Tackling Infections to Benefit Africa Initiative Visits Ingwavuma

Tackling Infections to Benefit Africa Initiative Visits Ingwavuma
The TIBA SA team and stakeholders after a successful community meeting.

The College of Health Sciences’ Tackling Infections to Benefit Africa (TIBA) initiative hosted a community meeting in Ingwavuma in northern KwaZulu-Natal to report on achievements in the past year.

Launched two years ago, the initiative is part of a multidisciplinary research programme involving nine African countries, including South Africa, collaborating with the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom to tackle infectious diseases.

Project leader, UKZN’s public health Professor Moses Chimbari met representatives of the district’s traditional leadership, the Department of Health, the Department of Social Development, the local municipality, primary schools and learners.

The meeting aimed to assess the progress and impact of the project while learners competed for a floating trophy and a prize for the best drama production on the subject of schistosomiasis.

‘The purpose of TIBA is mainly to combat diseases in Africa and the aims of the meeting were to thank the community for the support, report back on progress since 2019 and explain the future projects linked to the initiative,’ said Chimbari.

Chimbari and specialist in Parasitology at UKZN’s School of Life Sciences Professor Samson Mukaratirwa have done research on bilharzia and malaria in Ingwavuma since 2014 under the auspices of the Malaria and Bilharzia in Southern Africa (Masbisa) campaign.

TIBA SA implements the Eco-health concept, which emphasises community/stakeholder participation. The Ingwavuma Community has been empowered through the participation of the Community Advisory Board (CAB) led by Nduna John Khumalo and Community Research Assistants (CRA).

Chimbari presented the project’s key research outcomes, objectives and the interpretation of the results, going on to explain that the lower number of infected children was the result of persistent drought in the area, emphasising there should be no complacency over this as the situation was likely to change when the rains came.

Chimbari said that TIBA’s work had contributed to the international approach in tackling schistosomiasis and praised the input of local councillors. ‘Our contribution to community education assists the Department of Health. Capacity building in this area includes four PhD students, the training of community research assistants and now we have extended our work to the rest of KwaZulu-Natal.’

He said there was a project in the pipeline that would upgrade resources for community care givers, providing them with tablets and an app to collect data.

‘The project expanded at the beginning of this year to cover the entire province. This will help us in assessing the situation in KwaZulu-Natal and also contribute to baseline data on children under five years old ahead of the planned mass drug administration.’ 

Khumalo thanked TIBA on behalf of CAB, emphasising the need for community participation and encouraged people to go to clinics and to keep healthy. He also thanked the team for the good work done in the area.

The Ubuciko Art group presented an Mfundisi drama on TIBA’s 2019 results which revealed the number of children tested and treated for schistosomiasis and the different projects undertaken.

Department of Health representatives thanked the traditional authority and the community for allowing TIBA projects in their area and the initiative personnel for solution-focused research.

‘Since TIBA arrived in 2014 they have assisted in addressing the parasitic worm infections. Currently we are facing a malaria challenge and hope they can assist,’ said Khumalo.

Chimbari informed the community that TIBA would cease operations this year but there were plans to find more resources to continue with projects underway in Ingwavuma.

Two doctoral candidates and three master’s students completed their degrees under the umbrella of the Mabisa project while two PhD candidates earned their degrees through TIBA.

There are currently five postdoctoral fellows, five PhD candidates and three master’s students involved in research projects in the area.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied

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Data Analytics Training Workshop for Teachers

Data Analytics Training Workshop for Teachers
Teachers attending a training session in statistics and data analysis at UKZN in preparation for the second round of the eThekwini Municipal Maths and Science Olympiad.

A training workshop was held at UKZN’s Data Science for Business computer laboratory for teachers involved in the second round of the eThekwini Municipal Maths and Science Olympiad (EMMSO).

The first round of the Olympiad took place at the KwaMashu Community Hall with teams comprising learners from 30 schools. The 15 top achiever school teams were then chosen for round 2.

EMMSO is run by the Organisation of Mathematics Education in Disadvantaged Schools (OMEDS) whose CEO, Mr Scelo Bhengu, approached the Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, Professor Delia North, to support the project.

Having previously met North in 2006 when she was the master trainer for the Stats SA Maths4Stats project, a teacher-training campaign, Bhengu said: ‘Prof North is very passionate about Statistics, hence I decided to partner with her in this programme. Without her I don’t think we would have got this far.’

Bhengu had been one of a team of 26 South African teachers that North led at the 7th International Conference on Teaching Statistics (ICOTS7) in Brazil in 2007. This followed North being on the team that defined the Statistics content of the School’s curriculum and her role as trainer of the team that returned from ICOTS7 where Bhengu says he developed his appreciation of data handling and probability concepts.

‘In the first round of the competition, learners are encouraged to get to know their schools better,’ said Bhengu. ‘This is done through surveys about their school and a presentation, while in the second round, learners are tasked with conducting a study on their communities and giving a presentation. In the third, and final, round learners are required to get information about their municipalities from the Library, StatsSA and other resources made available to them.’

The training session for teachers aimed to equip those from the schools which made it through the first round with tools they would need to tackle the second round. The teachers were shown how to access the relevant Stats SA website, download data for their community and also how to plot graphs on whatever topic they were interested in.

Said North at the opening workshop: ‘When Scelo told me about the project, I immediately saw the potential. It is a great platform to inform learners about data science and to advocate for further studies in STEM areas in general,’ she said.

Academics from the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science supported the initiative by providing the teachers with relevant data training, which will be of great value to them, even beyond the competition.

‘It is such a pleasure to work with teachers like Scelo Bhengu, who is so motivated to make a difference to learners from schools in less affluent areas, but equally, it is extremely inspiring to work with staff from the Statistics sector of UKZN, where everyacademic in the Discipline volunteered when I asked for helpers,’ North said.

UKZN Statisticians, Ms Nombuso Zondo and Ms Danielle Roberts were the major drivers of the training session, thus giving an indication that the young staff are ready and able to be role models for the next generation of data analysts. Roberts said the event was a big success, with the teachers being very enthusiastic and engaged. ‘They learned a lot,’ she said, ‘not only in terms of accessing the data, but also about trying to think about how the data can be used to answer important questions about their communities.’

The teachers were also given a Microsoft Excel crash course to assist them with further summary and display of data.

Delegate, Ms Nokulunga Sibiya of Nhlanhlayethu Secondary School said she had gained knowledge that would assist her in the competition and got insight into what was happening in her ward, school and municipality. ‘The speakers were knowledgeable, and I was grateful for the opportunity to be here,’ she said.

Sponsors of the competition were UKZN, eThekwini Municipality, Coca-Cola and Casio.

Teachers expressed their delight with the UKZN branded gifts and laminated posters and pamphlets received by all 180 learners and the 30 teachers who took part in the first round, while those attending the workshop each got an 8-gig flash drive with data sets downloaded at the workshop.

Networking took place over light refreshments.

Words: Samantha Ngcongo

Photographs: Mzimasi Hloba

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Psychosocial Needs of Women in Informal Settlements: Creating a Humanities Agenda During and Post COVID-19

Psychosocial Needs of Women in Informal Settlements: Creating a Humanities Agenda During and Post COVID-19
Professor Nirmala Devi Gopal.

- By Professor Nirmala Devi Gopal

COVID-19 is an unexpected virus with unprecedented consequences that has rocked and shocked the global community.

Global and national television as well as alternate news media provide daily and sometimes hourly updates on infection and death rates, while South Africa’s COVID-19 National Command Council relays regular daily reports with information reduced to its lowest common denominators such as the sex, numbers and tangible geographic locations of those who succumb to the virus. This detailed mode of reporting although unprecedented is germane and proper for our democracy.

Now is probably a good time to generate a South African sense of belonging as the virus shows no discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or geographic location.

Yet understandably, global and national public discourse on the coronavirus concentrates on a medical model of intervention which risks discounting the psychosocial impacts of the virus on the poor and other vulnerable communities, including women living in underprivileged communities and, for the purpose of this opinion piece, in informal settlements.

Women in these settlements, like other individuals, are required by law to exercise social distancing in the limited physical space available to them. This is in addition to roles they have to play such as managing how their children practice social distancing in confined spaces where communal living is the norm as well as being essential for survival.

On 5 April the following headline appeared in an IOL news report by Karishma Dipa: Living Through a Coronavirus Pandemic: Moms Anxious about their Children's Welfare. One of the mothers interviewed was quoted as saying: ‘Members of my large family are always asking to hold and play with my baby but they don’t wash their hands as often as they should and it is difficult to keep a safe distance from them.

‘Their casual approach to the pandemic could result in them contracting the virus and then infecting me and my daughter. The lockdown has been very stressful for me because most of the people in my village have not been taking it seriously enough.’

Similar sentiments on social distancing were expressed in the following tweet on 4 April from President Cyril Ramaphosa: ‘The @UN are aware of specific spatial challenges in Africa that make isolation and distancing difficult.’ pic.twitter.com/4Vz7EN6LOO — Cyril Ramaphosa (@CyrilRamaphosa) (Eye Witness News April 4, 2020. 

A coronavirus report in the Daily Maverick online news service stated: ‘Shack settlements are places in which life has never been confined to the indoors. People go out, share bathrooms and need time out on the street. Imported solutions designed for elite and middle-class areas cannot be imposed in these settlements, especially if the objective is to improve health in body and mind.’

Yet many in the rest of the world seem to believe that life during the pandemic is equal for all South Africans. It appears that mothers believe the woes of parenting are universal, ignoring the depressed socio-economic circumstances of the majority. Many believe that sympathising with the cause of women in informal settlements during COVID-19 implies they understand their plight.

Those with unlimited data and Wi-Fi access express pity and believe they are have contributed to the daily struggles of vulnerable women.

This is foolhardy. Unless you have walked the journey of the disadvantaged and poor you cannot pretend to understand. Unless you have lived in or physically been in informal settlements or similar geographic spaces then it is improbable that you understand.

We cannot pretend that women living in informal settlements have the same concerns about their children’s education and facilities as those of their bourgeoisie counterparts when the most immediate focus of the underprivileged is on accessing clean running water and dignified sanitation.

COVID-19 has refocused us. We can no longer disregard the inequalities in South Africa. Yet our responses to COVID-19 remain bourgeoisie and medical.

Will the rest of the world, and Humanities academics in particular, ignore inequalities experienced by women living in informal and slum spaces or will we as an academic community stand up and be counted during this pandemic.

Will the virus coerce academics to reflect on ways to activate aggregate data sets collected from vulnerable communities for plausible community interventions? Have we reflected on aggregating data (previously generated for discipline specific purposes) to emerge with co-ordinated interventions that transcend beyond academic purposes such as attaining qualifications and producing publications? Is it possible that we can show our mettle by testing our individual level of care and commitment for those who have enabled us to have privileged lifestyles? Are we capable of suspending our own needs during these challenging times by investing our energies in bringing together Humanities researchers in a co-ordinated manner to give back to women (and others) in informal and vulnerable geographic spaces?

I was impressed and influenced by Rise - Episode 4 (SABC Education Shows): Informal Settlements, on SABC-TV where the following was expressed: ‘Living in an informal settlement is like being a soldier in a war. It is everyone’s problem and we can’t’ continue to ignore the settlements. They are a reflection of a failure of our society.’

International institutions recognise that ‘reaching out to friends and family is critical as well as paying attention to the impact our physical health can have on our mental health - from diet and exercise to getting enough natural light and a little fresh air.’ (BBC news 2 April, 2020). 

As humanities researchers and academics are we ready for this journey now and post coronavirus?

Are we able to transcend our interventions from talk shops to intervention ‘shops’?

My observation of the debates and discourse in South Africa about the COVID-19 pandemic is that there is little or no interest in borrowing best practices from countries which previously experienced and largely survived natural disasters.

Documented evidence demonstrates how these countries managed psychosocial impacts on vulnerable communities and women in slums and informal settlements.

I have also not seen any public reference to scientifically documented lessons from the psychosocial impact of the Spanish flu (1918), the Asian flu (1957), the Hong Kong flu (1968), the Russian flu (1997), and Swine flu (2009) which could be used to inform psychosocial interventions for vulnerable and unequal communities in South Africa.

The Economist magazine reminds us: ‘Suppression strategies (e.g. social distancing) may work for a while. But there needs to be an exit strategy.’

‘Give a voice to those less heard,’ are words from a report in the Guardian newspaper in England of 11 March, 2020, which should further remind us of the role we need to play during this calamity . Those less heard could very well be the Humanities nationally and internationally.

Humanities has the scientific power to achieve the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, these goals will be bereft of meaning unless we fulfil SDG 5: ‘Achieve gender equality and empowering all women and girls.’

The intention of this article is to stimulate debate on how academics and researchers in the Humanities can meaningfully contribute to ameliorating some of COVID-19’s psychosocial impact on women living in informal and other unequal geographic spaces by translating findings in their research into solutions.

UKZN’s Professor Nirmala Gopal is an academic activist on Human Rights and anti any form of oppression and discriminatory behaviour. 

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UKZN Drama Students Create COVID-19 Educational Video

UKZN Drama Students Create COVID-19 Educational Video
Performance Studies students showing off their COVID-19 video.Click here for isiZulu version

Drama and Performance Studies students have produced an informative and entertaining video about the COVID-19 virus that can be viewed on YouTube.

The three-and-a half minute video provides important information on how to guard against contracting the virus such as washing your hands for 20 seconds and sneezing or coughing into the crook of your elbow.

The six students involved - Mr Tshepang Sehlabaka, Ms Simamkele Sukanazo, Ms Samkelisiwe Ndimande, Ms Vukile Cebo Ngwenya, Mr Ayanda Jali and Ms Nompumelelo Moyo – devised a catchy song and dance routine for the video.

Lecturers Dr Miranda Young-Jahangeer and Ms Ongezwa Mbhele, who approached the honours students to conceptualise a performance on COVID-19, initiated this educational performance piece.

‘We wanted the students to use popular forms of theatre to convey information about the virus and what precautionary measures the public should be taking,’ said Mbhele. ‘The students engage rhythmically while incorporating sounds such as clapping and that in a sense encompasses the practice of applied theatre. The students studied this in their second year and were able to sort of put this module into practice by addressing social ills.’

Apart from highlighting precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus, the video also attempts to dispel misconceptions about COVID-19. ‘The video aims to create awareness of the pandemic but we also used current dance moves to lighten this very serious issue and to make it relevant for the youth,’ explained Jali.

The students created the performance piece a week before the national lockdown. ‘People have commended us for stepping forward and putting a creative spin on the issue. The video also encouraged others to start making clips about the issue,’ he said ‘We hope the video creates greater awareness and gets people to start taking the necessary precautions to flatten the curve.’

To watch the video, click here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eWTF_W9Pqc

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photographs: Miranda Young-Jahangeer

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“Big Brother” May Be Tracking You During the COVID-19 Pandemic!

“Big Brother” May Be Tracking You During the COVID-19 Pandemic!

Is the South African Government justified in monitoring your whereabouts during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The short answer is yes - if you are known to have COVID-19 or are reasonably suspected to have contracted it.

In a State of Disaster, in these unprecedented times, individual monitoring measures are both lawful and reasonable for the reasons set out below.

On 2 April 2020, amended regulations in terms of the Disaster Management Act were published in the Government Gazette No. 43199 - several important changes were promulgated. A full version is available here.

At the outset, it must be remembered that although everyone in South Africa has certain fundamental rights, such as the right to privacy and dignity, these rights may be validly limited in certain circumstances in terms of Section 36 of the Constitution. Thus it is clear, for example, that the rights to privacy and dignity are not absolute.

So when will Constitutional rights be justifiably limited? Briefly, by a law of general application and only to the extent that the limitation of rights is reasonable and justifiable in a democratic society. As noted by South Africa’s Constitutional Court,[1] determining whether a limitation is reasonable and justifiable involves a balancing of interests, sometimes referred to as an exercise in proportionality.[2] Several important Constitutional Court judgments, entire books, and many journal articles have been written on the topic of the limitation of rights and proportionality, however one must consider the following: What is the nature of the right being limited? What is the purpose of the limitation? What is the extent of the limitation? Is there a less restrictive means to achieve the purpose? Accordingly, each case will turn on its own unique facts.

This brings us back to current events. To help curb the spread of the coronavirus, the National Department of Health has developed the COVID-19 Tracing Database to track, trace and monitor individuals infected with the virus. The database needs to include ‘all information considered necessary for the contact tracing process to be effective’, including details of all those tested for COVID-19 including their first name and surname, identity or passport number, cell phone number(s), residential address (and other addresses where they can be traced), a copy of a photograph from an identity document, driver’s license and/or passport. Further, if a person tests positive, information about who they were in contact with must be added to the database.

In addition, in terms of Regulation 11H (10), the Director-General of Health may write to any electronic communications service provider to direct that it furnish any information it has regarding the location and/or movements of a person who has contracted COVID-19 – this data is often referred to as geolocation or location data. The Director-General of Health may also obtain this geolocation data in relation to anyone who is reasonably suspected to have come into contact with an infected person. This data may include any information the service provider has available to track location and movement. Before you scream foul; Regulation 11H (12) specifically states that government may not intercept electronic communication - in other words, government should not be intercepting your phone calls or reading your messages, but rather monitoring location data to curb the spread of the virus and to warn vulnerable people.

Further, in terms of Regulation 11H (14), retired former Constitutional Court judge, Justice Kate O’Regan has been appointed to oversee any data gathered from an electronic communications service provider, and will be provided with weekly reports. In terms of Regulation 11H (15) Justice O’Regan may make recommendations to Cabinet members regarding the amendment or enforcement of the regulations to safeguard the right to privacy.

Importantly, within six weeks after the declared State of Disaster has lapsed, all information gathered for the COVID-19 Tracing Database must be de-identified,[3] or destroyed. Also, once the disaster has ended, various reports and steps must be taken to protect citizens’ privacy - including taking recommendations from the designated judge, and to table a final report in Parliament.

With this in mind, is the limitation imposed by government on privacy and dignity reasonable and justifiable? In my view it is.

The law imposed that limits rights is one of general application; and all things considered, there does not appear to be a less restrictive means to achieve the goal within the context of South Africa’s limited resources, and considering the global disaster we are facing.

In South Africa there are millions of people living with HIV, and other complicated underlying health issues. Coupled with tremendous poverty and inequality in society, government must act swiftly and decisively to curb the spread of COVID-19. It is easy to comment from a position of privilege and bemoan the potentialinfringement to privacy or dignity; and to complain about our movement being restricted. However, considering the purpose of the limitation and the fact that the world has over a million cases and thousands of people are dying every day, there does not appear to be a less restrictive means to prevent the further spread of the virus in a country like South Africa.

Simply put, the needs of society as a whole must come before the interests of a single person.

What will the government use the location based-data for? According to the regulations and interviews with Government Ministers, the data will be gathered and processed in order to trace all persons who have contracted COVID-19 (or reasonably suspected to have contracted the virus) in order to prevent the further spread. Information can be requested from as far back as 5 March, 2020, and these measures will remain in place for the duration of the declared State of Disaster. With limited resources, and a large percentage of the population living with underlying health issues, or in abject poverty, these measures appear reasonable and justifiable in the circumstances - particularly given that there is a measure of oversight, and that the information will be either de-identified or destroyed following the State of Disaster.

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize has complained about a lack of information relating to infected persons - this database will ensure that vital accurate and up-to-date information is available. Google has already committed to assisting governments around the globe with social distancing and stemming the pandemic, and in addition to Google, who will provide what appears to be de-identified data voluntarily, all electronic communications service providers in South Africa will be compelled to assist under these new regulations. 

Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has reassured citizens that the government will not spy on people or intercept calls - rather, she says, government will rely on geolocation data to monitor the virus, and also to potentially warn vulnerable members of society. 

The Minister further noted that these were unprecedented times and individual rights needed to be limited in order to protect the country. We may not all agree, but we should understand the reasons for the unprecedented actions taken.

Dr Lee Swales is a Senior Lecturer in Business Law at UKZN’s School of Law. Admitted as an attorney in the High Court of South Africa, he is also a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. Before joining UKZN, Swales spent several years working in corporate commercial practice.

 [1] Johncom Media Investments Limited v M and Others 2009 (4) SA 7 (CC).

[2] Islamic Unity Convention v Independent Broadcasting Authority 2002 (4) SA 294 (CC) para 38. Although Justice Langa served as Chief Justice from 2005 until his retirement in 2009, he was the Deputy Chief Justice when this judgment was delivered in 2002.

[3] This is a process of ensuring a person’s personal information is not revealed. The concept is defined in the Protection of Personal Information Act as:

“‘de-identify’’ means to delete any information that—

(a) identifies the data subject;

(b) can be used or manipulated by a reasonably foreseeable method to identify the data subject; or

(c) can be linked by a reasonably foreseeable method to other information that identifies the data subject.

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New Agriculture, Engineering and Science Research Dean

New Agriculture, Engineering and Science Research Dean
Professor Neil Koorbanally, AES Dean of Research.Click here for isiZulu version

The College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) has a new Dean overseeing its research, with organic chemistry expert Professor Neil Koorbanally taking on this role at the beginning of April.

The College Dean of Research provides academic leadership and co-ordination of research and postgraduate training in the College, aligned to the University research agenda, and leads PhD training in the science of research, focusing on theory, method, and approach, while still conducting teaching and research within his School. Koorbanally will be responsible for mentoring academic staff on research career issues, providing leadership and oversight for CAES research committees, overseeing the research budget and its programmes, and evaluating research and grant opportunities and grant cost sharing opportunities.

The Dean supports the College’s research centres and institutes works with the Research Office on all aspects of research administration, and with colleagues develops and implements the College research strategy and plan of action. He represents the College on the University Research and Ethics Committee, University Senate, and on University-wide strategic research partnerships.

Koorbanally has served the University in several roles since he joined the then University of Natal as a lecturer in 2000, including as Assistant Dean of the Faculty of Science and Agriculture, Head of the Centre for Science Access, and Interim Director of Access in CAES. Until this appointment, he served as the Academic Leader for Research in the School of Chemistry and Physics.

Koorbanally obtained his undergraduate, honours, master’s and PhD degrees from the former University of Natal, and went on to do postdoctoral research at St John’s College in the University of Cambridge in 2005.

With a C2 rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF), Koorbanally has conducted research in the fields of synthetic organic chemistry, natural products chemistry and medicinal chemistry. He has more than 140 publications in high quality journals, one patent, and one book publication. His work has attracted several grants, including from the Thuthuka Fund, the NRF, and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

Koorbanally said that he looks forward to contributing his experience and expertise to enhancing the College’s high quality research outputs. He plans to foster more collaboration between the College’s internationally-recognised research centres, groups, Research Chairs and highly-rated scientists.

‘I hope to enable and create platforms for different researchers to work together on larger problems, as well as get younger staff involved in larger collaborative projects,’ he said.

Koorbanally also aims to strengthen the College’s interactions and collaborations with international and national external partners, hoping to drive larger funding proposals and enable researchers to attract large grants for multidisciplinary projects.

Koorbanally is active in the Phytochemical Society of Europe, the American Society of Pharmacognosy and the South African Chemical Institute. He is a reviewer for the NRF and for journals including PhytochemistryPlanta Medica, the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, and Phytochemistry Letters. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for Natural Product Communications and was part of the 2006 International Council of Science, Health and Human Well Being Scoping group.

He has supervised or co-supervised 25 PhD graduates, and 21 master’s graduates.

‘As a College, we are grateful to Professor Koorbanally for accepting this position and are confident of his ability to deliver excellent service in the next five years,’ said Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of CAES Professor Albert Modi.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied

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CAES Dean of Teaching and Learning Appointed

CAES Dean of Teaching and Learning Appointed
Professor Naven Chetty, CAES Dean of Teaching and Learning.

Professor Naven Chetty, has been appointed Dean of Teaching and Learning at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) after acting in the position since 2017.

‘During his time acting in this role, Professor Chetty has displayed a vision for enhancing teaching and learning in the College, and the University has benefited from his vision while participating in the UKZN structures dealing with strategic issues of teaching and learning,’ said Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the CAES Professor Albert Modi. ‘We look forward to many more years of his leadership.’

While acting in this role, Chetty has focused on initiatives such as blended learning, technological learning and curriculum reform within the College to improve throughput. He has built on the robust CAES student support structure to widen the reach of programmes that emphasise monitoring of students’ academic performance and personal wellbeing, and has focused on closing the skills gap between students in their final-year at high school and their first-year of university. His vision has included continued professional development of teaching staff, and the development of streamlined curricula suited to meeting industry needs.

Chetty has been at UKZN for 14 years, beginning his academic career in the School of Chemistry and Physics through UKZN’s Access Programme. He completed his undergraduate, honours, masters and PhD degrees through UKZN, and was among the first class of graduates in Computational Physics.

Chetty has concentrated his research in the field of Applied Physics with forays into Biomedical Physics, specifically the development of protocols for and use of lasers for cancer treatment. The supervisor of scores of postgraduate students, he is currently supervising 17 candidates.

Passionate about education, Chetty has dedicated much of his career to physics education and developed a large part of the physics curriculum still used in the BSc4 Augmented programme as well as recruitment programmes to encourage top school achievers to join the CAES.

Chetty received UKZN’s 2017 Distinguished Teachers’ Award and has employed the use of educational media and learning material in his student-centered instruction, encouraging students to actively participate in their education. He is empathetic in his approach to his students, focusing on imparting his passion for Physics.

As Dean of Teaching and Learning, Chetty has developed mechanisms for an improved teaching and learning experience for staff and students. In 2019, he launched the Centre for Academic Success in Science and Engineering (CASSE), designed to enable previously disadvantaged students to access support to enhance their performance in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects.

Chetty is a lead researcher and co-ordinator of the South African node of an Erasmus+ project to professionalise undergraduate academic teaching in multiple disciplines to address the Sustainable Development Goals, in partnership with researchers from Frederick University in Cyprus, the University of Crete in Greece, UNISA, the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa (HELTASA) and the University of the Western Cape.

Chetty has served on several national and international bodies, including Umalusi and the Council on Higher Education in South Africa, and was last year awarded senior membership of the Optical Society of America in recognition of his experience and professional accomplishment.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod

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COVID-19 Lockdown a Serious Study Setback for Final-Year Medical Students

COVID-19 Lockdown a Serious Study Setback for Final-Year Medical Students
Mr Lindokuhle Ntshangase on the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine campus in Durban before the SA COVID-19 lockdown.

The nationwide lockdown is causing concern – and some alarm – for final-year Medical students because of uncertainty about whether there will be enough time left to complete the curriculum when UKZN reopens.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Medical graduates will be expected to begin their internships with the Department of Health on 1 January next year.

One of those students is Mr Lindokuhle Ntshangase who fully understands the need for measures enforced by the Government to help control the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 virus but is worried about whether there is now sufficient time left to complete his studies.

Ntshangase, from the rural town of Pongola in northern KwaZulu-Natal, says qualifying as a Medical doctor has been a long held ambition. ‘I went to Dingukwazi High, a Quintile 3 school which – among other challenges - did not have a proper laboratory or even enough books for everyone, so learning was very difficult.

‘However, I was determined to make my parents proud so I was delighted when I scored six distinctions in my final matric examinations. It was a surreal moment - It also meant I could apply to study medicine!

‘The death of my father In 2014 was a massive blow to me. I so wanted him to be around on the day I was admitted to Medical School. He had always encouraged me to work hard so that I could be the first doctor in the family. Now, I’m uncertain as to whether I will be able to complete my degree this year,’ said Ntshangase.

Like so many of his colleagues throughout South Africa, Ntshangase’s medical curriculum involves “bedside teaching” in hospitals. Despite academic material being uploaded onto online platforms, such teaching requires practical experience.

A further issue is the lack of sufficient data and when data is available, reception is very poor in rural areas.

‘The COVID-9 pandemic has claimed a lot of lives world-wide,’ said Ntshangase. ‘I commend the South African Government for its timely response - lockdown is necessary to flatten the curve, and everyone should comply with the restrictions.

‘However, the lockdown has impacted seriously on the academic calendar, especially for clinical medicine students. Our learning is at the hospital bedside - there is no way that you can teach skills from reading, it needs to be practical.’

‘Studying has been made difficult, especially in rural areas where there’s hardly money for data, and if you have data, the reception is often poor so you can’t access YouTube and other sites,’ he said.

‘It is evident that online learning is not always feasible for students in rural areas because of these challenges but we are hopeful UKZN management will provide solutions.’

Meanwhile, UKZN academics are working flat out to upload all material onto online platforms. UKZN’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Nana Poku, has made it clear to the UKZN community that teaching and learning will continue during the lockdown.

‘These are anxious and uncertain times for everyone, including our nearest and dearest, but a priority also is the welfare of our students and the need for work to forge ahead,’ said Poku. ‘We are immensely proud of the creative input being done by our hard-working Deans to ensure online delivery of the University’s course materials. Transferring our teaching content onto virtual platforms — in common with our sister universities in South Africa and elsewhere — is a matter of urgency. Indeed, it would be serious managerial negligence if we failed to act prudently, timeously and appropriately in this area.’

For Ntshangase and others in his class, there is uncertainty about whether it would be best to leave the safety of their homes and return to the clinical settings to tackle the pandemic head-on or remain at home and try to learn through online platforms.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Health Sciences, Professor Busisiwe Ncama, responded to the quandary some students are in, saying: ‘The clinical teaching of Medical students is governed by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) with clear predetermined outcomes which need to be met.

‘To compromise on bedside teaching will impact on the student being able to register with the HPCSA upon graduation. During the lockdown, Zoom or online teaching of lectures will take place covering the theoretical component of the curriculum. UKZN is in negotiations with mobile service providers for the provision of data cards for students and we are also geomapping student residences to facilitate the distribution of the data cards in a co-ordinated effort,’ she said.

‘Once the lockdown is lifted, students will return to the hospital settings, focusing on hospital and clinical based learning. UKZN together with the HPCSA and the KZN Department of Health are assessing the risk factors in hospital settings for students and will reduce the possibility of them being exposed to COVID-19. In the meantime, we encourage students to volunteer in non-patient contact activities where possible, and to get more information on voluntary work from the UKZN COVID-19 team.’

Ntshangase is a member of the South African Students Congress (SASCO), and was the Medical Student’s Residence Liaison Officer in 2016/17, the Transformation and Academic Officer in 2017/2018, and the National Secretary of the South African Medical Students Association in 2018.

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied

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UKZN Geology Professor New Vice-President of Association of Applied Geochemists

UKZN Geology Professor New Vice-President of Association of Applied Geochemists
Professor Emmanuel John Carranza, Association of Applied Geochemists Vice-President.

Professor Emmanuel John Carranza of Geological Sciences in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences has been appointed Vice-President of the Association of Applied Geochemists (AAG).

Carranza has been a member of the AAG since 1991, when it was known as the Association of Exploration Geochemists, and has been a Fellow since 2009, and a Councillor for three one-year terms. As vice-president, a position he will hold for two calendar years, Carranza fills in for the AAG president when necessary, with his other duties prescribed by the president or council, chief of which currently is to work with the regional councillors of the association on the AAG’s Elements magazine.

Carranza, who joined UKZN in 2017, was previously an associate professor and then adjunct associate professor at the James Cook University in Australia, and a visiting professor at the Institute of Geosciences, State University of Campinas in São Paulo, Brazil.

He is an expert in mineral exploration geochemistry and mineral prospectivity modelling, applying spatial mathematics/statistics, geographic information systems (GIS) and geological remote sensing to predicting mineral prospectivity, and estimating undiscovered mineral endowment through an understanding of relevant mineral systems.

Research in the field of geochemistry in South Africa is on the rise, with UKZN making a modest contribution. There is, however, scope for further development, for example in the employment of geochemistry in the field of environmental sciences as well as in geological sciences, and in further research in medical geology, which involves geochemistry. While there is no work underway in South Africa directly involving the AAG, its members pursue research in countries where they reside or countries where they conduct research.

Carranza’s presence in South Africa contributes to the country’s representation on the AAG, where it forms part of a region represented by Professor Theophilus Davies of the University of Nigeria, who is formerly of the University of Venda and also Mangosuthu University of Technology in Durban.

On the research front, Carranza is currently working on two National Research Foundation-funded three-year projects involving the use of geochemical data. The projects are: Minute Mineral Maps: Ciphers to Hidden Prospects in Frontier Regions, and Spatial Analysis of Geothermal Resource Occurrence Controls and Prospectivity.

Carranza’s research contributes to the South African minerals industry’s adoption of GIS-based mineral prospectivity modelling in the search for future mineral resources to contribute to the country’s economy. He trains aspirant South African geologists in the field of mineral exploration, especially in GIS-based mineral prospectivity modelling, to enable them to contribute to securing future mineral resources to support mining.

Carranza became a full professor at UKZN in 2018, with his inaugural lecture being on the subject of his career development in mineral exploration, and including an explanation of the basic tools of mineral exploration and the GIS-based mineral systems approach to exploration targeting.

He has worked at the forefront of research in predictive modelling of mineral prospectivity, published a book titled: Geochemical Anomaly and Mineral Prospectivity Mapping in GIS, and edited 10 special/thematic articles in geoscience journals.

Carranza has authored more than 190 articles in international peer-reviewed scientific journals, and has contributed more than 80 presentations to international geoscience conference proceedings.

 He has been cited more than 9 900 times and has an H-index of 54.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied

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S’sekelo Zungu – an Inspiration for Others!

S’sekelo Zungu – an Inspiration for Others!
Inspiring student, Mr S’sekelo Zungu.Click here for isiZulu version

Education student Mr S’sekelo Zungu has been selected as one of UKZN’s Top 40 Inspiring Students for his dedication and passion in the areas of community engagement, leadership and academic excellence.

‘I strive to be a leader of progressive movements so I can help better communities which is possible through education,’ said Zungu, who is an executive member of the Golden Key International Honour Society and a leader in the Academic and Monitoring Mentorship (AMS) Programme.

He is also a member of the Community Development Association (CDA) Public Speaking and Debate Committee and the current Deputy Director of the Masakhane Youth Leadership Course.

He was a mentor and a judge for the Eskom Expo 2019 and is the Public Relations Officer for the Student Christian Fellowship.

Passionate about community work and leadership, Zungu was selected to be part of the 2020 Activate! Change Drivers’ programme - a network of young leaders with the capacity to drive positive change across South Africa.

He is also a facilitator at Tomorrow’s Leaders in Training, which is a group that responds to pressures and challenges young people face in the country, with the aim being to maximise the potential of each young South African.

‘I am eager to develop myself as a leader and will stop at nothing to achieve that,’ said Zungu. ‘Fortunately, I am able to keep a healthy balance between my academic work and my engagements and commitments.

‘My advice to fellow students is to work hard and never stop dreaming,’ he added.

 Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied

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Migration Linked to Mortality Rate in HIV Positive Pregnant Women in SA

Migration Linked to Mortality Rate in HIV Positive Pregnant Women in SA
Dr Hae-Young Kim of UKZN’s Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP)/Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI).Click here for isiZulu version

Within-country migration in South Africa is linked to a high rate of mortality among HIV positive women up to a year after they have given birth.

This is the finding from a collaborative study conducted by scientists from UKZN, the United States and the United Kingdom and published in the prestigious journal, Plos Medicine.

Lead authors were Dr Hae-Young Kim of UKZN’s Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP)/Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), and Professor Frank Tanser of the School of Nursing and Public Health.

The study found that there was a higher risk of mortality amongst HIV positive women who moved away from their homes but remained within South Africa, during their pregnancy. Kim, said despite the scale up of universal Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) and declining trends in maternal mortality, there was an urgent need to deliver a greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying this finding and to develop targeted interventions for mobile, HIV-positive peripartum women.

The research was conducted because of the lack of information about within-country mobility patterns among peripartum women and their associated maternal health outcomes.

Said Kim: ‘Migration is a risk factor for poor retention in care among people living with HIV, and HIV-positive women who initiate or continue life-long antiretroviral treatment (ARV) during pregnancy face unique challenges to remain in HIV care in the postpartum period, potentially leading to worse health outcomes including death.’

The study was based on data from one of the largest population-based longitudinal HIV and demographic surveys managed by the AHRI.

Study participants were women from the age of 15 who lived within the survey area. A total of 30 291 pregnancies were involved and of the women taking part, 3 339 were HIV-positive, 10 958 were HIV-negative, and 15 994 had unknown HIV status at delivery.

The study found that the mortality rate was 5.8 per 1 000 person-years (or 831 deaths per 100 000 live births) in the first year postpartum. The major causes of deaths were AIDS- or TB-related conditions - both within 42 days of delivery (53%) and during the first-year postpartum (62%).

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied

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Cyber-Threat Reality Highlighted in UKZN Presentation

Cyber-Threat Reality Highlighted in UKZN Presentation
Dr Brett van Niekerk (far right) with delegates and presenters.

The cyber-threat situation in South Africa and its potential to become more serious as the country pursues technological growth to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution was the subject of a presentation delivered in Durban by senior lecturer in Computer Science at UKZN, Dr Brett van Niekerk.

The theme of the function – hosted by the Consul-General of the United States of America in Durban, Ms Sherry Zalika Sykes, in conjunction with Juniper Networks – was: Enabling Secure Networks of the Future.

Proceedings got underway with Informative presentations by Juniper Networks, which concentrated on the evolution of computer networking and, in particular, wireless networking in a data-intensive world.

Van Niekerk spoke on the cyber-threat landscape, highlighting that technology was often implemented without basic security precautions being taken, thus leaving it open for attack by hackers. ‘New technologies emerging under the Fourth Industrial Revolution may have undiscovered security flaws, giving attackers a gap to exploit the situation before anyone becomes aware of the problem,’ he said.

Van Niekerk joined UKZN’s Computer Science discipline in a permanent capacity in December 2017 after being an honorary research fellow with UKZN since July 2014, while still working in industry. He currently lectures the honours Network Security module as well as modules from first- and second-year.

His research interests include national and international cyber security and privacy and cyber security in Higher Education. He also serves as co-Editor-in-Chief for the International Journal of Cyber Warfare and Terrorism and associate editor for the International Journal of Information Security and Privacy.

Words: Ndabaonline

Photograph: Courtesy of Kirsten Bell, US Consulate

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