Disease syndemics in sub-Saharan Africa

Updated: about 2 months ago
Deadline: ;

Are you interested in the interaction between different diseases? Are you enthusiastic about disease epidemiology in Sub-Sharan Africa? Please apply at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

We are looking for a PhD candidate for the project Disease syndemics in Sub-Sharan Africa.

FTE: 1 - 1

Job description

Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a double burden of disease with an ever-high prevalence of infectious diseases and a rapidly increasing incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The co-occurrence of multiple diseases can lead to a syndemic, which is defined as a “synergistic interaction between diseases shaped by structural factors (sociocultural, economic, environmental, geographical) leading to exacerbated morbidity and mortality”. Unfortunately, the impact of these structural factors on disease-disease interactions is often not recognized, as disease control programs still mostly use vertical/disease-specific approaches. This severely hinders a proper syndemic response, leading to insufficient reduction of the burden and improvement of clinical outcomes of the diseases involved.

Co-occurrence of diseases is common in Sub-Saharan countries, and often evolve around HIV disease. The co-occurrence of HIV and tuberculosis (TB) is widespread, while HIV disease increasingly co-occurs with NCDs like diabetes and hypertension. However, in neither situation is there a clear strategy to identify the structural factors that drive the potential synergistic effects between the diseases. Moreover, overlapping structural factors of an HIV-TB and an HIV-NCD syndemic could well be present, which would have a major influence on intervention targets of disease control programs.

The PhD project studies two potential syndemics around HIV-disease in sub-Saharan Africa. The first syndemic concerns HIV and tuberculosis, for which the core data derive from multiple national tuberculosis prevalence surveys conducted in the last ten years. The second syndemic concerns HIV, hypertension, and diabetes, for which data from an ongoing household survey in Eswatini are available. For both situations the structural factors that drive the syndemic will be identified and described. These structural factors are compared between the two syndemics to identify potential overlap. An important part of the PhD project concerns the methodological approach to analyze syndemics, as there is an ongoing debate on how structural factors need to be represented in statistical models that describe a syndemic.

Your duties
Your main activities in this PhD project are: 

  • coordinate and carry out the research activities
  • write scientific articles in English for international peer-reviewed journals 
  • develop an appropriate dissemination strategy for professionals and the lay-public 
  • maintain good communication between all project partners
  • contribute to teaching activities of the Department of Health Sciences 

  • you have a Master-degree in Epidemiology, Health Sciences, Social Sciences, Infectious diseases, or another relevant field
  • you have a C-1 proficiency in English 
  • you have relevant experience in quantitative data analysis techniques, which you are willing to expand 
  • you have affinity with exploring social determinants of health 
  • you have good communication and organizational skills 
  • you have good intercultural awareness 
  • you are able to work in diverse research teams 

What are we offering?

A challenging position in a socially involved organization. The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel and amounts €2,541 (PhD) per month during the first year and increases to €3,247 (PhD) per month during the fourth year, based on a full-time employment. The job profile: is based on the university job ranking system and is vacant for 1 FTE.

The appointment will initially be for 1 year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a duration of 4 years.
Additionally, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers excellent fringe benefits and various schemes and regulations to promote a good work/life balance, such as:

  • a maximum of 41 days of annual leave based on full-time employment
  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus
  • solid pension scheme (ABP)
  • a wide range of sports facilities which staff may use at a modest charge 
  • contribution to commuting expenses
  • space for personal development

About Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. We strive to be a university where personal development and commitment to society play a leading role. A university where people from different disciplines and backgrounds collaborate to achieve innovations and to generate new knowledge. Our teaching and research encompass the entire spectrum of academic endeavor – from the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 26,000 students. We employ over 4,600 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible and located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

We are an inclusive university community. Diversity is one of our most important values. We believe that engaging in international activities and welcoming students and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds enhances the quality of our education and research. We are always looking for people who can enrich our world with their own unique perspectives and experiences.

The Faculty of Science
The Faculty of Science inspires researchers and students to find sustainable solutions for complex societal issues. From forest fires to big data, from obesity to medicines and from molecules to the moon: our teaching and research programmes cover the full spectrum of the natural sciences. We share knowledge and experience with leading research institutes and industries, both here in the Netherlands and abroad.

Working at the Faculty of Science means working with students, PhD candidates and researchers, all with a clear focus on their field and a broad view of the world. We employ more than 1,250 staff members, and we are home to around 11,000 students.

About the department

You work at the Department of Health Sciences. This department harbours a diverse team of researchers and educators which provides a professional and exciting work environment. You will collaborate with researchers outside the department both nationally and internationally. The work environment provides ample opportunities for personal and professional growth


Are you interested in this position? Please apply via the application button and upload your curriculum vitae and cover letter until


. The job interviews are planned for the week of 13/02/2023, when possible please take this into account when applying for the position.

Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

Vacancy questions
If you have any questions regarding this vacancy, you may contact:

Name: Dr. Frank van Leth
Position: Associate Professor
E-mail: f.c.m.vanleth@vu.nl
Telephone: 020-598 1850

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