UKZN Students Among Absa GradStar Top 100

UKZN Students Among Absa GradStar Top 100
Ms Nokwanda Zondi and Mr Keshav Ajodapersad.Click here for isiZulu version

Third-year students at UKZN, Ms Nokwanda Zondi (Finance and Economics) and Mr Keshav Ajodapersad (Computer Science and Information Technology) secured places in the Absa GradStar Top 100 Students for 2020.

The GradStar programme recognises the Top 100 students across the country based on leadership qualities and readiness for the workplace. More than 8 000 entries were received.

Zondi said that it is an honour not only to be part of the Top 100 but also to be one of two UKZN students on the list. ‘I have benefitted a lot from the programme as it has shown me how competitive the world of work is. Being in direct communication with some of South Africa’s top companies such as Absa, BP, Accenture, and Fasken fed my passion to continue growing as a professional. I have benefited from new skills that will serve the career path I aim for in finance and entrepreneurship.’

For Ajodapersad, the GradStar programme offered the opportunity to network with like-minded people and to learn from their experiences.

‘It’s great that an external body recognises your achievements and then lets other people know about them. This motivates one to be consistently good in all that one does. Being in the Top 100 reflects my holistic development over the years. I am thoroughly enjoying my studies and look forward to completing my degree on a high note,’ he said.

Words: Thandiwe Jumo

Photographs: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Physiology Lecturer is a UTEL Champion

Physiology Lecturer is a UTEL Champion
Champion of University Technology Enhanced Learning, Dr Zama Msibi.Click here for isiZulu version

Human Physiology lecturer in UKZN’s School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences, Dr Zama Msibi is a champion of University Technology Enhanced Learning (UTEL). UTEL is a collaboration between UKZN’s University Teaching and Learning Office (UTLO) and Information Communication Services (ICS).

The first lecturer in her School to embrace a blended learning approach, Msibi said that it enables her to better understand her students and their different needs. While students took some time to adjust to discussion sessions where they are active participants in the teaching and learning process, they have responded enthusiastically to the use of video material which enhances their understanding of subjects like Neuroscience.

‘Msibi is a champion of technology-enhanced learning and has been using the services of UTEL for some time. We are encouraged that academics are taking advantage of the exceptional facilities at UTEL to embrace new ways of approaching their teaching,’ said Dr Diane van Staden, an Academic Leader for Teaching and Learning in the School of Health Sciences and a Developing Research, Innovation, Localisation and Leadership in South Africa (DRILL) fellow at UKZN.

Msibi observed that she has used UTEL’s state-of-the-art studios extensively as part of her technology-enhanced teaching strategy. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she recorded videos to break down difficult concepts for her students. Staff members at UTEL invested much time and effort to produce high quality, visually stimulating videos.

‘The UTEL team was professional, welcoming and pleasant to work with and greatly assisted me in transitioning to online teaching and learning in response to the pandemic.’

Msibi’s UTEL journey began when Professor Irene Mackraj, who was the academic leader of Teaching and Learning at the time, invited academics to the UTEL studios for a presentation on blended learning and the flipped classroom approach.

‘I was really interested in integrating technology into my teaching approach. However, I wanted to do things a bit differently. I did not just want to record lectures, but to enrich my students’ experience with the content, so I ventured into the flipped classroom approach. I sent my students short pre-recorded videos to help them engage with the content at home, before coming to class for a Q&A session. I teach some of the complex subjects that are the least favourite for some of my students. With the help of UTEL, I have been able to take my students on a visual tour of the gastrointestinal tract and have been able to break down brain components using animated videos. These videos include instructions and a number of probing questions to encourage students to engage with the content before coming to class,’ she said.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

HSFSA Donates Automated External Defibrillator to UKZN

HSFSA Donates Automated External Defibrillator to UKZN
From left: Professor Mosa Moshabela, Ms Dana Govender, Professor Gugu Mchunu, Ms Sam Dladla and Professor Fikile Mtshali.

UKZN’s School of Nursing and Public Health has received a donation of a Philips automated external defibrillator (AED) from the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA (HSFSA).

The Foundation’s Regional Manager and Health Promotion Programme Manager, Ms Dana Govender, and Health Promotion Officer, Ms Sam Dladla handed over the machine to the School.

The AED will be housed at the Clinical Skills Laboratory (CSL) and will be used by students in the Disciplines of Nursing and Family Medicine.

‘The fully equipped CSL promotes self-directed learning and enables our students to use emergency equipment. This defibrillator will ensure that they are skilled and become safe practitioners,’ said Nursing Academic Leader, Professor Fikile Mtshali.

Govender highlighted the importance of training health professionals to act in cases of emergency: ‘The HSFSA focuses on preventing cardiovascular disease and health professionals need to know how to act swiftly to prevent complications and save lives.’

‘I am very excited about the donation. I believe in strong university-community partnerships in which the parties engage meaningfully to address significant issues, in this case, promoting the health of communities,’ said HSFSA board member, Professor Gugu Mchunu.

Dean and Head of the School, Professor Mosa Moshabela thanked the foundation and applauded them for their behavioural interventions in communities.

‘Such interventions are now more relevant than ever to ensure that all communities have access to care. UKZN is moving towards developing a health promoting initiative. It is important to invest in the prevention of cardiovascular disease before it occurs,’ he said.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

College of Humanities Welcomes New Dean

College of Humanities Welcomes New Dean
Dean of the School of Applied Human Sciences, Professor Matshepo Matoane.Click here for isiZulu version

The College of Humanities has welcomed its new Dean of the School of Applied Human Sciences Professor Matshepo Matoane, who brings a wealth of experience in the Higher Education sector, specifically in distance education.

Before joining the University, Matoane spent 25 years at the University of South Africa (Unisa). Starting as a junior lecturer in the Department of Psychology, she worked her way up the ranks, becoming an Associate Professor of Psychology and ultimately, a member of the management team at Unisa, as a Director in the Directorate: Instructional Support and Services.

‘I feel truly honoured and humbled to be joining the management team of UKZN. The University holds a special place in my heart, especially because my last close encounter with it dates back to the early 1990s when I was studying towards a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. This is a special form of scholarship of engagement - to have the opportunity to reinvest years of experience (in both the professional practice and teaching of Psychology) into leading the School of Applied Human Sciences.’

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize added, ‘A very warm welcome to Professor Matoane. We look forward to her leadership and she has our full support.’

Matoane’s contribution to the discipline of Psychology includes being appointed a member of the Standards Generating Body of Psychology by South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), and serving as Head of the Department of Psychology at Unisa, and as a Council member of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), the highest decision-making body and regulatory structure of the health professions in the country. She served on the Health Committee of the HPCSA, which is responsible for supporting healthcare professionals in need of medical or psychological support.

Having spearheaded instructional support programmes such as professional development of staff and student support in her previous career at Unisa, she has a sound understanding of the factors that influence student success. She led the implementation of a successful, one of its kind online tutorial programme at Unisa.

Matoane’s other key institutional contributions include leading University Capacity Development (Department of Higher Education and Training funded) projects on student support, including involvement with the First Year Experience project. Joining UKZN during the COVID-19 pandemic affords her the opportunity to strengthen the School’s teaching and learning practices, especially within an online context.

‘My vision is to strengthen the already excellent scholarship of the School of Applied Human Sciences, with special emphasis on the local context while remaining globally relevant,’ she said. ‘Transformation remains at the heart of addressing our local challenges and there is a need to establish strong development programmes within the School that will enable staff members from the designated groups, who are concentrated at junior levels, to climb the academic ladder.’

In addition to her Master’s in Clinical Psychology from UKZN, Matoane completed an Honours degree in Psychology from the then Medical University of South Africa, cum laude, as well as a Doctor of Literature and Philosophy at Unisa. She has presented numerous papers at national and international conferences and authored articles and book chapters in the field of indigenous psychology and instructional support.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Ongoing Support for PhD Candidates Amidst COVID-19

Ongoing Support for PhD Candidates Amidst COVID-19
Initiator and co-ordinator of the PhD support series, Professor Colleen Aldous.

The Tuesday afternoon PhD support meetings initiated by Health Care Scientist in the School of Clinical Medicine Professor Colleen Aldous, which began in March this year have grown from strength to strength despite COVID-19.

The meetings aim to ensure that the PhD cohort remains engaged in their research during the lockdown. The students gather each week to hear a presentation from a member of their group or a guest speaker on a topic of general interest. The group has grown to include students from across the School of Clinical Medicine, the College of Health Sciences and other Colleges and universities.

‘The series of lectures has been very informative. We have been exposed to professors in many different departments at UKZN, who have graciously shared their knowledge with us. We have had several lectures on tips and tricks to assist with the practicalities of applications and computer programmes, psychological health, and how to maintain momentum. One of the most helpful aspects this year has been the contact with other PhD students, creating a sense of community, and increasing communication among students. The lectures and the writing sessions have enabled me to progress in many areas,’ said PhD student, Ms Sarah Walters.

‘Although these PhD support meetings were meant to last through the lockdown, their popularity has resulted in them being continued indefinitely. There will be a break over December and January as speakers and organisers take leave, and the talks will be back in their afternoon slot on Tuesdays from 15h00 to 16h00 from February 2021,’ said Aldous.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

MSCF Workshop Reinforces Student Leadership Skills

MSCF Workshop Reinforces Student Leadership Skills
Active participants at the MCCF leadership workshop.

The Medical Students Christian Fellowship (MSCF) at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine hosted a leadership seminar in October to equip student leaders with communication skills and explore ways to continue making an impact despite COVID-19. The debate topic of this seminar was titled: Can Student Leaders Still Lead Effectively Despite the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Guests included Dr Asanda Kuse who spoke on how to be an impactful student leader in all spheres of life including the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) and other societies within university. Other speakers were journalist, Mr Given Sibusiso Majola; Dr Bahle Tshoba (former MSCF leadership forum co-ordinator); and Mr Phindokuhle Mathenjwa (former MSCF chair).

The MSCF is a voluntary, non-denominational association of Christian Medical students that networks with different organisations that share its vision.

‘Our objective is to mobilise Christian health professionals, and to capacitate students through programmes that promote evangelism and morality throughout the University, as well as nationally and internationally,’ said event organiser, Mr Ndumiso Majola.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Webinar Investigates Inclusive Teaching During and Beyond COVID-19

Webinar Investigates Inclusive Teaching During and Beyond COVID-19
From left: Dr Roshanthni Subrayen, Professor Tsediso Makoelle, Professor Monaheng Sefotho and Professor Dipane Hlalele.

The College of Humanities’ webinar on Inclusive Teaching During and Beyond the COVID-19 Disruption featured Dr Roshanthni Subrayen (UKZN Disability Support Unit); Professor Tsediso Makoelle (Nazarbayev University) and Professor Monaheng Sefotho (University of Johannesburg). The event was facilitated by Professor Dipane Hlalele (UKZN).

‘Inclusive teaching is understood as a range of approaches that consider the diverse needs and backgrounds of all students/learners to create a learning environment where all students feel valued and all have equal access to learn,’ said Hlalele. ‘The process of inclusion is expected to incorporate fundamental change in the way a learning community supports and addresses the individual needs of each child. As such, effective models of inclusive education not only benefit students with disabilities, but also create an environment in which every student, including those who do not have disabilities, has the opportunity to flourish.’

Makoelle discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on inclusive pedagogy. He introduced the nature and essence of inclusive pedagogy, focusing on a conceptual framework for teaching and learning during the pandemic. The framework centres around key strategic areas for inclusive pedagogy ie, access, support, participation and achievement. ‘The challenges and opportunities of the new “pedagogical normal” need to correlate to the mode of curriculum delivery, inclusive support and learning. Teaching and learning in response to the impact of the pandemic should be prioritised,’ he said.

Sefotho discussed the Botho-Ubuntu ethic of care for differently-abled learners during and beyond COVID-19 while delving into the concept of Ubuntu in education spaces. ‘We need to consider human interdependence while acknowledging humanity in the other. Self-interconnection and group hospitality are vital,’ he said. Sefotho commended Ubuntu Pathways (formerly the Ubuntu Education Fund) a nonprofit organisation that provides integrated health, education, and social support in the townships of Port Elizabeth to assist learners during the pandemic.

Subrayen noted that students with disabilities reported more frequent difficulties and barriers to transitioning to online learning. She highlighted that the rapid shift to online learning can result in accessibility challenges and can cause additional stress due to inadequate finance, pre-existing conditions, shame, and social exclusion.

‘Give a voice to the COVID-19, disability and Higher Education realities of students with disabilities. Consulting with persons with disabilities will help shape equitable and inclusive online teaching and learning during and beyond COVID-19. Maintain resilience, and cultivate inclusion through a rights-based disability lens. This is fundamental in dismantling systemic barriers and advancing human rights and social justice. We need to assess where we have failed and measure our success in supporting students with disabilities during and beyond the pandemic,’ she said. 

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photographs: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

All Systems Go for New Data Science Programmes in 2021

All Systems Go for New Data Science Programmes in 2021
Staff and students in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science who are involved in the new suite of Data Science degrees.

The School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS) is celebrating the finalisation of a suite of Data Science degrees that will be offered as part of its programmes from 2021, equipping the School to attract top school leavers to enrol in mathematics, statistics and computer science, and to promote high level studies both in these disciplines and in Data Science through to postgraduate level.

The result of almost five years of focused effort by Dean and Head of the SMSCS Professor Delia North and internationally acclaimed Applied Statistician Professor Temesgen Zewotir, the new programmes in Data Science are part of the School’s strategy to tap into this emerging field and enhance its training of well-rounded professionals who are able to contribute to business and industry on entryto the workplace.

The programmes are designed around building skills for business and industry by developing high-end data analysts that can “think with data” to solve the challenges facing these sectors.

The UKZN programme is the first in South Africa to offer a Master’s, Postgraduate Diploma, Honours and BSc degree in Data Science, with the former two allowing for part-time as well as full-time enrolment.

North, who believes that students should not be “locked-in” to a programme without the possibility of pursuing different avenues, ensured that the undergraduate programme allows for students to elect to change to the M-stream BSc degree, where they can major in mathematics, applied mathematics, statistics, or computer science.

‘Students often do not have enough exposure at school to be sure which area they want to work in for the rest of their lives as they are only acutely aware of the subjects offered at school,’ she explained.

Featuring work-based learning opportunities made possible by strong collaboration and partnerships with industry, North and Zewotir have constructed the programmes to incorporate internships and solving of real problems emanating from business and industry, a unique feature that equips students with practical problem-solving skills and knowledge.

Feedback on their work from industry is important not only for students, but also for the staff teaching on the programmes, who will work continuously to improve their offerings to industry and to students by routinely reviewing their academic programmes.

‘This will mean that graduates fulfil the highest industry and academic standards and that their qualification positions them to make strong contributions to several fields that draw on data science skills, thus meeting the high demand for talented data scientists,’ said Zewotir.

The Postgraduate Diploma and Masters by Coursework in Data Science will be launched in 2021. Early responses saw 2 600 enquiries about the qualifications within 24 hours of the course information being broadcast on social media, indicating the high demand for and popularity of the programme.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Policy Framework Creates Pathways for Comprehensive Internationalisation at Universities

Policy Framework Creates Pathways for Comprehensive Internationalisation at Universities
.

On 6 November 2020, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology published the Policy Framework for Internationalisation of Higher Education in South Africa that provides a concise roadmap for Higher Education Institutions to engage in comprehensive internationalisation.

The drafting of the Policy Framework began in 2015 and it is informed by several key policy documents, and extensive and intensive engagement with internal and external stakeholders, as well as experts in the field. The much anticipated national policy has been hailed by international education specialists and practitioners as creating the impetus to enhance internationalisation in this sector. It is also timely in the current context of international Higher Education, which has been acutely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, troubling traditional notions of internationalisation.

To some extent, the national policy levels the playing field for South African Higher Education Institutions in terms of “how” they should internationalise. However, each institution is required to develop its own internationalisation policy/strategy that embraces the broad principles of the framework. As such, the Policy Framework provides guiding principles on student mobility, forging of international partnerships, international research collaborations that enhance teaching, learning, research and community engagement and the offering of joint programmes and degrees. It also has relevance for internationalisation of the curriculum that enhances the scope of internationalisation at home; activities that would traditionally remain the privilege of a minority of students. 

However, the policy is clear that internationalisation of the curriculum should not impede curriculum transformation imperatives. In addition, it seeks to mitigate the risk of brain drain and the commercialisation of international education. The Policy Framework requires that institutional internationalisation policies/strategies have measurable indicators and targets for internationalisation, which need to be included in institutional Annual Performance Plans submitted to the Department of Higher Education and Training. This implies that it will be incumbent upon institutions to set aside both fiscal and human resources to realise the goals of comprehensive internationalisation as mandated by the policy framework.

In this context, UKZN has been forward-thinking, as Goal 4 of the University’s Strategic Plan is Targeted Internationalisation. To some extent, the promulgation of the Policy Framework also advances UKZN’s vision to be the Premier University of African Scholarship as it places emphasis on intra-African collaboration and supporting the needs of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other African countries in the sphere of global engagement. Furthermore, the Policy Framework provides a cornerstone for UKZN to finalise and roll out its internationalisation policy grounded within our own context whilst adhering to the parameters set out in the national framework. Looking ahead, I believe that the Policy Framework has paved a significant way forward for internationalisation of Higher Education, intersecting teaching, learning, research and community engagement to achieve a process of embedded internationalisation within our institutions. 

Dr Tasmeera Singh is the Principal International Advisor, International Relations at UKZN and is a member of the Management Council of the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA).

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

UKZN and UNIZULU Researchers Discover Proteins to Fight Parasitic Disease

UKZN and UNIZULU Researchers Discover Proteins to Fight Parasitic Disease
From left: Dr Thandeka Khoza, Professor Khajamohiddin Syed and Ms Mbalenhle Mfeka.Click here for isiZulu version

Researchers at UKZN and the University of Zululand (UNIZULU) have discovered three new classes of detoxification proteins from a human pathogen that causes a serious gastrointestinal disease.

UKZN’s Dr Thandeka Khoza and UNIZULU’s Professor Khajamohiddin Syed began the research following time they spent together which prompted exploration of opportunities for increased collaboration.

Khoza and Syed developed the rationale for the project, which examined the human pathogen Cryptosporidium that can cause the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis. Widespread throughout the world, cryptosporidiosis is one of the most common causes of waterborne disease, a leading cause of zoonotic parasitic disease - neglected forms of which constitute a global health burden - and a leading cause of death in children under the age of five.

For immunocompromised patients, cryptosporidiosis becomes life-threatening as it can spread from the gastrointestinal tract to sites including the gall bladder, biliary tract, pancreas, and pulmonary system.

Examining proteins they surmised could aid in fighting the disease, Khoza and Syed explained that living organisms on earth, from microbes to human beings, contained proteins that aid them in detoxification of foreign or harmful compounds they came into contact with in their environments.

‘One of these protein families is known as Glutathione Transferases (GSTs),’ said Khoza. ‘GSTs are diverse multifunctional proteins involved in cellular defence and detoxification in organisms and help pathogens to alleviate chemical and environmental stress, making them a drug target in fighting all kinds of pathogens.’

UKZN Biochemistry master’s student Ms Mbalenhle Mfeka started work on the project under the supervision of Khoza and Syed, first attending the 2019 Conference on Genomics, Proteomics and Metabolomics hosted by UNIZULU where a workshop equipped her with suitable research tools and mentorship from Khoza, Syed and other international bioinformatics researchers.

Mfeka began by performing genome data mining, annotation, phylogenetic and structural analysis of GSTs in Cryptosporidium species. Delineating the three new classes they found in this exercise as Vega (?), Gamma (?) and Psi (?), the researchers’ structural analysis of the GSTs revealed that the Vega class possesses a unique structure not described before.

According to Syed, this is a novel protein distinct from others, constituting fundamental research that opens new doors to drug discovery.

‘The discovery of these three new GST classes from South African researchers is a great contribution to GST research to the world,’ said Syed.

Khoza and Syed praised Mfeka for her hard work, dedication and perseverance during the study, highlighting the importance of this achievement for the field of bioinformatics in South Africa, a scarce skill area still developing in Africa.

This work has been published* in the prestigious Scientific Reports peer-reviewed journal. Khoza and Syed are corresponding authors, with Dr Ikechukwu Achilonu of the University of the Witwatersrand, Professor José Martínez-Oyanedel of the Universidad de Concepción in Chile, and Dr Wanping Chen of the University of Göttingen in Germany.

The researchers are currently working on deducing the structure of these new GST proteins and designing drugs to fight the effects of Cryptosporidium species.

*https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-77233-5

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Christine Cuénod and Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Webinar Examines the Implications of COVID-19 for People Living with Disabilities

Webinar Examines the Implications of COVID-19 for People Living with Disabilities
From left: Ms Moyosore Olabintan, Professor Ebenezer Durojaye, Ms Dinah Msipa, Ms Lydia Mabaudi and Mr Thabo Magubane.

In collaboration with Moenics Consulting, UKZN hosted a virtual dialogue on the implications of COVID-19 for people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The webinar aimed to educate the public on the difficulties faced by persons with disabilities when accessing education and healthcare and explored solutions. It was facilitated by lawyer and international development practitioner, Ms Moyosore Olabintan.

Professor Ebenezer Durojaye Head of the Socio-Economic Rights Project at the Dullah Omar Institute, University of the Western Cape focused on a social model for persons with disabilities. He highlighted that those with mild disabilities can function without assistance while persons with severe disabilities require much more support.

Ms Dinah Msipa Programme Officer in the Disability Rights Unit at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria emphasised that each person with a disability has specific needs. She defined education as the ability to access continuous learning and focused on reasonable accommodation as a means of adapting to a learner’s needs.

UKZN Law student, Ms Lydia Mabaudi addressed the online learning challenges faced by disabled students due to COVID-19 and called on educators to assist students by familiarising them with the technology used.

Fellow Law student Mr Thabo Magubane, who is a member of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) student chapter at UKZN, noted the need to ensure that the technology employed for online learning is inclusive. ‘Zoom isn’t suitable for deaf students and there’s no interpreter or transcription section for people to read. Lecturers need to check if the user interface is accessible before using platforms for online learning.’

Olabintan raised the question of the most effective strategies to ensure that advocating for persons with disabilities translates to real results. In response, Mabaudi noted that championing the rights of the disabled creates awareness and benefits people and/or organisations through sponsorship.

Turning to who is responsible for ensuring that persons with disabilities have access to education, Durojaye stated that this is the government’s obligation, while Magubane and Mabaudi added that developers of learning materials are equally responsible. Msipa asserted: ‘It’s everyone’s responsibility - communities, government, policy makers and educators.’

Durojaye highlighted that limited access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact as persons with disabilities require special treatment and that not receiving such treatment violates their rights.

Magubane also noted that, while home testing for COVID-19 should be available to persons with disabilities, affordability is an issue especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. He added that access to information is crucial in addressing the stigma associated with disability and urged the public to disseminate information about intellectual and developmental disabilities.

‘Everyone can play their part by respecting and educating people about disabilities. We need to be the change we want to see,’ explained Durojaye.

In closing the session, Olabintan listed steps attendees could take going forward, such as including disabled persons in all decision-making, making access to education a collaborative effort, teaching the community about disabilities and encouraging educators to make themselves more available to learners with special needs.

Words: Hlengiwe Khwela

Photographs: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

South African Study Recommends Changes to WHO Regulations on PMTCT

South African Study Recommends Changes to WHO Regulations on PMTCT
Emeritus Professor Anna Coutsoudis.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines on Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) recommends that all HIV exposed uninfected infants (HEUs) born to HIV positive mothers receive cotrimoxazole (CTX) prophylaxis, commencing at four to six weeks of age and continuing until HIV infection can be excluded. A recent study by UKZN and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) recommends changing these guidelines, which would result in global policy changes in the management of HEUs.

Emeritus Professor Anna Coutsoudis of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health said: ‘The results of our study are exciting and will facilitate a change in the WHO and our own country’s guidelines with regard to the treatment of HEUs. The results indicate that there is no benefit in administering daily CTX to HEU breastfed infants, whose mothers are accessing a PMTCT programme and adhering to lifelong Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) in a non-malaria area. We therefore recommend that it is removed from the PMTCT programme in non-malaria countries.’

The study was conducted over five years from 2013 to 2018 at the Lancers Road and Cato Manor clinics in Durban. The city is regarded as the epicentre of the HIV epidemic. A cohort of 1219 HEUs were enrolled, with 611 receiving CTX and 608 not receiving it. All the participants, who included 653 male and 566 female HEUs were healthy, breastfeeding infants born to HIV positive mothers that were actively involved in PMTCT follow-up. The infants were HIV negative prior to the six-week enrollment visit and were followed up until 12 months of age.

Interestingly, a sub-study that examined the microbiome of infants found that those taking CTX prophylaxis had significantly higher resistance gene abundance than infants not taking CTX prophylaxis. Furthermore, infants taking CTX had decreased inter-individual microbiome diversity. These alterations to the microbiome are considered to be unfavourable and may have negative health impacts.

Coutsoudis added: ‘The findings on the increased resistance to CTX are serious since some evidence exists that CTX resistance coincides with resistance to other important antibiotics used during childhood for common illnesses. Since antibiotic resistance is a growing threat, and since the study showed that CTX prophylaxis increases antibiotic resistance genes while showing no clinical benefit for HEU infants in non-malaria countries, these data reiterate the call to revise the current CTX guidelines for HEU infants when mothers are actively receiving ART.

‘The other benefits of removing CTX as a routine treatment for HEUs include cost savings, a reduction in poor health among the infants and a likely increase in their quality of life. We believe that CTX prophylaxis should not be started in HEUs that have a negative HIV test at birth and whose mothers are receiving and adherent to lifelong ART.’

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

UKZN Commemorates World Sight Day

UKZN Commemorates World Sight Day
Volunteers at World Sight Day in Umlazi.

Third- and fourth-year Optometry students at UKZN commemorated World Sight Day at the Umlazi Community Centre in partnership with the Active Citizens Movement - Pietermaritzburg; the Phumlani Dube Foundation, Al Imdaad Foundation and Vision 4 Life.

Co-ordinated by Ms Zamadonda Xulu-Kasaba, a lecturer in the Discipline of Optometry, the 30 students worked tirelessly to screen almost 700 community members.

More than 100 referral letters were issued, mainly for mature (Grades 4 and 5) cataracts, with many of the referred patients reporting limited access to eye health services or being placed on indefinite cataract removal waiting lists.

‘The organising team sang the students’ praises and are confident that they will make a positive contribution to their communities in the future,’ said Xulu-Kasaba. She thanked all the stakeholders involved for their dedication and commitment to making eye health accessible, and their on-going work to avoid blindness in the province.

Ms Haseena Majid, an optometrist and founding member of the public-private health forum established to address the cataract surgery backlog in the uMgungundlovu district commended the students for their involvement, noting that they played a critical role in the event’s success.

Xulu-Kasaba and Majid thanked eThekwini District’s Co-ordinator of Eye-Health for his support.

‘The support from government stakeholders in the eThekwini District and the province is a positive indicator of the willingness to embrace collaborative strategies to address the challenges in public health eye service delivery,’ said Xulu-Kasaba.

‘It is our hope that universal access to eye health becomes a reality in our province so that the high prevalence of avoidable blindness can be significantly reduced,’ commented Majid.

Xulu-Kasaba thanked the organisers for the invitation, and encouraged them to remember that UKZN’s doors are always open to ventures involving community outreach as the Institution values Ubuntu in all that it does. She holds the distinction of being the only academic in the country with an Ocular Therapeutics qualification.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

UKZN Supports the Elimination of Cervical Cancer

UKZN Supports the Elimination of Cervical Cancer
UKZN’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and KZN DoH staff braved the rainy weather to demonstrate their support for the fight against cervical cancer.

Led by Professor Motshedisi Sebitloane, UKZN’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has pledged its support for the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer.

Ninety-nine percent of all cervical cancer cases are caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infections. A sexually transmitted infection, HPV causes no symptoms and clears within a year or two in most people, with no harmful effects. Persistent HPV infection can cause the cervix to progress to pre-cancer and eventually to cancer. While progress to cancer usually takes 10 years or more, HIV infection can accelerate it.

On 16 November, UKZN’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health braved the rainy weather to erect teal coloured balloon garlands on all campuses to raise awareness of cervical cancer. They also lit up the Memorial Tower Building on the Howard College campus in teal. On the Medical School campus, UKZN and Department of Health staff held up banners highlighting the key messages of the campaign.

‘We want people to understand that cervical cancer can be prevented. We encourage everyone to support this campaign and create awareness in their communities,’ said Sebitloane.

The 90-70-90 key goals of the WHO are that 90% of girls receive the HPV vaccine by the age of 15; that 70% of women are screened twice by the age of 45; and that 90% of women with pre-cancer and 90% with invasive cervical cancer receive treatment.

Words and photographs: Lihle Sosibo


author : .
author email : .

Humanities Academic to Serve on Census 2021 National Advisory Committee

Humanities Academic to Serve on Census 2021 National Advisory Committee
Ms Nompumelelo Nzimande.

Academic in the School of Built Environment and Development Studies Ms Nompumelelo Nzimande will serve as the Chair of the Census 2021 National Advisory Committee (NAC).

‘I am a member of the SA Statistics Council, which is responsible for the production and use of official statistics in the country. I chair the council’s Population and Social Statistics sub-committee, which is responsible for oversight of the 2021 population census. As a demographer I am a good fit to chair this and the current NAC,’ said Nzimande.

A Stats SA statement notes that the Census 2021 NAC comprises of stakeholders from various entities, including government and private organisations, who will contribute multi-sector expertise and influence to ensure that the upcoming census is effective and efficient.

The appointment of the Census 2021 NAC is the final “puzzle piece” at national level to initiate advocacy, educational, and community mobilisation initiatives as Stats SA prepares to conduct a census dress rehearsal, the Census 2021 Pilot, early next year. This will be the final preparatory phase for the total population count scheduled for October next year.

Statistician General Mr Risenga Maluleke said, ‘It is my pleasure to enlist the support of these distinguished individuals who will bring on board a variety of skills to ensure that Stats SA delivers a successful census.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .