Justice Aheto, Researcher in Childhood Malnutrition

NameJustice Moses Kwaku Aheto

Job Title: PhD Candidate (Statistics, Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Public Health)

Organisation: Lancaster University

Number of years in current position: 3 years

Qualifications: MSc Statistics with Applications in Medicine, BSc Statistics and HND Statistics.

Briefly describe the organisation you work for. 

I am with the CHICAS research group (Combining Health Information, Computation and Statistics) based at Lancaster Medical School. The group is made up of Statisticians and Epidemiologists with the main research focus on the development and application of novel statistical and epidemiological methods underpinned by mathematical modelling to solving substantial research problems in population health sciences. The group also train researchers at the interface between statistics and population health sciences and collaborate with researchers in biomedical and health sciences.

Explain what you do on an average day at work. 

For the past 3 years and on a daily basis, I have mainly concentrated on analysing childhood malnutrition prevalence and its determinants among under-five children in Ghana using advanced statistical models. I am also an Associate Lecturer teaching modules in Mathematics and Statistics in the department of Mathematics and Statistics at Lancaster University.

Specifically, the aim of my research is to know the reasons why some children might be malnourished and the reasons why others might not and what can be done to address this. To answer this all important global public health problem, I develop and apply multilevel, spatial, spatio-temporal and multivariate response multilevel models to investigate major risk factors that affect children’s nutrition.  I also look at whether the household in which a child resides substantially affects his nutritional status; whether residing in a certain geographical area increases the risk of childhood malnutrition or not; and over time, how the geographical differences in the risk of childhood malnutrition is evolving over Ghana.

The findings from this study are intended to help policymakers responsible for the health and nutrition of children to design efficient public health and targeted nutrition intervention strategies.  This is amidst scarce public health resources available in Ghana and aims to better understand, target and to reduce childhood malnutrition prevalence.

My work also involves presenting findings from my study to other researchers in statistics, biomedical and population health sciences at research forums and conferences.

In November 2015, I won a national TakeAIM Prize in the United Kingdom based on my PhD Research because my work was singled out for its potential impact in the study of child malnutrition.  

You can read more about my work at Lancaster.  

What do you like most about your job?

If you ask me this question 1000 times, I will always have one answer and the same answer and that answer is ‘The Hard Fact: Evidence Based Decision Making’. This gives me the power to advocate for policy changes in governments and the society in general. This is what I like most about my job because mathematical modelling gives me the needed tools to study a particular situation by gathering the needed data, analysing it, obtaining evidence and disseminating the evidence gathered for informed policy decision making. There is an old adage that says that ‘If you can’t measure, you can’t manage’ which fits very well into my job. We can all agree that our needs and wants are unlimited but we have limited resources to meet them, thus we must learn to measure in order to learn how to manage the little resources we have for our survival.

What stimulated your interest in maths, and when?

My interest in Maths can be traced as far back as my primary school days where I always challenged my maths teachers on mathematical subjects because I like solving maths problems in class as well as teaching my classmates on the blackboard, even in the presence of our maths teacher when I was 8 years old and I was always the first in class during maths exams.

However, I developed an endless interest in maths when I started my Senior High School where I did Maths as an elective subject. During this period, we sometimes needed to formulate real-life problems into mathematical thinking (equations) and I found the areas for such applications fascinating and I love such problem solving skills/techniques. This is how it all started. Ever since, I use maths in my everyday life to help myself and society and I can tell you that the bed on which I sleep is maths, the food I eat is maths, the water I drink is maths and my life is all about maths.

What influenced your career choice?

My choice was highly driven by Statistics, Biostatistics, Public health and epidemiology. I have a passion to use my expertise to help vulnerable groups of people in our society and that is one of the main reasons I opted for this career. In other words, I am in this career to serve as a voice for the voiceless in society so I can fight for the good of the society through evidence based policy decision making processes. As a result, I have mainly concentrated on medical and health research and general research. I am also a lecturer teaching in mathematics and statistics so I can impart my knowledge positively to younger people who wish to study mathematical related subjects and to develop their career in maths.

Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job? 

Sound mathematical and analytical background, ability to adapt easily and swiftly to job related changes (e.g. new mathematical methodologies, statistical software packages, etc.), ability to clearly define goals and set deadlines, good consultancy, communication and presentation skills, good time management, multi-tasking and ability to overcome job related problems, interpersonal relationship and self-motivation.

Any advice you may have for other individuals considering your career path?

To those considering a career in mathematics, I can tell you without any reservation that the whole world is full of mathematics and the opportunities that exist within a mathematical career are enormous and so considering a career in mathematics will be one of the greatest things which will ever happen in your life.

The use of mathematics has profound consequences in all walks of life and the crucial role that mathematics will increasingly continue to play in all aspects of our lives should encourage you to enter a mathematical career.  Since starting my mathematical career, I have worked in several organizations (both public and private) and provided consultancy services to both local and international organizations (e.g. UNDP-Ghana office, ILO-Geneva office, African Development Bank, etc.) and I have made and keep making great professional friends globally. 

Also, there are several mathematical related professional associations or societies globally whose core aim is to exchange mathematical ideas with various stake holders and to help new people entering the mathematical career succeed in their career path so at anytime, you are not alone but there are experienced personnel always willing to listen and to help you in your mathematical career journey.

Your future career plans.

Presently, my main focus is mathematical modelling of under-five child malnutrition to inform policy decisions at governmental and non-governmental levels in order to reduce the malnutrition prevalence which contributes to 40% of under-five child mortality in Ghana. In the near future, I have planned to apply the mathematical models I have developed to other substantial medical and health problems and to continue teaching in mathematics and statistics at the university. I am also a statistical consultant so I will continue with consultancy services. I have also planned to devote my time to promoting mathematics globally so as to bring out the critical role that mathematics plays and will increasingly play in all aspects of our lives.

Have you ever regretted choosing this mathematical career? 

I have never regretted my decision and I will always be in this career. Also, one added advantage of belonging to a mathematical career is that it is easy to change from mathematical career to other careers with ease but the opposite is not the same.