Open Data Analysis in Epidemiology Helps Control Outbreaks

Open Data Analysis in Epidemiology Helps Control Outbreaks
Professors Francesco Petruccione (left) and Tulio de Oliveira.

Pro Vice-Chancellor of Big Data and Informatics and South African Research Chair in Quantum Information Processing and Communication at UKZN, Professor Francesco Petruccione recently hosted a breakfast seminar titled COVID-19 Genomics and Epidemiology.

The seminar was presented by renowned UKZN bioinformatician, epidemiologist and Director of KRISP, Professor Tulio de Oliveira.

The presentation highlighted the importance of understanding the origins and transmission of the COVID-19 virus. It examined the chain and the speed of transmission from the first reported case in China in December 2019 to it becoming a global pandemic.

De Oliveira said that, although research indicates that transmission across countries like the United States is not well understood, what is more important at this stage is how states should approach and apply readily available genomics and epidemiology data by researchers for real-time analysis of data and use this information to control outbreaks.

‘This pandemic has raised the question of how research can speed up reaction and the turnaround speed when the public health sector is facing an emergency like COVID-19. Social media, ie, Twitter, open data, open analysis and quick data reviews amongst global research communities cannot be overemphasised. Open data has greatly assisted researchers to quickly analyse data and understand the genome and epidemiology of this virus,’ said de Oliveira whose laboratory at UKZN has been involved in efforts to understand COVID-19 since the beginning of January when he first saw tweets about the virus from researchers based in the United Kingdom.

‘This proves how powerful Big/Open Data is in advancing global research and other critical spheres of life,’ commented Petruccione.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photographs: Supplied

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CCMS Part of Coronavirus Digital Comic Don’t Panic

CCMS Part of Coronavirus Digital Comic <em>Don’t Panic</em>
Digital comic Don’t Panic.Click here for isiZulu version

PhD student in the School of Arts, Mr Damien Tomaselli together with some Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS) staff members are part of a digital comic called Don’t Panic.

An international team to help increasingly exasperated parents to explain to their children why they are in lockdown and how to cope produced the comic, which also presents information about the coronavirus. The comic was composed by a German graphic designer, Mr Bernd Höllen and was built by Tomaselli, a digital narrative specialist.

The project, which is facilitated by the CCMS, is offered in many languages, including English, isiZulu, Afrikaans, German, French, Russian, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish, Armenian, Polish and Portuguese. The CCMS has helped to distribute the comic, securing voluntary translators from across Africa and the world to populate different language versions, with 15 languages now uploaded.

The comic is a must for any parent who is trying to work from home with young children constantly demanding attention.

‘It is a rough time especially for our little ones. We have created a free motion book to explain this situation to our children. People lose their jobs, stay in quarantine, kids can’t go to school or even play outside with their friends,’ explained Höllen. ‘Download the Madefire Motion Book App and read the animated comic on your mobile device for free. The Motion Book version is a hybrid between reading a digital comic and animation. Motion Books have been described as “reading a movie”.’

The comic may be reproduced on condition that credit is attributed to the publisher The Cauldron and the individual creators, Höllen, Tomaselli and Mr Oliver Frot.

The book can be downloaded from the link:

Animated screen Capture of Motion Book reading here:

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Twitter @brewingcauldron

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Image: Supplied

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UKZN Scientist Makes Waves with Tidal Forces Research

UKZN Scientist Makes Waves with Tidal Forces Research
Dr Rituparno Goswami and on the right is an artist’s impression of the black hole collision that produced gravitational waves.

Professor Rituparno Goswami, associate Professor and academic leader of Research in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS) and a member of the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit, was featured in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review magazine for research conducted with Professor George Ellis of the University of Cape Town on the generation of gravitational waves.

The research featured in the publication marks a significant advance in the understanding of gravitational waves, first suggested in Einstein’s theory of general relativity and the direct observation of which was first announced by a team of physicists in 2016 after the effects of the collision of two black holes on the fabric of space time were recorded using a state-of-the-art network of detectors.

Delving into Newton’s Laws, the article on the research explains the gravitational forces that objects generate and how gravitational forces vary with distance, and articulates how Goswami and Ellis’s investigation highlights that Newton’s work did not account for the speed of light.

Goswami and Ellis’s research suggests that since nothing can move faster than the speed of light - not even the force of gravity - and the moon’s gravitational forces will take time to reach the earth and exert an influence on the oceans - another force must be at work on the planet’s tides: that of gravitational waves. They propose that gravitational waves are hidden but evident in tidal forces.

The scientists say tidal forces are a form of gravitational radiation, behaving as waves in a manner consistent with the theory of general relativity. They set out to demonstrate, mathematically, that tidal forces exhibit the same properties as gravitational waves, concluding that tidal forces are essentially low-frequency gravitational waves. This effect is, in principle, measurable, and indicates that the effects of gravitational waves are more visible in everyday phenomena than may previously have been known.

‘This is an incredible achievement,’ said Professor Sudan Hansraj of the SMSCS. ‘The discovery of a connection with tidal forces or Weyl stresses is an amazing feat of creativity, ingenuity and insight.’

A gravitational physicist; Goswami has been part of UKZN since 2013, having previously conducted research at the University of Cape Town and the University of Alberta in Canada after completing his studies in his native India.

Words: Christine Cuenod

Photographs: ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser and supplied

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WENTWORTH: The Beautiful Game and the Making of Place

<em>WENTWORTH: The Beautiful Game and the Making of Place</em>
UKZN Press has published Wentworth: The Beautiful Game and the Making of Place by Professor Ashwin Desai.

UKZN Press has published a book entitled Wentworth: The Beautiful Game and the Making of Place by sociologist and columnist Professor Ashwin Desai.

The book centres on Wentworth, a “Coloured” township in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, and the residents’ beloved Leeds United Football Club.

Desai, who lectured at the former University of Durban-Westville, said in an interview with The Mercury newspaper, ‘This book is about pioneering attempts to build the beautiful game in Wentworth. But as you turn the pages, it becomes more than that. There are stories in this book about housing battles, gangs, sexuality, and the looming presence of the petrochemical companies that at once provide jobs and make the area the most polluted in Durban.’

He added, ‘This is a tale that broadens into a whole cast of other players, supporters and teams. In the process, they also speak of Wentworth, a place they sought to make as their world, as much as they were made by it.

‘The journey of this book begins in the second half of the 1960s, just as apartheid’s planners took a knife to Durban’s geography, slicing places into racial group areas.’

Desai, who currently lectures at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), said, ‘In this quest, I allowed myself to drift into stories beyond the immediate team sheet, to talk to people who hung out on street corners, who peeped through slightly parted curtains of two-bedroom flats as I knocked on the neighbour’s door, and those who marched behind placards.’

Ms Adele Branch, Marketing Officer at UKZN Press said that it is important to publish books which tell the stories of local communities. ‘As a university press embedded in the local, national and global communities it serves, UKZN Press is committed to telling the stories of those communities. Local histories such as Wentworth play a vital role in making heard the unheard, visible the invisible and bringing these stories into the mainstream. They give texture to the broader strokes provided by more general histories,’ said Branch.

Dr Trevor Ngwane,President of the South African Sociological Associationand senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at UJwrites in his foreword, ‘At the heart of the story is how the exploited and oppressed makea life and create hope and joy despite the ineffaceable evil of harshregimes, whose machinations were designed to engender pain, sufferingand despair. In the face of apartheid, in and through their beloved LeedsUnited, the Wentonians created a space where there was more hopethan despair, more joy than sorrow, more sharing than isolation, moresolidarity than individualism, more trust than mistrust.’

UKZN alumnus and Dean of the Faculty of Adventure, Culinary Arts and Tourism at Thompson Rivers University in Canada, Professor Douglas Booth, said that Wentworth is a ‘heartbreak and a home, a tale of hopelessness and hope…. Desai juxtaposes space and place to tell the story of Wentworth, a former apartheid “dormitory” for Coloureds.

‘The space is polluted by petrochemical refineries and pathologised by violent gangs, drugs, overcrowding, internal conflicts, and a dearth of opportunity; the place is a community of skilled artisans, small business operators, religious faithful, musicians, writers and, above all, soccer devotees, bound by friendship, neighbourliness, generosity and philanthropy. Desai brings the complexities, nuances and paradoxes of Wentworth to life.’

Wentworth: The Beautiful Game and the Making of Place can be ordered from online stores such as Loot, Exclusive Books Online and – after the national lockdown – from Takealot. Once bookstores re-open, copies will be in stock.

UKZN staff qualify for a 20% discount and orders can be placed with Edwin Ramthew or Adele Branch - copies will be delivered, or can be collected from the University Press’ offices, once UKZN re-opens.

The recommended retail price is R340.

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer

Image: Courtesy of UKZN Press

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Quantum Research Chair Appointed as New Director of National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Science

Quantum Research Chair Appointed as New Director of National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Science
Professor Francesco Petruccione, National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Science Director.

Professor Francesco Petruccione, the South African Research Chair for Quantum Information Processing and Communication (QIPC) and founder of UKZN’s Centre for Quantum Technology, has been appointed the interim Director of the National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Science (NITheCS) as of the first of April.

Speaking of his appointment, Petruccione said, ‘Today, amidst the global and local crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, this comes with extraordinary challenges.’

The NITheCS succeeds the National Institute for Theoretical Physics (NITheP), and like its predecessor, is jointly hosted by Stellenbosch University, the University of the Witwatersrand and UKZN. It aims to stimulate and sustain theoretical physics research, with its members leading and co-ordinating research programmes and fostering education in theoretical physics. It provides a user facility for theoretical physics linking South Africa and the continent to international institutes for theoretical physics.

Speaking of the transformation of the NITheP to the NITheCS, Petruccione explained that the theoretical physics community is now embracing other theoretical and computational sciences.

‘We have the necessary expertise and tools to re-invent ourselves, as an online community in the spirit of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, by moving swiftly and adopting new ways of connecting and sharing,’ he said.

Petruccione believes this transition will lead to positive evolution in the organisation that will be exemplary to other institutes, challenging them to innovate, even in times of crisis, as new opportunities arise.

‘[Petruccione’s] words indicate a commitment to UKZN, and to national and international endeavours to change and make us ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution,’ said Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, Professor Albert Modi.

Petruccione, a Professor of Theoretical Physics at UKZN since 2004 and Pro Vice-Chancellor for the University’s Big Data and Informatics Research Flagship, previously served as a Deputy Director of NITheP. He is also Adjunct Professor in the School of Electrical Engineering of the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology, an elected member of the Academy of Sciences of South Africa, a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa and a Fellow of UKZN.

Petruccione established the Centre for Quantum Technology in 2005 with an Innovation Fund grant. The Innovation Fund also awarded a grant to support the Centre’s work on quantum cryptography, part of which involves the realisation of a quantum key distribution system by Petruccione. The Centre’s vision includes stimulating the development of a QIPC industry in Durban and KwaZulu-Natal.

A prolific researcher, Petruccione has published about 250 papers in refereed scientific journals, co-authored a monograph on The Theory of Open Quantum Systems that has garnered more than 7 000 citations, and published a monograph with Dr Maria Schuld on Supervised Learning with Quantum Computers. He is the editor of several conference proceedings volumes and of special editions of scientific journals, and a member of the Editorial Board of the journals Open Systems and Information DynamicsScientific Reports, and Quantum Machine Intelligence. His research has made important contributions to the development of the theory of open quantum systems, which forms the basis of many quantum information technological applications.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Albert Hirasen

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Quantum Researchers Discuss Quantum Advantage in the Banking Sector

Quantum Researchers Discuss Quantum Advantage in the Banking Sector
Professor Francesco Petruccione, Ms Amira Abbas, and FNB’s Dr Mark Nasila.

Professor Francesco Petruccione, the South African Research Chair for Quantum Information Processing and Communication (QIPC), founder of UKZN’s Centre for Quantum Technology and Pro Vice-Chancellor for the University’s Big Data and Informatics Research Flagship, along with MSc candidate, Ms Amira Abbas, recently spoke to ITWeb about a collaboration between UKZN and First National Bank (FNB) through which the bank is exploring the use of quantum computing for its products and services.

According to ITWeb, the research underway with the School of Chemistry and Physics involves investigating approaches for the application of the principles of quantum theory to develop customer-centric solutions and enhance customer relationship management.

Quantum theory and the application of QIPC is of growing interest to the financial sector as a new computing technology for executing data operations by exploiting quantum phenomena, including entanglement and quantum bits. The banking sector believes this technology could improve understanding of customer needs and behaviour in an increasingly complex and connected world, improve security and cybercrime prevention, and much more. Quantum computers also outperform traditional information technology when it comes to power and capacity to quickly compute data. Furthermore, with cyber criminals utilising technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, quantum computing presents the financial sector with tools to keep ahead of cyberattacks.

The feature detailed how the use of quantum computing solutions can go beyond simply the provision of financial services, extending to proactive social services in healthcare and more.

Petruccione spoke about growing competition to achieve what he calls quantum advantage, detailing how data encrypted with quantum cryptography has already been transmitted, and how last year, a quantum computer outperformed a classical computer for the first time, signalling the imminent real-world applications of quantum computing. As investment in quantum computing technology increases, it will accelerate the moment when quantum computers will exceed what can be done by a classical computer, as part of efforts to better understand the workings of the universe and the solution of complex problems.

Petruccione added that other industries will be disrupted by the advent of quantum technology, for example the energy sector, where it could contribute to optimisation of renewable energy systems. Mining companies are investigating using it to improve various processes, and the agricultural sector could adopt quantum smart farming methods to improve productivity.

Abbas, who is also a researcher at IBM’s quantum computing research laboratory in Zürich, said quantum computing would not replace emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning, but would rather enable the physical limits of classical computing to be overcome and would allow users to enhance the capabilities of current technologies. She highlighted that quantum computing operates on the principles of physics, specifically quantum theory that explains the behaviour of matter and energy on an atomic and subatomic level.

Within the Centre for Quantum Technology, researchers are working on several projects, notably quantum cryptography, part of which involves the realisation of a quantum key distribution system by Petruccione. Abbas’ master’s research involves quantum machine learning; the idea of building machine learning and AI algorithms that run on an actual quantum computer. The Centre aims to stimulate the development of a QIPC industry in Durban and KwaZulu-Natal.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied

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UKZN at the Southern African Plant Breeding Symposium

UKZN at the Southern African Plant Breeding Symposium
UKZN staff and students at the Southern African Plant Breeding Symposium.

A number of Plant Breeding staff and students from UKZN attended and presented at the 13th Southern African Plant Breeding Symposium, held at the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa Campus in March, with PhD candidate, Ms Boluwatife OlaOlorun winning an award for the best poster presentation.

The symposium focused on the theme of Innovating Together – Plant Breeding in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Professor Mark Laing, Director of the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) and Professor of Plant Pathology at UKZN, presented two keynote addresses, one on the global scale of the climate crisis and how plant breeders can respond, and another on managing the timeline of a thesis in order to graduate on time.

Also presenting a keynote address was Professor Tulio de Oliveira from UKZN’s KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform (KRISP), who spoke about Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies to advance research development and genetic engineering in Africa.

Professor Hussein Shimelis, South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) Chair of Crop Science and Deputy Director of the ACCI, delivered a presentation on market-led plant breeding education approaches through adapting best practices from the public and private sectors in maize.

Students Dr Isack Mathew, Mr Kwame Shamuyarira, Mr Dedeou Tchokponhoue, Mr Muhammad Yahaya, Mr Athenkosi Makebe, and Mr Carlos Houdegbe also gave presentations. There were more than 13 poster presenters from various agricultural disciplines at UKZN.

OlaOlorun’s winning poster dealt with her research on inducing genetic variation in wheat, where she is using mutation breeding to harness the traits of drought tolerance and carbon sequestration. She is working with chemical mutagenesis using Ethyl methanesulfonate to create genetic variability in wheat genotypes. This work forms part of the ACCI’s efforts to breed climate-smart wheat with bigger root mass that is able to mitigate the effects of climate change to ensure that current and future demand for wheat will be met.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied

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SHEFS Hosts Large Virtual Conference During COVID-19 Lockdown

SHEFS Hosts Large Virtual Conference During COVID-19 Lockdown
The Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) programme hosted its bi-annual meeting via virtual conference, linking participants in three countries.

On 30 and 31 March, the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) programme hosted its bi-annual meeting via virtual conference, linking 73 participants from partner institutions - including UKZN - based in South Africa, the United Kingdom and India.

Although this was the fourth time the broader SHEFS team met to discuss the programme, research plans and outputs, it was the first time the conference was held completely virtually, with all members joining in from their respective homes via the Zoom platform.

The onset of COVID-19 has prompted a review of how we operate as individuals, communities, academics and practitioners on a global scale. The global pandemic has transformed our lives, and facilitated a process of deep introspection and re-imagination of how we live and work on a daily basis.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust’s Our Planet, Our Health Programme, SHEFS is an international and interdisciplinary research partnership, which aims to influence policies towards more sustainable food systems, with enhanced social, environmental and health outcomes. SHEFS has been actively contributing to sustainable research not only by conducting high value research studies on three continents, but also by hosting its annual meetings using virtual tools.

The first conference was held in London, in the UK with members from South Africa flying in. The second was held in Durban, South Africa and members from India and the UK flew in. However, in October 2019, SHEFS decided to take a more sustainable route and held the conference virtually, with participants in each country site joining in groups.

SHEFS’ foresight helped to reduce its carbon footprint and save global resources that otherwise would have been used through a face-to-face meeting. It also set the stage for its readiness for continued collaboration during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Planning for the meeting was done by SHEFS Early Career Researchers across the three country sites, and included numerous Zoom meetings, preparation of meeting documents and drafting an ambitious agenda for the virtual conference. The planning resulted in multiple opportunities for engagement across countries, namely, pre-conference “journal club discussions”, where researchers met virtually to discuss publications; “feedback workshops” where researchers received inputs on specific aspects of their studies prior to the conference; and “presenter of another team member’s output”, where members of SHEFS discussed another member’s research and presented the outputs to the broader team during the virtual conference.

During the actual conference, online presentations were seamlessly delivered. It also included breakaway discussions, which allowed smaller groups of up to five participants to hold deep conversations about particular topics, before effortlessly returning to the main virtual room. Like the previous conference in 2019, the March 2020 meeting not only reduced SHEFS’ ecological footprint in terms of travel, but also cut the logistical costs associated with hosting large groups of people.

Although some members experienced intermittent challenges with internet connections, positive feedback was received and all agreed that the aims of the conference were achieved despite the fact that there was no physical contact. While the COVID-19 pandemic created a sense of uncertainty around health, socio-economic issues and general well-being amongst participants, it equally focused discussions on opportunities for the research sector to contribute to reducing the pandemic’s global long-term effects. In addition, participants reflected on possible impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak on research results for studies that had partially collected data, as well as the impact on timelines on research activities.

The SHEFS bi-annual virtual conference clearly demonstrated the potential to harness global virtual connectedness to achieve climate and sustainability goals.

Words: Rashieda Davids

Photograph: Supplied

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UKZN & HSRC Collaborate to Investigate COVID-19 Impact on Health Workers

UKZN & HSRC Collaborate to Investigate COVID-19 Impact on Health Workers
Lead researcher, Professor Priscilla Reddy from the HSRC.

In partnership with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), UKZN’s College of Health Sciences will conduct a survey of COVID-19’s impact on health workers.

Health workers are at the frontline of the global fight against COVID-19. Across the world, including South Africa, health workers have also been infected with the virus.

With this in mind, the HSRC and UKZN aim to understand how the pandemic is affecting South African health workers, both physically and emotionally.

The survey that will be conducted on an online platform, will examine the following issues:

- Expanded professional designations – nurses, medical practitioners, medical students, support staff and allied healthcare workers

- Current role in the healthcare sector

- Have healthcare workers received training on dealing with COVID-19?

- Levels of knowledge, awareness and attitudes to COVID 19

- Use of and access to Personal Protective Equipment in the workplace

- Perceptions of risk in the workplace

- Concerns in relation to COVID-19

- Health and psychosocial wellbeing

Lead researcher, Professor Priscilla Reddy (HSRC) requests that ‘all health workers share the link with colleagues so that the government can gain a better picture of what is happening in the medical fraternity as it responds to COVID-19. If we can understand this better, we can ensure the correct interventions to protect health workers physically and emotionally.’

Professor Mosa Moshabela, head of UKZN’s COVID-19 War Room and Dean of the School of Nursing and Public Health said, ‘We are very happy to work with the HSRC on this survey and to be part of national efforts to understand how COVID-19 is impacting on our health professionals. We ask all health professionals to please take a few minutes to fill in this questionnaire. It will help us to understand how we should help and support you. To make this as easy as possible, we have also chosen a data free platform.’

To participate in the study, please click on the link:

The data from the survey will be used to advise government on how to capacitate health workers to ensure they are able to deliver quality healthcare services, particularly as South Africa prepares for a possible increase in COVID-19 diagnoses later in the year.

Words: Manusha Pillai and MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied

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Humanities Academic Creates SMART Online Platform During Lockdown

Humanities Academic Creates SMART Online Platform During Lockdown
UKZN Humanities academic, Dr Mariam Seedat-Khan.

Clinical Sociologist in the School of Social Sciences, Dr Mariam Seedat-Khan has created an online platform to help teachers and parents find digital resources and learning tools for their learners and children to use during the lockdown.

Adults can also use it to learn a new language, enrol in an online course or develop new skills.

Seedat-Khan developed teaching and learning interventions over a protracted period, which resulted in a management tool, Simply Managing Academic Related Tasks (SMART) that provides individuals with learning tools and techniques that they can utilise throughout their lives. SMART has been running for the past 18 years.

‘The reality is that parents now have to become teachers or be facilitators of the learning process. The challenge lies in accessing learning resources that are appropriate for their children. Many of the online platform groups can run into thousands of rands because of subscription fees,’ said Seedat-Khan.

She decided to launch a free online platform on Facebook where through global and local networks, everyone can benefit from the learning tools on offer.

Before posting and sharing the learning tools on the SMART Facebook group, Seedat-Khan researches and verifies the information to ensure that there are no hidden subscription costs before uploading them. ‘We are living in challenging times and it forces us to be innovative and to find new and innovative ways of delivering knowledge. Learning doesn’t have to come to a standstill,’ she said.

The Facebook group Simply Managing Academic Related Tasks can be accessed via

‘I am delighted that the SMART group has so many new members. Thank you for your support. Ultimately, my objective is to continue the learning process through the lockdown - by promoting and collating free, online resources for you. I am extremely grateful for the positive feedback, the thoughtful contributions and for the requests already received,’ she added.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied

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Dietetics Professor’s Tips for Managing Lockdown Stress

Dietetics Professor’s Tips for Managing Lockdown Stress
Professor Suna Kassier has put together dietary advice that will help combat stress related to the COVID-19 national lockdown. Click here for isiZulu version

Professor Suna Kassier from Dietetics and Human Nutrition at UKZN has chipped in with advice for staff, students and the general public to maintain healthy consumption habits while dealing with added stress under the COVID-19 lockdown.

Kassier said that an event like the current, unprecedented global pandemic, and the uncertainty it creates, can exponentially increase the daily stress most people experience. She encouraged people to be mindful about their stress coping mechanisms, which on its own, she said, is a positive step in the right direction.

With some methods of dealing with stress less accessible during this time, such as taking a walk or spending time with family and friends, Kassier pointed out the downsides of other, less positive means people may choose, which could contribute to increased stress levels and potentially to depression.

She advised against dipping into alcohol stockpiles and drinking more than one would under normal circumstances, saying that alcohol contributes to weight gain and a depressed mood.

‘A three-week period is more than enough time to develop a habit that is very difficult to kick once we can go about our business in a less restricted way,’ said Kassier.

To keep track of alcohol consumption, Kassier suggested placing a note on one’s fridge door about how much “self-soothing” had been done in a day.

Kassier also advised against killing extra time by snacking absent-mindedly.

‘Too much eating, coupled with inactivity or lower levels of activity, will result in there being more of you to love once you are able to see family, friends and colleagues face-to-face,’ she commented.

She added that overeating can cause discomfort, and weight gain can lead to sluggishness or depression. Kassier advised rationing by eating snack foods in controlled portion sizes; for example, from a small bowl instead of from the packet, enabling one to keep track of how much was eaten and prevent overeating.

She suggested various cost-effective, healthy snack options: raw vegetables like broccoli florets, carrot or celery sticks, or sweet pepper with a low-fat yoghurt dip or low-fat salad dressing; bread sticks, popcorn (with as little butter, oil or salt as possible), pretzels, rice cakes, whole-wheat crackers or crisp bread; fresh fruit; a whole-wheat sandwich with peanut butter and jam; low-fat unflavoured yoghurt or maas; and peanuts and raisins.

Finally, Kassier pointed out that for some, stress can result in a lack of appetite, leading to undereating.

‘Skipping meals while being relatively inactive could cause havoc with your blood sugar levels, and low blood sugar levels due to irregular eating can lead to overeating later and cravings for high fat, high sugar foods such as chocolate,’ she said.

Kassier advised regular meals, even small ones, to avoid the headaches, anxiety and nervousness that can result from fluctuating blood sugar levels.

‘Be kind to your body and yourself during these very unusual circumstances, and take care of your physical as well as emotional well-being,’ she said.

Kassier has also compiled a free healthy eating guide for students living on a limited budget.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Supplied

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UKZN Establishes Hardship Fund to Address Food Insecurity and Menstrual Hygiene among Students and Staff

UKZN Establishes Hardship Fund to Address Food Insecurity and Menstrual Hygiene among Students and Staff

As South Africa and the rest of the world continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that there is an urgent need to establish programmes of increased social support to protect members of the UKZN community that come from poor and vulnerable households.

The University has launched the UKZN Hardship Fund that aims to address food insecurity and menstrual hygiene among students and staff. This response acknowledges that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be most severe for the vulnerable within the University community.

UKZN Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Nana Poku, was the first to contribute to the fund, pledging a third of his monthly salary for the next three months. He called on all UKZN stakeholders including staff, students, suppliers, service providers, funders, alumni, the donor community, friends of the University and other loyal stakeholders to contribute.

As part of this initiative, UKZN will also launch a drive on all its campuses for staff and students to donate non-perishable goods such as foods, toiletries, sanitary pads and other items.

The University reiterated its call for students, staff and stakeholders to strictly comply with all the lockdown regulations. Stay at home and take the necessary precautionary measures to mitigate against the spread of the disease.

UKZN remains on high alert and its COVID-19 “War Room” and online portal continue to provide regular information and support via the website including regular updates from the Department of Health; National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD); and the World Health Organization Africa COVID Region Office (WHO AFRO); as well as access to the University’s in-house clinical experts.

In order to maintain social distancing, you can donate securely using your credit/debit card, or you can do an instant EFT via your bank at

Words: Ndabaonline

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UKZN Professor Offers Free Maths Tutorials Through Social Media

UKZN Professor Offers Free Maths Tutorials Through Social Media
UKZN academic, Professor Msizi Mkhize.Click here for isiZulu version

School of Accounting, Economics and Finance academic, Professor Msizi Mkhize and his son, Commerce Master’s student, Mr Siphesihle Mkhize, are using Facebook to share their Mathematics study material and solutions with the country’s rade 12 pupils during the COVID-19 national lockdown.

Mkhize’s use of innovative and creative Mathematics and Accounting teaching and learning strategies earned him a 2019 Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award from the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa (HELTASA). The user-friendly maths solutions prepared in a step-by-step method enables Grade 12 learners to practice at home during the lockdown.

‘I have been a Mathematics practitioner for the bigger part of my life, written books in both Mathematics and Maths Literacy and taught both learners and teachers,’ says Mkhize.

‘We saw an opportunity as UKZN to remain engaged with our prospective students through social media (Facebook and WhatsApp) during the lockdown. This led to us developing user-friendly material (slides) for Grade 12 Mathematics learners. They are prepared in a step-by-step method and available free of charge. Our approach is to first arouse interest, create attention and show exciting and fun problem solving methods. This allows teachers and learners to relearn and unlearn (modify) Grade 12 Mathematics during this time,’ he added.

Topics covered thus far range from Euclidean Geometry (theorems) to Trigonometry problems. The father and son also share Grade 9 Mathematics material with the aim of encouraging learners to choose Mathematics in Grade 10.

‘The level of passion for and understanding of basic Mathematics concepts at the foundation and intermediate phases among teachers is our major challenge as a country. My longstanding proposal to the Department of Education is that every Maths teacher must be a specialist Mathematics teacher from Grade 1 to Grade 12. Then rename Maths Literacy, and offer an option to do both (some concepts are better presented in Maths Literacy). This would strengthen mathematical acumen whilst growing both Maths Literacy and Pure Mathematics knowledge,’ said Mkhize.

The Maths step-by-step methods can be accessed via Mkhize’s Facebook page: @msizi.mkhize.108, UKZN’s official Facebook page or the College of Law and Management Studies Facebook page: @ UKZN.CLMS

Words: Thandiwe Jumo

Photograph: Supplied

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UKZN Alumnus’ Organisation to Provide Personal Protective Equipment to 100 State Hospitals

UKZN Alumnus’ Organisation to Provide Personal Protective Equipment to 100 State Hospitals
UKZN alumnus, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman.

The Gift of the Givers, which was founded by UKZN alumnus, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, will this week provide 100 state hospitals with personal protective equipment (PPE) to assist in the fight against COVID-19.

According to an article published on IOL, the organisation will also provide front line ICUs with Hazmat suits and special protective intubation boxes.

Gift of the Givers said that private sector medical professionals will be included in this “protective” approach to “arm” medical professionals in our country to deal with the COVID-19 challenge.

‘Professional medical bodies battling to procure PPEs (due to worldwide shortages and criminally exploitative prices) will acquire the items from Gift of the Givers at cost.

‘Five thousand masks have started arriving on various flights this week,’ said Sooliman.

Gift of the Givers has erected 18 tents for triage in Chris Hani Baragwanath, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Northdale Hospitals. 

Sooliman described this method as ‘highly successful.’

He said the tent triage system aims to reduce contamination within hospitals and is extending to many more facilities.

‘COVID-19 testing sites will increase with eight facilities for private patients at the reduced rate of R750 opening in Pretoria this week. Our multiple partners ensure a turnaround time of 24 hours for results. With the new mode of testing arriving next week, the turnaround time will be 45 minutes. 

‘The ninth site, and our first at no cost for the public service, opens in Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital next week in partnership with the government.’

Sooliman said Gift of the Givers will fund 2 400 test kits as an initial contribution. 

‘We are in negotiations with public health in Port Elizabeth to set up a site for government, once again at our cost. Midlands Hospital in Graaff-Reinet which has been designated a dedicated COVID-19 facility in the region will receive extended support from Gift of the Givers. A dedicated vehicle to transport nurses between three test sites in the community has already been secured thanks to Isuzu,’ he said. 

In addition, 40 medical staff are provided with bottled water daily, and 44 SANDF members manning the “border” post in Graaff-Reinet are provided with food and water daily by Gift of the Givers. 

Thus far, 20 medical institutions, various emergency services, metro police, SAPS Pretoria head office and other centres, NICD and Immigration Services at OR Tambo International Airport have received FFP2 masks, latex gloves, coveralls, head covers and disinfectants from Gift of the Givers teams.

‘In addition to the protective wear, over 70 ventilators have been sourced with first option to purchase. Sourcing of video laryngoscopes is now underway. 

‘A dedicated vehicle, supplied by Ford, has been made available to Ahmed Bham, Gift of the Givers’ head of search and rescue, to visit key facilities dealing with COVID-19,’ said Sooliman. 

The toll free helpline for testing is 0800 786 911 while 0800 786 786 provides counselling related to the virus. 

‘In keeping with WHO and CDC recommendations, we have commissioned the production of material masks for free distribution to the public,’ Sooliman added.

•   This is an edited version of an article published on

Photograph: IOL (Tracey Adams/ African News Agency)

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Medical Students’ Action Plan to Respond to COVID-19

Medical Students’ Action Plan to Respond to COVID-19
Fourth-year Medical student and President of UKZN SAMSA, Ms Tivana Chellan.Click here for isiZulu version

Medical students who are members of the South African Medical Students Association (SAMSA) UKZN chapter initiated an action plan in response to COVID-19 at the onset of the nationwide lockdown. It takes the form of a series of presentations built around themes.

Thus far the themes that have been launched focus on spreading accurate information; factual information on the virus; understanding the use of masks and gloves; mental health and well-being; and an “I-Care” pledge challenge.

President of UKZN’s SAMSA, Ms Tivana Chellan said, ‘Our COVID-19 Student Action Team has worked diligently to educate people and to promote good mental health and compliance with the rules of the lockdown. I commend their exceptional dedication to educating and equipping people in the fight against this pandemic.

‘I have encouraged the presidents of all SAMSA chapters nationally to join us in our initiatives and to share within their own organisations and on a national scale so that we can ensure that all South Africans have access to the information.’

The first phase of the response was built around debunking myths on the virus through the creation of four e-presentations that provide simple, accurate and reliable information that holistically covers understanding, transmission and prevention of COVID-19. A section was also included on boosting one’s immune system using simple, cost-effective strategies.

Phase two was regarded as a serious and urgent issue that needed to be addressed and focused on the question of “who needs to wear a mask?” The students outlined common mistakes that individuals make when using a mask that place them at increased risk of the virus such as touching the front of the mask while in use, incorrect removal of masks and placing the mask on the chin. They also addressed cross-contamination with the use of gloves.

Phase three highlighted the importance of a daily routine and having a lockdown plan. ‘Mental health and wellbeing strategies have to be implemented on a daily basis so that we are able to remain rejuvenated and determined to conquer this pandemic,’ said Chellan.

Phase four involved the creation of solidarity badges with the I CARE pledge to encourage South Africans to unite and commit to acting in compliance with COVID-19 precautions, showing compassion to those in need of help, supporting healthcare and other essential workers and terminating the dissemination of false information during this crisis.

‘We strongly believe that heroic work and commendable acts of sacrifice, selflessness, kindness and leadership should not go unacknowledged. Therefore, each badge included a statement highlighting the significant role you could play in the fight against COVID-19. We asked everyone to post the badge most applicable to them as their profile picture and/or share it on social media platforms so that we can continue to keep the momentum going during this important period of lockdown. We call on all South Africans to help us to inspire as many people as possible to stand in solidarity and take the “I CARE” pledge for a healthy and more unified South Africa,’ said Chellan.

The creative badges were designed by students, Ms Kiara Govender (fourth-year) and Ms Serini Reddy (third-year). The COVID-19 Student Response team is made up of Medical students from first-year to those in their final-year of study.

Professor Mosa Moshabela who is heading up UKZN’s COVID-19 War Room commended the students on their remarkable initiative. ‘Congratulations on your initiative to spread accurate, factual information about this virus to our communities. During these difficult times of uncertainty, it is important for us to join together as health professionals to ensure that myths are debunked as they create panic. As Medical students, you are in a remarkable position to influence your communities through this high-impact health awareness campaign. Keep up the great work.’

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied

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