Frank Tanser

Infectious disease epidemiologist Professor Frank Tanser’s career has focused on understanding the space-time evolution of infectious disease epidemics. He has developed novel ways of harnessing spatial information from communities to measure the population-level impacts of interventions. His work published in Science provided the first robust evidence of an HIV treatment-as-prevention effect in a rural sub-Saharan African context and had wide-reaching and rapid policy impacts.

Frank holds Masters degrees from Imperial College London and Rhodes University and a doctorate from UKZN. He is currently Professor of Epidemiology in the College of Health Sciences at UKZN, and holds an honorary professorship at University College London (UCL). He has served as a consultant and advisor to several high-profile organisations including the Mailman School of Public Health, USAID, the Futures Group International and UNAIDS. He currently serves on the board of The Lancet HIV and is a member of the International Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee to the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michele Sidibé.

Frank has published over 140 papers in high-ranking international journals and his research has been cited over 10 000 times. He has been the recipient of numerous scientific grants and has raised over R550-million (approximately $55-million) in external research funding to date.  He was a founder member of the Africa Centre for Population Health in 1998, and was responsible for building Africa’s first comprehensive population-based GIS system at the Centre. The resulting work has since achieved international recognition for its major insights into the epidemiology of HIV in a hyper-endemic rural African context.

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Frank Tanser

Tanser Group

The Tanser research group at AHRI does work in the areas of population health intervention research, geospatial epidemiology of infectious disease and use of big-data for epidemiological application. Frank’s group is particularly interested in developing and testing HIV interventions that target the most vulnerable populations such as young women, highly mobile individuals and persons living in so-called HIV ‘hot-spots’ (communities characterised by high levels of HIV-incidence).

Frank is currently Principle Investigator of five large studies based at AHRI:

  1. Funded by the NIH (R01 grant), in collaboration with Professor Till Bärnighausen, this study seeks to understand the long-term effects of the ART scale-up on HIV incidence and HIV-related mortality in a hyper-endemic rural South African population.
  2. Frank’s Royal Society Newton Advanced Fellowship work in collaboration with Professor Andrew Phillips at University College London aims to use mathematical modelling to establish the optimal HIV combination prevention strategies in rural hyper-endemic populations.
  3. A second NIH R01 large-scale intervention study in collaboration with Professor Bärnighausen will test the provision of a financial incentive-based intervention to get more men into HIV care with a view to ultimately reducing the unacceptably high level of new HIV infection in young women.
  4. A study funded by the NIH which seeks to quantify the level of urogenital schistosomiasis and HIV co-infection among adults in a rural population.
  5. Together with Dr Maryam Shahmanesh Frank leads EPIC-HIV, a project to develop a tablet-based application to support HIV testing.

He has a keen interest in the use of big-data for epidemiological application and together with colleagues at the University of Washington he is putting together a funding application to use cellphone based GPS traces together with phylogenetic and HIV surveillance data to fundamentally redefine the role of population mobility in the acquisition and transmission of HIV in hyperendemic, rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa.

Meet the Team

Thulile Mathenjwa - Tanser Group

Thulile Mathenjwa

Research Study Coordinator

Thulile Mathenjwa has a background in nursing and holds a Masters in Population Studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She is currently coordinating the HITS study that looks at whether giving a financial incentive together with an HIV decision support for men will reduce HIV viral load in the community and reduce mortality in men, as well as reduce new HIV infections in young women.

Alain Vandormael - Tanser Group

Alain Vandormael

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Alain Vandormael was awarded his PhD in Sociology and MSc in Statistics from the University of Minnesota, USA. His PhD examined the preventive and survival benefits of antiretroviral (ART) use in the AHRI study area of Somkhele, northern KwaZulu-Natal. Alain is interested in understanding why some HIV prevention strategies are falling short, and providing insight into how these strategies can be optimized in the future.

Andrew Tomita - Tanser Group

Andrew Tomita

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Andrew Tomita was awarded his PhD from Columbia University. His research interest is in social epidemiology, focusing on health services strengthening and social determinants of HIV, TB and mental health in sub-Saharan Africa. Andrew is also a research associate at the UKZN Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform.

Hae-Young Kim  - Tanser Group

Hae-Young Kim

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Hae-Young was awarded her PhD in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in the USA. Her PhD work examined patients' preferences and cost-effectiveness for preventive therapies among HIV-positive pregnant women in South Africa. Hae-Young is interested in implementing HIV and TB interventions in the most effective and acceptable ways to patients, and evaluating the population impact of such interventions in sub-Saharan Africa.

Armstrong Dzomba - Tanser Group

Armstrong Dzomba

PhD Student

Armstrong Dzomba is an AHRI PhD student (Public Health Medicine). He holds an MA degree in Population Studies and Demography from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. With a strong orientation in social demography, he is interested in HIV research including social determinants for infectious disease epidemiology and HIV intervention research.

Jahvaid Hammujuddy - Tanser Group

Jahvaid Hammujuddy

PhD Student

Jahvaid Hammujuddy is pursuing a PhD in statistical epidemiology. He also lectures in Statistics in the School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has supervised Honours and Master’s projects on GLMMs applied to Health Sciences, and co-supervised topics in Financial Statistics.

Sipho Zulu  - Tanser Group

Sipho Zulu

PhD Student

Sipho Zulu's PhD research focuses on the geographical distribution of Schistosomiasis-HIV coinfection and public health outcomes in the adult population in Hlabisa sub-district. He has research interests in parasites’ biology and distribution, parasitology coinfections as well as water and sanitation.

Adam Akullian  - Tanser Group

Adam Akullian

Research Collaborator

Adam Akullian is a postdoctoral fellow at the Gates-Funded Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM). As a member of IDM’s research team, Adam focuses on spatial, mathematical, and epidemiological modeling of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa with the goal of informing effective public health interventions. He is also Affiliate Assistant Professor in the Department of Global Health at the University of Washington in Seattle. Adam has a PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Washington and an Sc.B in Environmental Science from Brown University.

Adrian Dobra - Tanser Group

Adrian Dobra

Research Collaborator

Adrian Dobra is a data scientist whose methodological research focuses on the development of high-dimensional multivariate spatiotemporal models, on variable and model selection, and on graphical models. His current interests are related to human mobility and migration based on geolocated temporal data recorded by wearable sensors embedded in smartphones, and on unsolicited geotagged social media data. He is an Associate Professor at the University of Washington.

Benn Sartorius  - Tanser Group

Benn Sartorius

Research Collaborator

Benn Sartorius is an associate professor in Public Health Medicine at UKZN. His work focusses on spatial-temporal analysis of disease and mortality as well as associated determinants using advanced spatial statistics and modelling frameworks. At AHRI he is involved in a NIH R01 project ‘Can HIV Hot-Spots be eradicated? An intervention to decrease HIV transmission to young women in rural KwaZulu-Natal’. Benn also co-supervises PhD candidates with Prof Frank Tanser.

Diego Cuadros - Tanser Group

Diego Cuadros

Research Collaborator

Diego Cuadros is an Assistant Professor from the Department of Geography and Geographical Information Science at the University of Cincinnati, USA. He earned his PhD in Biology at the University of Kentucky. His research focuses on understanding the spatial patterns of geographical distribution of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C virus. Diego is currently working with Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), investigating the drivers of the geographical distribution of HIV infection in South Africa.

Selected Recent Publications

Tanser F, Vandormael A, Cuadros D, Phillips A, de Oliveira T, Tomita A, Bärnighausen T, Pillay D. (2017). Effect of population viral load on prospective HIV incidence in a hyper-endemic rural African community. Science Translational Medicine; In press.

Akullian A, Bershteyn A, Klein D, Vandormael A, Bärnighausen T, Tanser F. (2017). Sexual partnership age-pairings and risk of HIV acquisition in rural South Africa: a population-based cohort study. AIDS; 31(12).

Dobra A, Barnighausen T, Vandormael A, Tanser F. (2017). Space-time migration patterns and risk of HIV acquisition in rural South Africa. AIDS; 31(1): 137-45.

Tanser F, Bärnighausen T, Grapsa E, Zaidi J, Newell M-L. (2013). High coverage of ART associated with decline in risk of HIV acquisition in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Science; 339(6122): 966-71.

Tanser F, Bärnighausen T, Hund L, Garnett GP, McGrath N, Newell M-L. (2011). Effect of concurrent sexual partnerships on rate of new HIV infections in a high-prevalence, rural South African population: a cohort study. The Lancet; 378(9787): 247-55.