Could Common Bacteria Protect Women in SA Against HIV?

Could Common Bacteria Protect Women in SA Against HIV?
The FRESH (Females Rising through Education, Support and Health) clinical research team gives the ‘V’ for victory sign for Lactin-V on launch day.

UKZN scientists are members of an international team doing research into whether the common bacteria, Lactobacillus can protect women in South Africa against HIV.

The innovative study, launched in Umlazi, Durban, also involves researchers from the Aurum Institute based in Johannesburg, the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF), and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard in the United States.

The treatment, Lactin-V, is derived from a strain of bacteria known as Lactobacillus that is naturally abundant in women who have low levels of vaginal inflammation which is associated with decreased HIV risk. Prior studies in South Africa have shown that women who have a deficiency of Lactobacillus have higher levels of vaginal inflammation and up to 3- to 4-fold higher risk of HIV infection.

Researchers aim to discover whether treatment with Lactin-V, which was developed by Osel, Inc. in Mountain View, California; can protect women from HIV by altering the composition of the vaginal microbiome to one associated with lower inflammation in the vaginal tract.

This first-in-Africa trial seeks to enrol 60 healthy young women aged between 18 and 23, each receiving 11 doses of Lactin-V over the course of four weeks. Lactin-V has already been tested in 228 women in the United States and shown to be safe.

Said Professor Thumbi Ndung’u, Scientific Director of the HIV Pathogenesis Programme (HPP) at UKZN and a co-principal investigator of the Lactin-V study: ‘There is a pressing need for new HIV prevention and cure strategies that are effective in our setting but also acceptable and easy to access by young women who are disproportionately affected by HIV. Launching this clinical trial is an important milestone. We’ve made great progress toward understanding how HIV is transmitted and causes disease on a molecular level and can now translate that knowledge into new interventions that may benefit the community and accelerate the goal of AIDS elimination.’

Lactin-V, can be stored at room temperature and is designed to be user-friendly, delivered in an applicator inserted like a tampon, which can be easily incorporated into women’s daily routine. The first participant, a 22-year-old Umlazi resident, said: ‘I’m happy to be a part of the Lactin-V study. When the opportunity for us to learn about what’s going on in our bodies arises, why not take it?’ After receiving her first dose at the clinic she said: ‘It was easy. I am sure I can do this. No problem!’

‘If Lactin-V can lower the risk of HIV infection without requiring young women to alter their behaviour, it could be a game-changer,’ said Dr Krista Dong, clinical director of the FRESH (Females Rising through Education, Support and Health) research site where the trial is being conducted and an investigator from the Ragon Institute.

‘Umlazi is my community so I welcome this study that aims to help our daughters and grand-daughters avoid HIV infection,’ said the Rev Lucky Mngomezulu, who is a member of the community advisory board that provides oversite for HPP initiatives such as the Lactin-V trial. ‘I am grateful to see that scientists in South Africa and around the world are thinking of us.’

Financial support for the study is being provided by the US National Institute of Health, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Grant 1R01HD098978.

Words: Annie Miall and MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied


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Clinical Implications of Long COVID

Clinical Implications of Long COVID
Participants of webinar (from left) Dr Ntobeko Biyela, Professor Nombulelo Magula, Professor Kennedy Nyamande, and Dr Sandile Kubheka.Click here for isiZulu version

Clinicians have found that Long COVID (LC) symptoms can extend up to 12 weeks in many cases with serious consequences, says the Head of Pulmonology at UKZN, Professor Kennedy Nyamande, who was speaking at a UKZN College of Health Sciences webinar.

Nyamande, together with the Head of Internal Medicine at UKZN, Professor Nombulelo Magula, and registrars in the Department of Internal Medicine Drs Sandile Kubheka and Ntobeko Biyela presented on their experiences of LC and its clinical implications.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), LC is generally defined as COVID-19-related symptoms present for more than 28 days after the onset of an acute Coronavirus infection.

Nyamande mentioned that many people do not test for COVID-19 despite having symptoms with their condition worsening before hospitalisation with serious consequences.

Biyela said patients with LC present with symptoms such as a cough, low grade fever, breathlessness, headaches, chest pain, dyspnea, neurocognitive difficulties, muscle pain and or weakness, thromboembolic conditions, gastrointestinal upsets, metabolic derangements and or skin rashes, tachycardia, insomnia and anxiety.

The speakers discussed case studies of patients with LC:

In Case 1, a 53-year-old man presented with breathlessness after climbing a few stairs, a symptom which occurred five months after he was diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2. This patient, who had a history of Type 2 diabetes and a coronary artery bypass, was treated in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with High Flow Nasal Oxygen (HFNO) and Non-Invasive Ventilation (NIV) as well as high doses of prednisone. The patient was discharged and is currently asymptomatic.

In Case 2, a 66-year-old woman was diagnosed with LC presenting with pulmonary hypertension (PHT), interstitial lung disease (ILD) and pulmonary embolism (PE). After receiving three weeks of prednisone, the patient was discharged with medication but returned a month later presenting with similar symptoms as she had defaulted on her medication. In hospital treatment included Warfarin, low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) as well as prednisone. Twelve days after re-admission the patient died.

Nyamande stressed that it was important to consider the patient’s history, conduct a thorough physical exam, run specific tests, diagnose the patient and then refer them to a specialist for the appropriate care. ‘LC often presents according to where the virus invades the brain stem and is mediated. This is referred to as persistent brainstem dysfunction and is common in patients with LC. Many patients need to be referred to mental health services due to presenting with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and neuro LC. It is also essential for the patient to receive social support from their religious organisations, cultural groupings, family and friends,’ he said.

Biyela presented two case studies of patients with LC in hospital care.

Case 1 involved a 49-year-old Indian man who presented with shortness of breath, tachycardia and muscle pain. He had no comorbidities but had a BMI of 39kg/m2. He was diagnosed with severe community acquired pneumonia, Class 2 obesity and hypoxia. The patient’s inflammatory markers were high and he had been exposed to two colleagues with COVID-19 in his workplace. Seven days after his contact, he went on holiday as he was asymptomatic. On day 11, he developed symptoms and on day 12 was admitted to hospital. The patient was treated with double oxygen, dexamethasone as well as physiotherapy. On day 53, he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and chronic thromboembolic disease.

Biyela mentioned that people with obesity were at a very high risk for infection as Human ACE2 gene expression is higher in both human subcutaneous adipose tissue and human visceral adipose tissue. Using the spike-like protein on its surface, the SARS-CoV-2 virus binds to ACE2 receptors with ease. Thus adipose tissue provides a seamless port of entry for the virus. After treatment, the patient was discharged on day 86.

In case 2, a 49-year-old African woman living with HIV who was virally suppressed, presented with a dry cough and pain. She was hypoxic and required minimal oxygen. She also presented with secondary bacterial infection. She was diagnosed with severe COVID pneumonia and PE but recovered and was discharged on day 77.

Kubheka’s presentation at the webinar focused on the social and health system determinants of health outcomes. Kubheka, who is South Africa’s youngest doctor having graduated with a medical degree from UKZN at the age of 20, is currently pursuing a Masters of Medicine degree in Internal Medicine at UKZN.

Kubheka said: ‘Nothing is equal about the impact COVID-19 has had on the marginalised compared to other populations. The World Health Organization’s guidelines stipulate the importance of self-isolation for those who test positive. In the South African situation where there is a lack of sufficient housing, this is not possible. Due to poor sanitation, overcrowding and no water; prophylactic measures are impossible to achieve in our settings.’

Kubheka further stated that South Africa had more than 1.6 million positive COVID-19 cases with two-thirds of the testing done in the private sector.

However, despite all of the challenges, Magula said: ‘Positive outcomes can be achieved despite inequalities in our healthcare system. Looking at the many cases of LC that presented in our hospitals, the recovery rate has been excellent with specialist care.’

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photographs: Supplied


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UKZN Launches Exciting New Degree in GIS and Earth Observation

UKZN Launches Exciting New Degree in GIS and Earth Observation
UKZN is offering a BSc in Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation from 2022.Click here for isiZulu version

The 4th Industrial Revolution has seen an increase in the use of spatial data for decision-making in line with promoting evidence-based and knowledge driven economies. Responding to these paradigm shifts, a new programme (BSc GIS-EO), has been created in the School of Agricultural Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES).

The programme, which offers a three-year study in Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (Remote Sensing), aims to develop and build high level theoretical and practical skills in spatial data analysis and environmental monitoring using GIS and remote sensing technologies. The programme provides an intensive educational opportunity designed to equip students for either a career in the Geographical Information industry or to build scientific understanding and practical know-how in preparation for postgraduate studies. On completion, the graduates will be able to engage critically in current debates on development initiatives, and formulate spatial management strategies in decision-making.

Ideas for a new programme started a few years ago after the realisation that many organisations in South Africa and the region continue to experience rapid growth in the volumes of spatial data, resulting in a growing demand for skilled personnel in GIS and earth observation. The introduction of the programme was also triggered by the identification of Earth Observation, Space Science and Technology being among five grand challenges in the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) 10-Year Innovation Plan, which is a Cabinet-approved instrument supporting the South African National Space Agency Act, 2008.

Training of students is therefore a key priority area for the successful implementation of the Earth Observation and Space Science programme. Currently, many universities in South Africa offer a few GIS courses as part of Environmental Science or Geography major degree programmes. While these courses provide basic theoretical and practical understanding of the subject, the introduction of a fully-fledged GIS-EO programme will enhance skill sets and produce rounded graduates with data acquisition, processing (including programming and cloud computing), storage and sharing expertise, coupled with an understanding of environmental processes and changes thereof in the face of climate change.

Following approval for the programme, the Dean and Head of School, Professor Fhatuwani Mudau, said: ‘As a School, we are happy to offer a programme which will tackle the societal needs of our communities. The programme will enable our students to be able to respond to the 4th Industrial Revolution and inspire greatness in our society.’

Since the programme is interdisciplinary in nature, its development involved a number of disciplines, including Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science, Geography, Physics and the Biological Sciences, whose representatives converged to introduce key and relevant modules that could build the programme. Facilitation from the School and College leadership as well as Quality Promotion and Assurance (QPA), yielded a watertight coordination of the programme development.

Having been fully registered as a Higher Education Qualification Sub Framework (HEQSF) qualification on the National Qualifications Framework level 8 (NQF), as per South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) letter dated 28 April, 2021, the programme will be fully operational as from 2022.

 Entry requirements are 30 NSC points, including Maths (Level 5), Physical Science, Life Science or Agricultural Science (Level 4).

For further information contact: Professor Onisimo Mutanga.

Words: Onisimo Mutanga

Image: Supplied


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Horticultural Student Wins International Award

Horticultural Student Wins International Award
Prize winner, Mr Bonga Ngcobo.

Award-winning senior PhD student in the Discipline of Horticultural Science, Mr Bonga Ngcobo is researching innovative and sustainable practices to enhance the quality and yield of solanaceous crops for a green South African economy.

The Solanaceae, or nightshades, are a family of flowering plants that range from annual and perennial herbs to vines, lianas, epiphytes, shrubs and trees.

Ngcobo, who is being supervised by Professor Isa Bertling and Dr Alistair Clulow, represented UKZN during the VIII International Symposium on Fruit and Vegetable Effects on Human Health, FAVHEALTH2021, winning an award from the International Society for Horticultural Science for his poster presentation.

The symposium was originally planned for Stuttgart, Germany, from 2-6 June, 2020 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and took place virtually from 9-11 March, 2021.

The symposium was combined with the IV International Symposium on Horticulture in Europe (SHE); the V International Humulus Symposium (IHS), and the Annual Convention of the German Society for Horticultural Science, under the combined symposia theme: Advancing Together: Enhancing Quality of Life through HortScience, reflecting the many exciting achievements in horticultural science for the benefit of societies of today and tomorrow that were realised through strong academic-industry research partnerships.

The conference included plenary presentations of leading international scientists, panel discussions with renowned companies, industry stakeholders and legislators, oral and poster presentations on fundamental and applied research as well as exhibitions of products and services.

The symposium provided a unique platform for moving forward together as horticulturists to progressive values and to build a brighter future for generations to come.

Said Ngcobo: ‘I really enjoyed the Congress experience, particularly being able to exchange and test new ideas, meet other scientists on an online platform, and stimulate new development and innovative research in the plant science arena. It is our duty as horticulturists to beautify the land through floriculture, and to secure safe, healthy and sustainably-produced food for everyone.’

Ngcobo’s poster presentation at FAVHEALTH2021 was titled: Effect of Irradiation with LED Light Combined with Heat Treatment on Colour Development and Fruit Quality of Cherry Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum). The study demonstrated that colour and health-related parameters can be enhanced by hot water treatment and illumination with LEDs.

The presentation won Ngcobo the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) Professor Jens Wünsche Young Minds Award for the best poster presentation by a symposium participant younger than 30 years. The award was previously known as (ISHS) Young Minds Award, which Ngcobo won at the International Symposium on Moringa (ISM2019) in 2019.

Following the latest award, Ngcobo was invited to publish a full paper in the European Journal of Horticultural Science and to prepare a summary of his research project to be considered for publication in Chronica Horticulturae. He also received a one-year complimentary membership of the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS), and his poster presentation will be published in the journal Acta Horticulturae.

‘I am very proud of my research accomplishments over the past four years,’ said Ngcobo. ‘I have been fortunate to be able to present my findings at international, national, and institutional levels and to win awards. The presentations, oral or poster, helped me gain confidence and skills to interact with the audience. I am, therefore, well-equipped for any position that might be available after I complete my PhD.’

Words: Ntokozo Dladla

Photograph: Supplied


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UKZN Student Appointed American Society for Microbiology Young Ambassador

UKZN Student Appointed American Society for Microbiology Young Ambassador
Dr Iliya Kwoji.

UKZN student and veterinarian and bacteriologist in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Maiduguri in Nigeria, Dr Iliya Kwoji, has been appointed American Society for Microbiology Young Ambassador to South Africa.

Kwoji is enrolled for a PhD degree in Genetics at UKZN and through collaboration is also a visiting researcher at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in Irene.

His research focuses on the cell-to-cell interactions among lactic acid bacteria using multi-omics techniques under the supervision of Dr Matthew A Adeleke (UKZN), Dr Olayinka A Aiyegoro (ARC) and Dr Moses Okpeku (UKZN).

Kwoji has been an ASM member since 2019 as well as a member of other professional bodies, including the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (BSAC), the International Scientific Association for Prebiotics and Probiotics, and the South African Society for Microbiology.

As ASM Young Ambassador to South Africa - a competitive position requiring hard work, and scientific and leadership skills - Kwoji will aim to promote microbial sciences among young and early-career researchers and foster local and international collaborations. 

Kwoji joins a prestigious network of over 100 Young Ambassadors of Science around the world who are passionate about advancing microbial sciences in their communities and globally.

Commenting on his appointment, Kwoji quoted French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur: ‘Science knows no country because knowledge belongs to humanity and is the torch which illuminates the world. In the field of observation; chance favours only the prepared mind.’

Kwoji said that the position meant a lot to him as an emerging scientist. ‘Establishing collaborations in multidisciplinary research is the only way out of the current global challenges confronting humanity. It also means that no matter where we come from, enthusiasm and tenacity are potent tools to achieving our dreams in life.’

He hopes to raise awareness of ASM activities among young African scientists and educate them on how to tap into the opportunity to better their careers by engaging in active collaborations, both locally and internationally.

‘I sincerely appreciate the decision by the leadership of ASM to appoint me to serve in this prestigious position,’ he said.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Supplied


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UKZN Sports Fan Head of Beach Soccer in KZN

UKZN Sports Fan Head of Beach Soccer in KZN
UKZN’s Mr Zwelithethindaba Sapula who is bringing pro beach soccer to the province.Click here for isiZulu version

UKZN’s Mr Zweli Sapula has been appointed CEO for Pro Beach Soccer in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Pro Beach Soccer League, set to kick off in September, will be played on eThekwini’s South Beach as a two-round league. ‘The league was approved by the mother controlling body for football in the province, KZN SAFA. At the start it will be played in KZN only, later being taken to other coastal regions and provinces,’ said Sapula.

Sapula, who is the Senior Sports Officer on the Edgewood campus, said the league had been established to ‘give hope to the youth and everyone who has a love and passion for sport, especially at the beach.’

Sapula said the project was sustainable as the infrastructure costs were low and South Africans loved soccer! ‘It is easy to have infrastructure as you only need vacant land, sand and goal posts. You don’t need expensive soccer boots - you play beach soccer bare foot. There’s no age restriction, you only need to be fit,’ he said.

He is confident a national team will be formed in South Africa to compete in Afcon qualifiers as well as in competitions globally. ‘The development will ensure players have an option to become professional in a sport they love and can play. It will improve infrastructure and capacitate personnel, including qualified coaches and administrators as they will be trained to work globally.’

Sapula plans to involve the youth from townships in the pro beach soccer developmental league. ‘The youth are our future and if they are not part of new things, the country will stay the same and will take time to catch up with the world. This sport will keep the youth occupied and help reduce the number of youngsters who get involved in substance and alcohol abuse. My hope is that it will keep them engaged and fit with a goal to becoming professional.’

Entertainment and tourism will be linked to the game, which may attract sponsors to grow and sustain the sport. ‘TV coverage is great because people love this sport and it will have a different level of content,’ he said. ‘Sponsors will find space to market their products in a new sport which will be like a breath of fresh air after the pandemic.’

Manager: Student Health and Sport at UKZN Mr Mark Bashe congratulated Sapula and wished the sport well as it grew and developed in SA. ‘Our Department is thrilled to have Zweli leading beach soccer in our country - he has the passion, knowledge and the expertise in football and will hopefully guide this fairly new code to greater heights. Zweli is the driving force behind our UKZN football strategy which saw our men’s team win the USSA National Championships in 2018. We wish him and his team lots of success in driving this new strategy for beach soccer in South Africa,’ said Bashe.

Sapula thanked the leadership of SAFA nationally, the association’s KZN leadership, the eThekwini Municipality for the ‘vision and understanding what we want to do for the nation and KZN. We also would like to thank the KZN Department of Sport and Recreation who saw the opportunity for sport development. 

Currently reading for his PhD in sports leadership in KZN, Sapula said: ‘I love sport with all my heart. I live it.’

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer

Photographs: Supplied


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SA’s Health System in Urgent Need of Reform – Webinar Finding

SA’s Health System in Urgent Need of Reform – Webinar Finding
Health experts (top from left): Dr Salomé Meyer and Professor Fatima Suleman. Middle from left: Drs Andrew Gray, Fatima Hassan and Marumo Nkomo. Bottom from left: Mr Mark Heywood and Dr Kiu Siang Tay.

South Africa’s inequitable health system is unsustainable in its current form while a lack of transparency in costing is preventing people from receiving life-saving medicines.

That was the general consensus of health experts taking part in a webinar hosted by UKZN and the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre (WHO CC) for Pharmaceutical Policy and Evidence Based Practice.

Experts contributing to the webinar - titled: Inequities to Access to Cancer Medicines in South Africa - included (1) Project Manager at the Access to Medicine Campaign Dr Salomé Meyer, who presented on: Local Perspective and the Need to Re-think/Re-design/Re-engineer; (2) WHO’s Dr Kiu Siang Tay, who spoke on: Providing a Global Perspective of the Cost of Cancer Medicines; (3) , the Director of the Health Justice Initiative Dr Fatima Hassan who focused on: The Legal and Human Rights Imperative to Address Inequities in Medicine Access; (4) WHO CC for Pharmaceutical Policy and Evidence Based Practice Professor Fatima Suleman of UKZN on: The Imbalance of Medicine Access and Possible Solutions to Ensure Equitable Access, and (5) Director: Legal - International Trade & Investment at the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition,) Dr Marumo Nkomo, on Patent Law Reform - Where to From Here to Ensure Equitable Access?”

Meyer said COVID-19 had served to further highlight the inequities in the South African health system and that ‘availability’ of medicines needed to be coupled with ‘affordability’ which would then translate into ‘access’ to medicines for everyone in need.

Meyer said the Cancer Alliance had produced a report in 2017 titled Patent Barriers of Cancer Medicinesthat showed patents blocked the availability of more accessible generic medicines. She said the report stated that only seven of the 21 registered cancer medicines available in the private sector were available in the public health sector.

‘A second report focusing on the public and private sector showed that there was a problem with the tender procurement process and supply in the public sector which often resulted in out-of-pocket expenses for patients, while in the private sector there was a problem of overpriced medicines affordable only by a select group of patients.’ 

Tay gave a global perspective on the pricing of cancer medicines, using the 2018 WHO technical report on the pricing of medicines that included the clinical benefits and risks of medicines. 

He said the report highlighted how the high pricing of medicines had generated profit for pharmaceutical companies far greater than their research and development costs. The report revealed an inconsistency in pricing from country to country with lower availability of medicines in lower-income countries.

Suleman said nine percent of adult mortality in the world was caused by cancer with the projection that the incidence would get higher over the next 10 years. This was partly as a result of the high cost of medicines, the required care for patients as well as unfactored costs of chemotherapy such as buying wigs and securing transport to therapy centres.

She referred to a WHO report that indicated that ‘a course of standard treatment for early-stage human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 positive (HER2+) breast cancer (doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, docetaxel, trastuzumab) would cost about 10 years of average annual wages in India and South Africa’.

The provision of new-generation immunotherapy drugs such as ipilumumab had a price tag of R1m, while trastuzumab costs R25 000 a treatment - something completely unaffordable for public-sector patients.

Suleman said the cost of a one-month treatment (40mg) of Irinotecan (Campto) was equal to about 32.3 days of wages for the average person. ‘What happens to patients who cannot afford the medicines?’

She suggested that southern African countries collaborate to increase their purchasing power of the medicines. Greater pricing transparency was key to determining a fair price.

Suleman said statistics showed that registered cancer medicine meant to extend life, extended a patient’s life by an average of only 2.7 months.

Hassan emphasised there was a need to look at Section 27 of the Constitution, which affirms that everyone has the right of access to health services. ‘However, it is not enough to just have access to services, people also need to have access to treatment,’ said Hassan.

‘The laws and policies we have are not translating into affordable access to medicines; we have seen this not only with cancer, but also with COVID over the last few months. This undermines dignity as well as civil and political rights contained in the Constitution.’

Looking at South African domestic patent laws, Hassan said Parliament had still not passed patent laws enabling the government to reduce pricing. ‘This was why everyone needed to support the #fixthepatentlaws campaign,’ she said.

The expert panel maintained that cancer was a public health crisis, however, it could be treated and did not need to be a death sentence.

They also highlighted that profiteering from medicines was a human rights violation and denied people life-saving medication and care. 

‘We cannot have patents on medicines that save lives,’ said Hassan.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Image: Supplied


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Growing UKZN with Successful Staff the Key to Future Prosperity

Growing UKZN with Successful Staff the Key to Future Prosperity
College of Health Sciences Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Busi Ncama.

‘The success of staff is the success of UKZN and its management,’ said UKZN’s College of Health Sciences Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Busi Ncama, who was speaking at the College’s 2021 Academic Promotions Workshop.

Directed at all academic staff, the first part of the virtual workshop covered: (1) Criteria for academic promotions; (2) An overview of the academic promotions process and guidelines: a perspective from a senate representative; (3) A perspective from the successful applicant on the old and new policy era; and (4) Unpacking the Research.

Ncama emphasised the need for individuals to start planning an academic career early in their lives, which is why she believes in the need to understand the criteria for promotion from the get go.

She said the purpose of the workshop was to recognise the excellent performance of the College’s academic staff and to provide a clear career path for them at UKZN.

‘Our goal is to recruit top-quality academic staff and recognise their scholarly achievement by appointing them at the appropriate academic level.’

Senate representative on Academic Promotions Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa, gave an overview of academic promotions processes and guidelines. ‘The promotion processes should reflect the REACH-T values of the University.

In rewarding and recognising outstanding performance our evaluation has been a holistic one for all candidates,’ said Hlongwa, who advised academics to always read the Academic Appointments and Promotion Policy as well as Procedures and Guidelines thoroughly. ‘Unsuccessful candidates have often not complied with fundamental requirements which are clearly spelt out in the documents.

‘To be successful, you should plan ahead - read the documents way before you apply for promotion to give yourself sufficient time to ensure you have met the criteria,’ she advised.

Professor Shenuka Singh shared some detail on her 11-year academic promotion journey, from 2011 in her position as a lecturer to 2020 when she was promoted to full professorship. Singh said her first application for promotion to senior lecturer was unsuccessful… but she never gave up!

She spoke on the academic promotions process, developing the teaching statement developing the teaching statement, building the portfolio of evidence, and self-assessment and reflexivity. From the process she learned the importance of the timing of submission. ‘Never give up and plan, plan, plan,’ she said.

The first session was concluded by Professor Thumbi Ndung’u, who is the South African Research Chair in the HIV Pathogenesis Programme (HPP), and Deputy Director of the Doris Duke Medical Research Institute (Science), and the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI).

Ndung’u spoke on academic research, giving academics tips on research excellence, manuscript anatomy, mentorship and networking.

The second session, which was equally informative, began with a dynamic presentation by Professor Musa Mabandla on highlighting the key aspects of a good community engagement and university service.

He emphasised two main categories: ‘Activities integrated within teaching and research and activities that come in addition to teaching and research.’

‘The purpose of the Academic Appointment and Promotions Policy is to enable the UKZN to achieve its mission to be academically excellent, innovative in research, critically engaged with society and demographically representative,’ said Mabandla.

The session also covered, Defining Standing in the Discipline presented by Professor Moses Chimbari; and What Were the Noted Gaps and Errors in the Previous Applications: a Perspective from the Previous Dean and Head of School and Chair of the Academic Promotions Panel, Professor Mahmoud Soliman.

Soliman’s presentation was shared with academic staff in the College via a video-recording.

Chimbari commended College management and Human Resources for organising the workshop to assist applicants for academic promotion. ‘I believe it was of immense benefit to would-be applicants. Your actions show that you want people to succeed rather than fail.’

Dr Brenda de Gama thanked the College for organising the workshop. ‘It was very informative and insightful.’

The College’s Dean of Teaching and Learning, Professor Sinegugu Duma, said: ‘The main message is consistency in all criteria from the time one enters academia to full professorship.’

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photographs: Supplied


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UKZN Webinar Spotlight on Management and Entrepreneurship

UKZN Webinar Spotlight on Management and Entrepreneurship
Panellists at the SMIG Webinar from left: Professor Dan Remenyi, Dr David Sarpong, Professor Rosemond Boohene, Professor Vannie Naidoo, and Dr Thea van der Westhuizen.

The School of Management, IT and Governance (SMIG) hosted a webinar to discuss topical issues around management and entrepreneurship.

Participants comprised about 400 academics, University professional services staff, undergraduate and postgraduate students, business professionals, entrepreneurs, and representatives from a variety of local government sectors and large international corporations.

The programme was hosted by Academic Leader Dr Thea van der Westhuizen, who in her welcome address said management and entrepreneurship were among the most important issues currently faced by society. Contemporary research, learning and teaching, and management and entrepreneurship combined to promise exciting times ahead in the education of the next generation of managers and entrepreneurs.

The discussion panel included SMIG’s Professor Dan Remenyi, who was the keynote panellist; honorary research fellows Dr David Sarpong and Professor Rosemond Boohene; and Professor Vannie Naidoo, an associate professor and researcher at the School.

Remenyi said management was a relatively new field of study. With its modern manifestation developing from around 1900, it had only become part of the consciousness of business in the 1950s thanks to the work of Peter Drucker. A lot of work had been done since then in understanding and improving the functioning and organisation of society but there was still a lot to do, especially in clarifying the reach and scope of management processes and how they affected people.

Remenyi said entrepreneurship - an evolving concept which had caught the imagination of many - had the potential to deliver extraordinary benefits. It was, however, a very challenging task to succeed as an entrepreneur and care needed to be taken in explaining and demonstrating what was really involved in building new successful businesses.

Sarpong’s subject for debate was: How do we bring together theory and practise?, while Boohene examined concepts of management and entrepreneurship saying ‘we live in an uncertain and turbulent environment where the traditional ways of doing things have been questioned as most of them do not work or need to be modified in our present dispensation.

‘Currently with the pandemic, people have been asked to work from home - we need to think about how we manage that situation and whether it is in fact possible to manage people who work remotely?’ said Sarpong.

Naidoo discussed insights around the 4th Industrial Revolution and COVID-19; research studies on transcendental consciousness and how it impacts on the manager and entrepreneur, and the ever-changing management and entrepreneurial education.

‘The dynamic nature of management is being studied and dissected by theorists all over the world,’ she said. ‘As a science, management has transformed the way we live, work and every facet of human life as we know it. Management has continually evolved over time - this we can see in every century as management thought continues to evolve in the 4IR and now the COVID-19 pandemic,’ she said.

The session ended with an interactive panel discussion and Q&A session involving all participants.

Words: Lungile Ngubelanga

Photograph: Supplied


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Academic Staff Wellness during COVID-19 Addressed During Webinar

Academic Staff Wellness during COVID-19 Addressed During Webinar
Professor Vannie Naidoo.Click here for isiZulu version

Following her laudable community engagement endeavours, Professor Vannie Naidoo of UKZN’s School of Management, Information Technology and Governance was invited by the Director of CECEU, Professor Saad Znad Darwish of the Kingdom University in Bahrain, to facilitate a webinar on Academic Staff Wellness During COVID-19.

Naidoo said during the webinar that the issue of academic wellness was very important to university leadership because of the impact of COVID-19 on academics worldwide. ‘University leadership needs to do more to support academic staff who have faced challenges and major emotional hurdles during the pandemic. The new normal forced staff to live in constant fear and anxiety as they watched loved ones, family members, colleagues, students and friends succumb or get infected.’

She said the constant fear of ‘not knowing when you would get infected’ or ‘if you would survive this pandemic, led to academic staff experiencing undue stress and anxiety causing huge problems for them in terms of their personal wellbeing. Problems and issues suffered by staff included burnout, anxiety, panic attacks, severe mood swings, manic depression, survivor guilt and post-traumatic stress.

Naidoo said university management and academic leadership should ensure the following to assist with the wellbeing of staff:

•    New leave policies

•    Emotional, professional and life coaching

•    Professional psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors available via helplines to serve as mental health support for University staff

•    Motivational speakers to address wellness issues

•    Online learning for staff

•    Promotion of awareness about hygiene, health and safety measures during the pandemic

* Naidoo is a full-time staff member in the College of Law and Management Studies at UKZN. Her area of teaching is in management, corporate strategy, project management, entrepreneurship, research methodology and marketing.

Words: Lungile Ngubelanga

Photograph: Supplied


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UKZN Academic Part of QR Global Challenges Research Project

UKZN Academic Part of QR Global Challenges Research Project
Professor Mariam Seedat-Khan (right) and alumnus, Dr Ara Ramnund-Mansingh.

Clinical Sociologist in the School of Social Sciences, Professor Mariam Seedat-Khan and UKZN alumnus, Dr Ara Ramnund-Mansingh are part of the Higher Educational Attainment Inequalities and Single Parent families in SA (HEAPS): Differences by Region, Gender and Race project.

The venture is a collaborative international women-led research initiative between UKZN, Stellenbosch University and the Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom, funded by the Manchester University’s Challenges Research Fund (QR GCRF) 2020/21.

The project is expected to have multiple and complementary levels of impact and benefit a range of stakeholders. Research participants will be the primary beneficiaries of this project - from voicing their stories, knowledge and experiences with the research team to identifying critical challenges in the “end-of-project” online workshop alongside other stakeholders and co-creating a clinical model enabling them to access solutions and existing resources.

The UKZN team will seek to identify how and why children and young people from lone parent households are at a disadvantage in accessing Higher Education and succeeding at university. ‘In South Africa, lone parents are predominantly mothers, many of whom, together with their children, share characteristics with socio-economic groups facing inequalities and forms of marginalisation. Race and geographical locations appear to be important factors in shaping individuals’ life chances, access to and use of different of capitals, and more specifically, their access to quality education,’ said Seedat-Khan.

‘Identifying these patterns and associated interlocking dynamics of deprivation is a first step towards raising awareness via research dissemination and policy briefings and designing impactful research-led policies and interventions to address these challenges and promote the economic development and welfare in South Africa,’ explained Ramnund-Mansingh.

The evidence-based policy briefing produced as part of the project will be disseminated to relevant South African stakeholders and governmental bodies to inform and shape change. According to the UKZN researchers, by exploring lesser-known aspects of the gender/race/locality nexus in South Africa and fostering international collaboration between the United Kingdom and South Africa, the project is expected to advance research and contribute to the enrichment of communities.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


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Future of Water Resources Research and Innovation Strengthened by Renewal of Chair at UKZN

Future of Water Resources Research and Innovation Strengthened by Renewal of Chair at UKZN
Professor Jeff Smithers.

Umgeni Water has extended their funding of UKZN water resources management, innovation and research for a further 10 years.

The Chair in Water Resources Management at UKZN was created in 2011 for a 10-year period thanks to financial support from Umgeni Water which has now provided funds for the renewal of the agreement which sees a Chair in Water Resources Research and Innovation established for a further 10-year period from April 2021.

The Chair is located in the School of Engineering at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.

The focus of the Chair is to develop a world-class research group and deliver high impact innovative and use-inspired research outputs, thus contributing to the development of water scientists, engineers and researchers to create a growing knowledge economy to meet the challenge of sustainable water resources.

Professor Jeff Smithers, who was appointed as the Umgeni Water Chair of Water Resources Research and Innovation on 1 February, 2021, is also the Director of the Centre for Water Resources Research, which is active in research, teaching and capacity-building related to hydrology and water resources research.

In South Africa and beyond, water is a limited, highly variable and critical resource required for food production and to sustain life. The demand for water - which currently exceeds available resources in many regions as well as ageing, deteriorating and poorly managed water infrastructure, limited resources and expertise to sustainably manage water resources, and poor implementation of policy, are areas of concern.

To meet these challenges, Smithers sees national capacity development and the creation of new knowledge and innovative approaches as high priority areas. Work in these areas will be furthered though undergraduate teaching and postgraduate research focused on the development of appropriate and innovative solutions for sustainable, good quality water resources. 

With its wide range of water-related expertise and in support of its vision to be the Premier University of African Scholarship, UKZN is actively involved in water-related teaching, research and outreach activities throughout Africa and beyond.

Smithers aims to promote closer collaboration between Umgeni Water and UKZN in research and technological development on local, national and international water related issues.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Supplied


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UKZN Academic Edits Book on African Values, Ethics and Technology

UKZN Academic Edits Book on African Values, Ethics and Technology
Dr Beatrice Okyere-Manu with her new book.

Ethics academic in the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, Dr Beatrice Okyere-Manu has edited and launched her new book African Values, Ethics, and Technology, penned by a variety of African authors.

The book charts technological developments from an African ethical perspective, exploring the idea that while certain technologies have benefited Africans, the fact that these technologies were designed and produced in and for a different setting has led to conflicts with African ethical values.

Written in a simple and engaging style, the authors apply an African ethical lens to themes such as: the Fourth Industrial Revolution; the moral status of technology; technology and sexual relations; and bioethics and technology.

‘The book was borne out of my deeper reflections on the advancement of technologies as an African ethicist,’ said Okyere-Manu. ‘There is no doubt that these advancements introduce us to new and unexpected ethical questions that cut across religion, culture, environmental interests, healthcare and virtually every other aspect of human life. The irony is that frequently Africans are seen to have been left behind in the development of these technologies, however they are among the greatest consumers.’

The panel of Writers interrogate how African communities survive exposed as they are to more and more technologies that may not have been created with them in mind? ‘Emerging technologies require us to re-examine our indigenous African traditions, values and practices and the roles they can play in the face of these new technological developments - that is what the individual authors of the chapters in this innovative book achieve,’ said Okyere-Manu.

She believes the book is relevant because ‘it contributes to the global debate on the ethical implications of these emerging technologies on the African Continent. It also provokes our thinking around the fundamental ethical issues that these technologies present to our value systems, beliefs and practices as a people on the continent and challenges us on the need to be active players in the field of technology and innovation.’

The book is on sale through: www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030705497 and beatriceokyere.com/books/african-values-ethics-and-technology

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photographs: Supplied


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Helping Develop Managers for the “New Norm World”

Helping Develop Managers for the “New Norm World”
Next-generation project managers.

COVID-19 presents unique challenges for future and existing project managers who are under pressure to acquire ‘new norm knowledge’ to take them forward confidently in this brave new world.

The UKZN Extended Learning (UEL) Division’s Advanced Project Management (APM) Programme is designed to equip participants with knowledge and skills to handle the new demands faced by managers. The programme provides participants with the latest and most relevant project management skills to manage resources and time while working on projects and is aimed at transforming project managers into industry experts able to efficiently execute projects within an organisation.

The APM Programme is broken up into block sessions presented over three months. The first of the 2021 sessions began on 12 May and the general consensus among delegates was that sessions were informative and that the e-learning experience with UEL had been exceptional.

The programme facilitator ensures the programme is engaging, making the lessons more interesting and highly interactive.

In our ever-evolving world the business environment is becoming more digitised and sophisticated while projects are becoming complex and demanding, requiring people to have specialised sets of skills to ensure successful outcomes. The programme provides delegates with that vital knowledge and specialised, transferrable skills.

For more information on the Advanced Project Management programme, click here.

You can also contact UEL directly through Nokwanda Mokoena at 031 260 1234 or MokoenaN@ukzn.ac.za.

Words: Nkosingiphile Ntshangase

Photograph: Supplied


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Appointment as a UKZN Lecturer - a Dream Come True for Young Man

Appointment as a UKZN Lecturer - a Dream Come True for Young Man
Mr Mzwandile Zulu.

Mr Mzwandile Zulu says his appointment as a New Generation of Academics Programme (NGAP) lecturer within the Mathematics Education Discipline at UKZN’s School of Education is a dream come true.

‘Since I decided to pursue academia, UKZN was always my Higher Education Institution of choice,’ said Zulu.

Zulu was on a UKZN Council-approved Talent Excellence and Equity Acceleration Scholarship (TEAEAS) and has recently been appointed into the NGAP programme funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) with the intention of supporting universities to recruit new academics and transform their academic profile. This is a permanent appointment which provides a number of opportunities for Emerging Academics to grow their career in academia, complete PhD studies and rise through the ranks.

Born in Eshowe, Zulu graduated cum laude for both his undergraduate and honours degrees and currently holds a Masters in Mathematics Education. He is now reading for his PhD in the School of Education with his research located ‘broadly’ around Mathematics education - specifically the teaching and learning of the subject using educational technologies.

He said he has always been disciplined, hardworking and goal driven and becoming an academic was something he had yearned for. ‘In third-year, I started tutoring several Mathematics Education modules and it was then I understood what it meant to be an academic. I was engaging with academics and assisting in facilitating for their modules.’

Zulu said he was an average student in high school but his love for Mathematics is what made him stand out from the rest. During his matric year, he was motivated to work hard to ensure he got accepted at UKZN. Passing with a B in Mathematics had been key to being accepted for a BCom in Accounting degree.

‘I have always wanted to make the study of mathematics an enjoyable experience for others,’ said Zulu. ‘As such, not only have I been dedicated to growing myself in academia but I have always tried hard to contribute to Mathematics teaching. I realised I could make even more contribution in mathematics teaching in our country if I became a lecturer within the School of Education because taking part in training future mathematics teachers will have a more significant impact since those teachers work in different parts of the country,’ said Zulu.

Speaking about being on the TEAEAS programme, Zulu said when he received the news that he had made it, one of the conditions of the programme was he had to be a full time student. At the time he was already employed as a high school mathematics teacher so the requirement was initially of concern to his family.

‘Throughout my journey, I have constantly been updating them on what I am doing and why I am doing it. It was a bit of a challenge though when I told them that I was resigning from the Department of Basic Education to be a full-time student but after explaining to them what I wanted to achieve, they supported me from there on.’

He added: ‘The Talent Equity programme brought me even closer to realising my dream of becoming a UKZN academic. The kind of support offered by the Programme allowed me to flourish and smoothly transition from the school working environment to the University setting.’

Zulu has received a variety of accolades during his academic career, among them several merit certificates, Dean’s Commendations and the Golden Key honorary certificate. As a high school mathematics teacher, he was recognised as one of the KwaZulu-Natal team leaders for the 2019 International Mathematics Competition hosted in South Africa. ‘We were working with an NPO (CASME), which is dedicated to improving the country's performance in Mathematics and Science,’ he added.

He thanked his supervisor, Professor Vimolan Mudaly, who he says has been like a father and a friend since 2017, the Mathematics Education staff for their support, and his ‘greatest inspiration’, Professor Thabo Msibi.

Speaking of his time at the TEAEAS Programme, Ms Busisiwe Ramabodu Director: Human Resources Development, remembers Zulu as a very pleasant and focussed student who has a passion for Mathematics. She said, ‘We are very excited that Mr Zulu has joined the UKZN team on a full-time basis especially because Mathematics is one of the scarce disciplines and we wish him all the success. It is pleasing to see that our programmes for Emerging Academics are beginning to feed into each other as was initially intended. Our sincere thanks to Prof Thabo Msibi for his commitment in nurturing future academics.’

Words: Sithembile Shabangu

Photograph: Samora Chapman


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Problems at Eskom Identified as a Main Cause of SA’s Energy Crisis

Problems at Eskom Identified as a Main Cause of SA’s Energy Crisis
From left: UKZN’s Dr Leigh Jarvis who facilitated the webinar; and speakers, UKZN alumnus Mr Dhevan Pillay and senior mining, energy and legal strategist and tactician, Mr Ted Blom.

Corruption and mismanagement at Eskom were highlighted as being among the main causes of the energy crisis in South Africa during a webinar hosted by UKZN’s Corporate Relations Division.

Facilitated by Dr Leigh Jarvis of the University’s School of Engineering, the webinar discussed the country’s ongoing energy crisis, including the rollout of load shedding, which threatens to seriously destabilise the national grid. The aim of the webinar was to search for possible solutions to the crisis.

Speaking on the strife and wide-spread corruption at Eskom, senior mining, energy and legal strategist and tactician Mr Ted Blom said he didn’t foresee Eskom recovering easily from the current crisis.

Blom called for labour, businesses and the public to be represented on the Eskom council to determine the direction of energy supply in the country.

Responding to Blom, UKZN alumnus and Director and CEO of LTM Energy Mr Dhevan Pillay discussed the evolution and advancement of technology, with the focus on moving from a brown economy to a green one.

Cautioning companies about evolving technologies, Pillay said: ‘One has to be cautious about the disruption of technologies and technology advancement - and that goes for Eskom as well. You’ve got to be aware of what is happening.’

He said the storage of energy was a big challenge and also highlighted huge tariff hikes experienced between 1996 and 2001 which more than doubled the cost of electricity in South Africa.

Blom agreed with Pillay on the issue of the technology revolution, saying the country should look further afield than Eskom to solve the energy crisis with micro grids being central to possible solutions.

He identified stoves and geysers as the main energy guzzlers. ‘You can downscale your energy consumption by 75% if you make alternative plans for your cooking and hot water.’ Alternatives included solar power and gas, with indications that South Africa would eventually invest heavily in gas.

Responding to a question on whether the water crisis had a direct impact on the energy crisis, Pillay said water was needed for cooling and power generation at power stations most of which were situated in dry areas.

Blom said with the help of experts, private companies and universities through their research, South Africa was well placed to move away from being Eskom-dependent to being energy independent.

The speakers agreed that there was huge potential in contributors working together. ‘Yes, there is a monopoly called Eskom and yes, they need to be held accountable, but we need to make key decisions and understand what is available, working together to make a difference as we find ways to combine our strengths. I challenge everyone to work together,’ said Pillay.

Jarvis thanked both speakers for their contributions saying it is clear that the solution for the energy crisis is sustainable energy. ‘It’s a golden thread that seems to connect social and economic development with environmental sustainability.’

Acting Executive Director at CRD Ms Normah Zondo thanked speakers for their insights and input. ‘It is clear we will all have to work together to find solutions to overcome this crisis. We are all invested in it,’ said Zondo.

Words: Sithembile Shabangu

Photographs: Supplied


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