students and exemplary faculty, the Department of Community Health and Behavioral Sciences at Makerere University School of Public Health held a happy hour dinner to celebrate and welcome Dr. Dathan Byonanebye on Tuesday, October 19, at Stonehaven Restaurant & Winery along plot 8 Malcolm X Ave., Kampala.
In 2019, Dr. Dathan Mirembe Byonanebye was fortunate to receive the Scientia Scholarship, enabling him to undertake a Ph.D. in medicine at the University of New South Wales. He enrolled in and successfully completed his studies at the Kirby Institute under the guidance of Professors Kathy Petoumenos, Matthew Law, and Mark Pollizotto. His doctoral research focused on examining the relationship between the utilization of integrase inhibitors (INSTIs) and tenofovir alafenamide (TAF) in relation to the occurrence of dyslipidaemia and hypertension.
“During the Ph.D. programme, I acquired three important skills that are critical for the next phase of my career. I acquired skills in biostatistics, and I can now independently conduct statistical analyses and design methods for statistical analyses. I also acquired critical appraisal and scientific writing skills. I published all my PhD thesis chapters (first and corresponding author on three papers: AIDS, HIV Medicine, and PLoS One). I am also the first and corresponding author on my last thesis chapter paper that is under review in the Lancet HIV. I developed a deeper understanding of the potential metabolic effects of contemporary antiretroviral regimens,” says Dr. Byonanebye.
With a growing HIV population facing aging challenges and mounting evidence indicating a potential link between contemporary antiretroviral agents and heightened hypertension rates, Dathan's current research emphasis centers on exploring the viability of mitigating cardiovascular risks in individuals living with HIV.
Like many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda has made substantial advancements in combating the HIV epidemic. However, the forthcoming challenge lies in delivering antiretroviral therapy (ART) amid an aging population characterized by elevated cardiovascular risk and numerous comorbidities. Effectively incorporating the treatment of non-communicable diseases into established HIV programs necessitates a paradigm shift, expanding program objectives to encompass the concept of "healthy aging."
“My long-term career aim includes “health aging” in people with HIV, and I am keen to collaborate and engage in research that will inform this change. I look forward to using the skills I acquired during the PhD to support graduate training in the department and offer supervisory support to students.”
Dr. S.P. Sebina Kibira, a senior lecturer in the department, extended hearty congratulations to Dr. Byonanebye, expressing both delight and initial concerns about his return. He noted that the department was excited to welcome him back.
“We are extremely happy because we have had this experience before with somebody who left and never came back, so we thought, Oh my god, he has come in, then he is signing out, and we are not like this here, but for me, I am extremely excited to have you back, but also thank you for continuing to support the department while you are away. That was very good. Supporting the students, waking up, and staying up late for concept presentations and proposals is a very good thing. You stay with the family, and for me, I must say that's a very good gesture that we had to work with you, although not in person,” Dr. Kibira said.
On her part, Dr. Christine K. Nalwadda, Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Community Health and Behavioral Sciences, extended gratitude to Dathan, saying, "We are here to say congratulations. It's a journey; yes, it’s not an easy journey, but when we see you through, we are filled with a lot of excitement. Let me say congratulations on this."
Dr. Christopher Garimoi Orach, a professor in the department, praised Dathan for remembering to return to the close-knit family of the Department of Community Health and Behavioral Sciences, citing that the success of the department is attributed to transparent and open communication within that has since fostered a supportive family environment.
He expressed pride in the growth of the department, encouraging Dathan to contribute to the strengthening of the unit, especially in the nutrition sector, further noting that his diverse talents in clinical, epidemiological, and non-communicable disease areas are very critical.
“These internal characteristics of the family is something that you grow into as a member of the family. I want to say, Dathan, that when somebody goes out into some area that is like a greener pasture, people have concerns about whether they will indeed look back into the less green pastures that they have left, and moreover, you went there at a time when we had just started to harvest from you. You had just been recruited, and for a short time you were going away for studies, and that generated some debate, by the way,” said Prof. Orach.
With the attainment of a Ph.D., Professor Orach emphasizes the increased responsibility for mentorship, especially towards graduate students, and participation in various activities such as grant writing. He applauded Dr. Byonanebye for his commitment right back home.
”That you came back home is the spirit that we would like to thank you for and applaud. Much has been invested in you, let's say by the university; it could be by the family; was it Phyllis who said, Now you have the driving permit. You have a greater responsibility for mentorship. A bigger responsibility, especially the mentorship we are talking about, is that of the graduate student, and after a few years, you will start supervising PhDs. So, this lot of mentorship of colleagues has been bestowed upon you by virtue of this qualification, and so, I think to me, this is really the kind of responsibility you should now begin to prepare for, that you necessarily will be expected to do more,” he added.
Agnes Nyabigambo, a PhD student and Research Associate in the Department, expressed joy at Dathan's return, expressing hopes for future collaborations and shared successes.
”We were in the same boat. You've checked out of the boat. We are still sailing in the same boat, but hopefully we'll be out of it. You've truly been an inspiration; we’ve been reading your publications, your hard work, and your perseverance. Well done, and congratulations!”
Dr. Justine Bukenya expressed the department's joy at Dathan's return, highlighting the challenges of managing teaching responsibilities and expressing gratitude for Dathan's valuable online support for students. According to her, Dathan's swift engagement upon his return, actively participating in panels, and providing crucial assistance to students is highly commendable.
She also acknowledged Dathan's unique ability to inspire struggling students, stating, "Some students are really, you know, you're like, but there's a way you handle them and you restore hope in such students, so I congratulate you for that." Reflecting on their shared experience in Australia, she humorously noted, "I was in Australia from 2005 to 2007. So, we are going to join our alumni, the Aussie alumni."
A public health fellow, Dr. Arthur Bagonza, too, took a moment to extend his congratulations to Dathan, He humorously reflected, "During COVID, when I would see Dathan on the forum, I would think this man was just relaxing on us. It would be too much, and you know, when you post and no one is responding, it just becomes stressful. I had to endeavor to engage him because I knew what you were going through."
Reflecting on the challenges of pursuing a Ph.D., Dr. Phyllis Awor, a lecturer and researcher in the Department of Community Health and Behavioural Sciences, emphasized the importance of celebrating the completion of this often uncertain journey. She explained, "You see why everyone is here? It's because they understand those problems of PhDs, and they, including myself, take every slight opportunity to celebrate it seriously because it's such an unclear journey."
Dr. Awor acknowledged the difficulty of the process but noted its ultimate rewards, stating, "This stuff is hard, but it's fun, and it's rewarding." She playfully likened completing a Ph.D. to obtaining a driving license, saying, "You now have your driving license. Now you've actually finished that driving test business, and you are now landing on the road. Now you're free, and nobody's going to tell you to go here or there. It's up to you to decide where you want to go. So, just drive and enjoy the drive; that's what I have to say."
Ms. Florence Basiimwa Tushemerirwe, a research associate in the department, expressed gratitude for Dathan's commitment to completing his course and acknowledged his support for the students during his time away. Looking ahead, Ms. Tushemerirwe stated, "I look forward to working with you. We know that you expanded the network at those ends, so we hope to catch up with you, partner with you, engage in partnerships with your university and advance."
Written by Davidson Ndyabahika & Julius T. Mugagga