UKZN Medical Graduate Overcomes Disability to Graduate Cum Laude

UKZN Medical Graduate Overcomes Disability to Graduate <em>Cum Laude</em>
Cum laude graduate, Dr Eileen van der Westhuizen.

Studying for a Medical degree is a huge challenge in itself but the load got really heavy for Dr Eileen van der Westhuizen when out of the blue she experienced a devastating hearing impairment midway through her course.

But she soldiered on and graduated from UKZN with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) degree cum laude. An all-round-star with a determination to succeed come what may, van der Westhuizen, currently doing her Medical internship at the Livingstone Complex in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), says it was her mother, Ms Carine van der Westhuizen, who inspired her to study Medicine.

Van der Westhuizen recalled her sudden hearing loss. ‘I was busy with my Internal Medicine rotation at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital in Umlazi during my fourth year of Medical School. I woke up on a Sunday morning and as soon as I opened my eyes, I knew something was wrong. The whole room was spinning around and around, and I could not lift my head from the bed without becoming nauseous. I also immediately noticed the hearing was gone in my left ear.

‘After multiple appointments with my ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon and audiologist, as well as an operation, I was diagnosed with Sudden Idiopathic Sensorineural hearing loss. Just like that, with no warning, I had permanently lost the hearing in my left ear. Unfortunately, it is complicated by having chronic tinnitus (ringing in the ears) as well as episodes of vertigo. I have been fitted with a hearing aid which assists me to localise where sound is coming from, but the hearing loss is too severe to assist with speech discrimination,’ said van der Westhuizen.

Working in the trauma and casualty sections has been the most challenging for the young doctor. ‘I have been involved in emergency resuscitations where there is a lot of background noise with machines beeping as well as doctors speaking and instructing all at once, which makes it impossible for me to hear the plan of the resus. There is simply no time in emergencies to ask someone to repeat themselves which puts me under silent pressure,’ she said.

Van der Westhuizen remembers that as a 10-year-old she already had a passion for Medicine. ‘I used to accompany my mom, who is an occupational nurse to assist in treating patients.

‘However, I can recall the exact day I knew without a doubt that I wanted to become a doctor. I was just 15 and my single-parent mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. It was a time in my life filled with uncertainty regarding the future, but through all my mom’s chemotherapy sessions, nursing her at home, doing wound dressing for her intercostal drain and the hospital visits, I discovered a desire to serve those in need,’ said van der Westhuizen. ‘I am beyond overjoyed that my mom is now in remission and gets to enjoy my MBChB graduation with me.’

Van der Westhuizen attended Pearson High School in Gqeberha where she took part in multiple sports including playing 1st team hockey for three years, being part of the swimming team and playing Under 14A and Under 15A water polo. An all-rounder, she also participated in various cultural clubs and societies, including being on the Interact Rotary Club committee, the First Aid committee, the Afrikaanse Taal - en Kultuurvereniging (ATKV) Youth Representative Committee and completing the Toastmasters course as well as obtaining bronze levels in Ballroom and Latin dancing.

‘A highlight of my time at Pearson was being elected as a prefect as well as being chosen to participate in our school’s Mr and Miss Personality competition,’ she said.

Van der Westhuizen plans to specialise in Internal Medicine on completion of her community service. ‘I have learned invaluable life lessons of determination and resilience. However, I would not have been able to get to where I am without my loving family who supports me throughout all my pursuits and above everything, I trust in God who has a plan for my life.’

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied


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Nurse (59) Graduates with PhD

Nurse (59) Graduates with PhD
PhD graduate, Dr Josephine Ibu.

A mentor mother programme to help prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV was the focus of PhD research by 59-year-old Nigerian clinical nurse specialist, Dr Josephine Ibu who graduated through UKZN.

Ibu’s thesis was titled: An Analysis of the Implementation of the Mentor-Mother Program for Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmissions of HIV in the Department of Defence in Abuja, Nigeria.

Said Ibu: ‘I feel so fulfilled. It has been my lifelong ambition to get a PhD and mentor young and upcoming nurses.’

Her study investigated the peer mentor strategy adopted by the Nigerian Military Medical Corps as a means to prevent vertically transmitted paediatric HIV infections among its military personnel, families and civilian communities living near various military barracks.

HIV positive women who have had healthy, uninfected babies were used by Ibu as good examples and mentors for other HIV positive women - especially those who are pregnant - to encourage them to start Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART), stay on their medication and remain in therapy.

According to Ibu, Nigeria has experienced significant gaps in its Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmissions (PMTCT) programme. As a result, the country has the second largest HIV epidemic in the world and is one of the countries with the highest rates of new paediatric infections in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Despite this, the Mentor Mother (MM) intervention strategy has not formally been adopted at national level. By using mentor mothers who have benefited from PMTCT programmes, the Nigerian Department of Defence aimed to improve on-target achievements with PMTCT in its health facilities.

Supervised by Dr Mbali Mhlongo, Ibu developed an intervention framework to facilitate the implementation of the MM programme in other hospitals not currently using the strategy. The framework captured core concepts that provided an effective set of tools to prevent perinatal HIV transmission particularly among young girls and women of childbearing age.

She believes that the research findings of her study could also be useful to government and organisations propagating MM programmes and re-evaluating health reforms.

Ibu said her study is novel in the sense that since the implementation of the peer mentor strategy to combat perinatal HIV transmission by the Nigerian Military Medical Corps, no such study has analysed the use of healthy HIV positive women to promote the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in its health facilities.

‘Information about using mentor mothers for PMTCT in the military health facilities is inadequate. This is the only study so far that has examined this intervention since it started in 2015,’ said Ibu.

Her PhD journey had been tough, but thanks to a very supportive and patient supervisor, it ended successfully.

Ibu encountered several challenges along the way. ‘As a foreign student, it was difficult, however, the College of Health Sciences scholarship helped a lot. Due to the highly regimented and intelligence-guarded policies of the Nigerian military, coupled with its general non-disclosure policy on HIV matters, the participants in this study were cautious about volunteering certain information, particularly when it had to do with policy,’ she said.

‘Although information about HIV is available in the public domain, research on engaging mentor mothers for PMTCT in the military is limited resulting in not much literature being available on the subject. Although the participants had been assured that this study was strictly for academic purposes, the use of a tape recorder during the interviews may have added to the participants’ caution.’

Ibu trained as a nurse/midwife/anaesthetist, retiring as a nurse anaesthetist before starting her PhD. ‘I intend to take up employment as a nurse educator at a university where I will have the opportunity to mentor young nurses.’

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied


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Surgeon with Guillain-Barre Syndrome Graduates with PhD

Surgeon with Guillain-Barre Syndrome Graduates with PhD
Dr Michelle Smith graduated with a PhD in Health Sciences (Surgery).

A medical condition robbed KwaZulu-Natal surgeon Dr Michelle Smith of her ability to perform surgery but could not stop her from continuing to contribute to the field of surgery or from graduating from UKZN with a PhD in Health Sciences (Surgery)!

‘I am immensely proud of my academic achievement, especially since it adds new knowledge in a field that I am passionate about,’ said Smith.

‘Just after qualifying as a surgeon in 2017, I contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome which took away my ability to perform surgery due to the permanent nerve damage it caused, however, falling in love with research and getting this degree has taught me that I can still contribute to the surgical field, albeit in a different way.’

Smith is a specialist surgeon at Greys Hospital in Pietermaritzburg where she sub-specialises in critical care as well as supporting and teaching young researchers to generate their first research papers.

Her study identified risk factors for mortality and adverse events in patients undergoing emergency laparotomy for non-traumatic surgical conditions. ‘Identifying high-risk patients enables surgeons to employ strategies to ameliorate this risk,’ she said.

This study found that having comorbid chronic illnesses as well as active TB and HIV increased the chances of adverse outcomes in patients undergoing emergency laparotomy. Her research also discovered that there were physiological parameters as well as certain components of surgery that may attribute to an increased risk of mortality.

‘I work full-time as a specialist in an academic hospital so finding time to dedicate to my PhD was not always easy, however, setting realistic timelines for various aspects of the course helped me stay focused,’ she said.

‘My time at UKZN was very rewarding. My supervisor Professor Damian Clarke and the support staff were always helpful.’

Smith (37) lives in Howick with her partner Marike and their two dogs. They enjoy being outdoors and travelling around southern Africa.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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UKZN’s Top New Medical Doctors

UKZN’s Top New Medical Doctors
Dr Ishq Pramchand (left) and Dr Ra’Eesa Mohamed-Yunus graduate with their MBChB degrees summa cum laude.

Dr Ishq Pramchand was placed second and Dr Ra’Eesa Mohamed-Yunus third in UKZN’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine’s Class of 2021.

They were both awarded Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBChB) degrees summa cum laude.

Pramchand (24) scored an 82.56% average in his final year while Mohamed-Yunus achieved 81.88%.

Said Pramchand, currently a first-year intern at King Edward Hospital doing rotations in Paediatrics: ‘I feel honoured and humbled. The achievement is a culmination of constant effort made possible by the unwavering support of my family and friends. I intend to specialise, either as a surgeon or a physician.

‘The choices seem endless - I will be more certain of the direction I will take after my rotations throughout internship and community service. I feel privileged to have navigated Medicine in the local setting - I hope to learn as much as I can to give back to my community. I couldn’t think of myself as anything else but a doctor to be honest. Helping others and giving back to my community is a fulfilling oath which I will swear by.

‘I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic when I reflect on my university years. I loved them. Life-changing, incredible and humbling are words that come to mind to describe my experience. The lecturers imparted medical knowledge efficiently and effectively and tutorials were well presented by the clinical team,’ he said.

‘UKZN implores students to become critical thinkers and leaders - as the Department of Family Medicine states: An Agent of Change. I have felt so confident throughout my three months of internship, and I look forward to every day at the hospital. I recommend UKZN to any student.’

Mohamed-Yunus said she had been surprised by her achievement. ‘It took a while for reality to sink in and I still haven’t completely accepted it, I was just happy to pass. This achievement was the culmination of multiple years of hard work and a lot of “blood, sweat and tears” but I have no regrets. I plan on specialising in the paediatrics field doing what I love most.’

Mohamed-Yunus says it was her childhood dream to be a paediatrician. I feel content with life seeing a smile on a person’s face after they have received treatment. ‘Medicine is a very demanding degree and it tested me in every aspect. It was extremely difficult to find a balance but I discovered running as a hobby and that helped me destress and clear my mind.

‘Overall, UKZN has helped me form lifelong memories and given me the opportunity to meet people who I will call friends for a long time to come. The biggest difficulty was the pandemic and the transition to online learning, but the University was always proactive and prepared to go the extra mile,’ she said.

‘My priority right now is my internship at Addington Hospital. Thereafter I will complete my two years of community service with the ultimate goal of specialising in Paediatrics.’

Mohamed-Yunus paid tribute to her family for their support over the years.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Doctoral Degree in Nursing for Mosotho Student

Doctoral Degree in Nursing for Mosotho Student
Doctoral graduate Dr Pule Moabi (left) with his supervisor, Professor Fikile Mtshali.

Investigations by a student from Lesotho resulted in the development of a model to guide the implementation of Simulation-Based Education (SBE) in under-resourced Nursing Education Institutions in Lesotho using an explanatory mixed-methods approach.

And the study also resulted in the student, Dr Pule Moabi, graduating with a doctoral degree!

Moabi, a principal nurse educator at the Scott College of Nursing in Lesotho, said he was over the moon about the achievement. ‘I am planning to enrol for a post-doctoral programme in order to improve my research abilities. I also hope to continue to publish research papers in accredited journals and disseminate research findings via research conference presentations.’

Supervised by Professor Fikile Mtshali, Moabi’s findings revealed that the successful implementation of SBE required buy-in from key stakeholders into the strategy’s policy as well as budget to support policy implementation, competent facilitators, and a well-resourced clinical skills laboratory, providing an immersive, safe, and risk-free learning environment for students to facilitate the development of the required competencies.

‘The model that emerged from the study shows that implementation of SBE is collaborative in nature, with multiple actors at various levels, including strategic, tactical and operational,’ said Moabi.

‘The process is characterised by a variety of stages, including adopting, introducing, and implementing simulation-based education. The education takes place in a simulated environment which is used for deliberate practice, and the environment serves as a connecting bridge between theory learned in the classroom and clinical learning and practice in real-life settings such as hospitals,’ he said.

Simulation-based education promoted the development of discipline-specific competencies and transferrable skills such as critical thinking, clinical reasoning skills, decision making, problem-solving and teamwork.

‘The goal is for Nursing Education Institutions to produce competent graduates who will be able to provide quality and safe care to health services users including communities,’ explained Moabi.

According to Moabi, this is a novel study that focuses on SBE in under-resourced Nursing Education Institutions (NEI) where various challenges exist when implementing the strategy such as: not using real medical equipment and supplies during simulation; delays in repairing manikins which have been reported to be malfunctioning; no formal guidance on how many clinical hours a Nursing student needs to spend in the simulation laboratory, and students being assessed only on how to carry out “procedures” with critical thinking, decision making, problem solving and teamwork being ignored.

The 34-year-old graduate encountered a variety of challenges during his study, including being infected twice with the Coronavirus, having to isolate on both occasions and suffering a great deal of psychological stress.

‘The long-term effects post-COVID-19 slowed my progress. On one of the good days, I lost a recorded interview and had to re-do the whole thing.’

Moabi said he enjoyed his study experience at UKZN and the Institution served as a learning laboratory where he was pushed to develop personally, professionally and as a researcher.

‘The support I got from my supervisor, Professor Fikile Mtshali, was amazing - she provided constructive feedback whenever I needed it and perhaps more importantly through her I developed a culture of reading scientific work that facilitated my growth and gave me an in-depth understanding of my area of research. Through the UKZN experience I have managed to publish articles in peer-reviewed journals,’ he added.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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SAPS Forensic Analyst Graduates with PhD in Public Health Medicine

SAPS Forensic Analyst Graduates with PhD in Public Health Medicine
Dr Nkosinothando Chamane graduated with a PhD in Public Health Medicine.

The Feasibility of Developing and Implementing a Point-of-Care (POC) Diagnostics Curriculum through the Use of Mobile Learning in Rural Clinics in KwaZulu-Natal was explored in a doctoral study.

The aim of the work is to contribute towards improving the quality of HIV testing services in resource-limited settings.

The thesis was completed by a South African Police Services (SAPS) forensic analyst, Dr Nkosinothando Chamane who graduated with a PhD in Public Health Medicine.

‘I feel very honoured and privileged to have been able to complete my doctorate while the whole world was under so much pressure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ said Chamane. ‘I hope to make a difference in the research and development sector and thus encourage more South African women to pursue postgraduate studies and contribute to the world of knowledge.’

Supervised by Professor Tivani Mashamba-Thompson, Chamane says the study revealed that only limited research had been done on the utility, efficiency and acceptability of experiential learning approaches for primary health care (PHC)-based professionals.

It also showed that:

•    Experiential learning approaches provide an important practical aspect on curriculum delivery not easily taught in lecture-based settings

•    The reflection step of experiential learning is a useful tool for identifying the root causes of health systems’ inefficiencies and to inform policy making

•    It is feasible to develop and implement a context-specific curriculum to improve the quality of POC diagnostic services in rural PHC clinics through mobile learning, however digital inequalities due to resource barriers still need to be addressed

Collaborations with relevant stakeholders, network providers and specialists in eHealth were recommended to better prepare rural clinics for future adoption of technology-based training interventions.

Chamane says she has always wanted to undertake a study that would have a practical impact on society as well as contribute towards global priorities. With South Africa said to have the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the world as well as the highest uptake of antiretroviral treatment ‘conducting a study towards improving the quality of HIV testing services through the use of technology proved to be the best choice to contribute towards improving healthcare equity in resource limited settings.’

Her biggest challenge was funding and being able to balance being a full-time student and an employee of the South African Police Services. ‘It’s hard to get funding when you are employed and although I did get some funding from the College of Health Sciences scholarship, I had to forfeit the first year of those funds due to challenges with delays in receiving ethical clearance.

‘However, I received a lot of support from my family and my supervisor who was always ready to assist and motivate me.’

All six chapters of her PhD thesis have been accepted for publication as manuscripts in reputable international journals.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Doctoral Study into Lower Limb Amputations Caused by Diabetes

Doctoral Study into Lower Limb Amputations Caused by Diabetes
Dr Prabashni Manickum graduated with a PhD in Philosophy (Surgery).

Lower Limb Amputations Caused by Diabetes and Diabetic Foot Care were the focus of research conducted by Dr Prabashni Manickum (38) who was awarded a PhD in Philosophy (Surgery) from UKZN’s School of Clinical Medicine.

Said Manickum: ‘I am thrilled to have attained this degree after many years of hard work and dedication. I am also ecstatic that this project has yielded four published manuscripts, one of which appeared in an international journal. I hope to drive this project into the areas where more people can access the diabetic foot-care education they so desperately need.’

Manickum, a physiotherapist at Addington Hospital in Durban, said her study aimed to determine the prevalence of lower limb amputations and their relation to diabetes mellitus as well as exploring referral patterns for rehabilitation and functional outcomes of patients who attended physiotherapy. She also researched available knowledge on the practice of foot care among people with diabetes globally with a diabetic foot care intervention being proposed and tested among a cohort of patients with the disease.

The study reported that (1) a high number of patients with diabetes mellitus underwent lower limb amputations between 2010 and 2017; (2) referrals to physiotherapy post-surgery were poor but patients who did attend rehabilitation achieved some form of independence; (3) diabetic foot-care knowledge and practice varied from poor to good in various countries; and (4) the diabetic foot-care education programme was useful and successful in educating patients on diabetic foot care and lower limb exercises.

Manickum says rehabilitation is an important aspect of care at Addington Hospital for patients becoming independent or functioning at optimal levels. Over the years, she says she has observed several patients having more than one amputation and this became concerning and led to her research into diabetic foot care and education.

‘There were many challenges as you would find with any large study, however my supervisors always came to my aid and in time these were overcome,’ said Manickum. ‘For me, the biggest challenge was the loss of one of my supervisors, Professor TE Madiba in August 2021. However, Dr SS Ramklass took over, supporting me through to the final process. I am grateful to both of them.’

Most of all she wishes to celebrate her achievement with all the people who supported her along the way.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Many Breast Cancer Patients in Research Project Consider the Disease a “Death Sentence”

Many Breast Cancer Patients in Research Project Consider the Disease a “Death Sentence”
Master’s degree in Medical Science graduate, Mrs Kogielambal Perumaul.

Perceptions of Female Patients with Newly-Diagnosed Breast Cancer at Durban’s Addington Hospital was the subject of research which earned social worker, Mrs Kogielambal Perumaul a Master’s degree in Medical Science.

Perumaul’s research explored knowledge, awareness, preconceptions and myths of breast cancer among the patients being studied as well as examining their concerns regarding physical status, symptoms and psychological experiences.

Perumaul found that once diagnosed many patients regarded cancer as a “death sentence” while also having a wide variety of different perceptions, thoughts and opinions about their diagnosis. Some patients had family support whilst others ended their marriages or relationships after being diagnosed.

Patients also struggled with the side effects of treatment but most never stopped fighting to beat the disease while some said they now realised they had spent their entire lives living for others but after their diagnosis had decided to put themselves first.

The research suggested sufferers should strive for improved healthy lifestyles, use de-stressing techniques, ensure they had quality “me-time”, revisit their multi-roles in the family and learn to say no.

Perumaul said while taking part in focus group discussions many patients realised that life was short and should not be taken for granted. The general consensus was to live in a simple way and enjoy life to the full.

Perumaul said she undertook the study to do something constructive for her patients. ‘As a social worker I counsel cancer patients and I felt that there was a need to give back to them as well as to assist and support them during this difficult time of their lives. In order for me to become their strength I had to educate myself further and inform patients. Breast cancer research opens the door to finding better ways to prevent, detect, and treat breast cancer, and to improve the quality of life of cancer sufferers and survivors. As a principal investigator the findings were a personal eye opener for me as well.’

Among the challenges Perumaul faced during this study was suffering from depression after hearing about some of the experiences of the patients.

‘My late supervisor Professor Madiba was a very learned and super intelligent individual who helped me through the process and the journey of this study. My co-supervisor Professor Van Wyk filled in the gaps and took my study to another level. A big thank you to both of them,’ she said.

Perumaul (46), an acting Head of Department in Social Work at Addington Hospital, is providing counselling and support to KZN flood victims in the province.

She plans to further her studies and complete her PhD in Social Work.

‘I feel overjoyed that my hard work paid off as I completed research in both qualitative and quantitative methods. I also feel that I took my education to another level where my patients will also benefit from my accomplishment. I see myself as an effective social worker who can make a difference in people’s lives. I would also like to open up a non-government organisation and provide social services to the vulnerable and needy especially the elderly,’ added Perumaul.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Studying at UKZN a Beautiful Adventure – says Cum Laude Graduate

Studying at UKZN a Beautiful Adventure – says <em>Cum Laude</em> Graduate
Ms Suvishka Barath received her Bachelor of Audiology degree cum laude.

‘Studying at UKZN was a beautiful adventure. Besides providing me with an abundance of academic knowledge, it also gave me an opportunity for self-development.’ 

This is according to Ms Suvishka Barath, who was awarded a Bachelor of Audiology degree cum laude.

Barath heard about the Audiology Discipline through a relative and was captured by the idea of being able to improve or give an individual the gift of hearing.

She says her family - especially her mother - was her pillar of support throughout her academic journey.

‘I gathered my strength from God and my mother,’ said Barath. ‘My mom has been instrumental in every step of my life - a true inspiration, always reminding me to put in the hard work no matter the outcome, as I will reap the benefits in the future.’

Currently completing her community service at KwaMashu Polyclinic, Barath hopes to read for a Master’s degree in Audiology.

Words: Mandisa Shozi

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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PhD Study was Graduate’s “Personal Everest!”

PhD Study was Graduate’s “Personal Everest!”
Dr Helena van Oers graduated with a PhD in Family Medicine.

‘I am not an academic so the doctoral degree will not materially change my career, but achieving it has been my own personal Everest and I am very pleased I managed to complete the climb.’

These were the words of an elated 62-year-old Psychologist, Dr Helena van Oers who graduated with a PhD in Family Medicine following a study on the psychological experiences of breast cancer patients.

Supervised by Professor Lourens Schlebusch and Professor Bernhard Gaede, van Oers’s thesis was titled: The Experience of Anxiety and Depression and their Sequelae in Breast Cancer Patients: Effects of Disease and Treatment on Patient Self-Esteem, Body Image and the Prevalence of Hopelessness and Suicidal Ideation. Van Oers’s study focused on the psychological experiences of breast cancer patients. ‘Psycho-oncology is a bit of a Cinderella area and yet I believe it is an essential element of any cancer patient’s journey through the disease and treatment,’ she said.

‘All too often the psychological aspects get overlooked in the physical crisis so I hope this study will highlight the importance of my field for the benefit of all patients.’

The study found that breast cancer patients experience their disease and treatment uniquely, given that the female breast holds such symbolic and functional significance. ‘The results indicated that, in comparison to other sites of disease, breast patients experienced greater body image distress and higher levels of anxiety, hopelessness and stress which were expressed both through psychological and behavioural symptomatology,’ she said.

Van Oers hopes her findings will result in oncology healthcare professionals becoming more aware of how integral the psychological and emotional well-being of their patients really is in relation to their overall health.

Van Oers, who has been in private practice at an oncology outpatient facility for 25 years, says her work has always been enormously rewarding for her. ‘I have had the privilege of meeting so many very courageous and special people.’

She experienced challenges in her PhD journey. ‘From getting articles through the publication process to the very difficult times we all faced during the pandemic, it has been a challenging period in which to complete the degree.’

She paid tribute to the support she received from a large number of very helpful, accessible and kind people.

Van Oers, a wife and the mother of two sons, is a first-generation South African of Polish descent. ‘My parents instilled in me the value of knowledge and a love of learning. I have had a most rewarding career and am grateful to have lived through such interesting times,’ she said.

She enjoys entertaining and cooking, and doing sudoku and word puzzles.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Public Health Medicine PhD Graduate Ready to Make Good Use of All She has Learned

Public Health Medicine PhD Graduate Ready to Make Good Use of All She has Learned
Dr Santhanalakshmi Gengiah graduated with a PhD in Public Health Medicine.

The effectiveness of Quality Improvement (QI) methods in enhancing the integration of HIV and TB services as well as which organisational contextual factors heighten the success of QI initiatives were investigated in a doctoral thesis.

The study was done by research psychologist and public health specialist, Dr Santhanalakshmi Gengiah who graduated with a PhD in Public Health Medicine.

‘With my PhD in hand, my aspirations are to implement in a real-world setting with all that I have learned,’ said Gengiah.

‘I am very proud of this achievement and truly grateful for all the support that I received from CAPRISA, UKZN, UKZN DRILL, my supervisors - Dr Marian Loveday and Professor Myra Taylor - family and friends,’ she said.

Her thesis was titled: The Association of Organisational Contextual Factors and TB-HIV Service Integration Following Exposure to Quality Improvement (QI) Interventions in Primary Health Care (PHC) Clinics in Rural KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

‘QI methods offer a simple and cost-effective solution to improving the quality of services to patients and streamlining the work of healthcare workers,’ said Gengiah.

Her project involved a cluster randomised controlled trial that provided QI intervention to 20 clinics to improve HIV/TB services and also observed another 20 clinics which received standard of care supervision and support for integrating HIV/TB services.

Said Gengiah: ‘The QI intervention was successful in improving HIV testing rates, TB screening rates, viral load coverage and the initiation of Isoniazid Preventive Therapy. The study was beneficial to the clinics and healthcare workers that participated, in that it provided them with QI skills and tools which can be used to improve all aspects of service delivery.

‘Healthcare workers (HCWs) are a valuable resource and in most primary healthcare facilities, nurses are driving the HIV care and treatment programme,’ she said. ‘Given the large numbers of HIV and TB patients and the many demands placed on HCWs to deliver high quality care, it is inevitable that there is burnout and lack of motivation among our HCWs. I saw potential in this project to address an important gap in how HCWs can be empowered to cope with increasing demands and deliver good quality care.’

Gengiah’s study required close collaboration with Department of Health clinics and the careful building of trust with healthcare workers. ‘It was challenging to work with very busy Department of Health clinics and to keep HCWs motivated to participate in the study while they had to do their jobs at the same time,’ she said.

‘Fortunately, we had a very dedicated research team and motivated KZN district managers who consistently and dedicatedly worked on this study and saw its potential value.’

Gengiah, currently a Public Health Specialist for the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) based in South Africa, began her research career at CAPRISA in 2007, going on to coordinate several clinical trials and studies, all of which, were aimed at reducing mortality in HIV and TB patients.

‘I grew my research skills and knowledge primarily during this time and am fortunate to have had the experience of working with an organisation that always aims to be at the cutting-edge of research,’ she said.

‘In the last few years, there has been a steady emergence of implementation science research as an important field in bridging the gap between research and implementation.’

She said her study, part of a major project at CAPRISA, provided her with an opportunity to progress from study coordinator to a researcher.

Gengiah enjoys reading, travelling to new places and finding unusual and interesting food experiences.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Sports Science Graduate Secures Degree Summa Cum Laude

Sports Science Graduate Secures Degree <em>Summa Cum Laude</em>
Summa cum laude graduate, Ms Kelsey Swanepoel.

Top student in UKZN’s Bachelor of Sports Science final-year programme in 2021, Ms Kelsey Swanepoel was awarded her degree summa cum laude.

Swanepoel is currently studying towards an Honours degree in Biokinetics with the aim of opening her own practice as a biokineticist.

‘I feel extremely proud of my achievement because I know the amount of work and consistent effort I put in,’ she said. ‘I never thought I would actually achieve such honours! It was definitely unexpected and I’m grateful as well as very happy,’ she said.

Swanepoel said COVID-19 had presented a huge challenge for her. ‘With Sports Science being a very practical course, not being able to physically go to campus and get involved with the practical skills and training was a hindrance and a disadvantage. To overcome this, I took on a lot of extra work which I did on my own. For example, watching videos to see practical demonstrations and then practising skills on family members when possible!’

Matriculating with five distinctions at Westville Girls’ High School, she received numerous Deans’ Commendation Awards during her university studies.

Swanepoel coaches junior level hockey at Westville.

Words: Mandisa Shozi

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Sports Science Degrees Cum Laude for Two Students

Sports Science Degrees <em>Cum Laude</em> for Two Students
Sport Science cum laude graduates, Ms Sohana Anandavasagar (left) and Ms Melissa Munsami.

Ms Melissa Munsami, and Ms Sohana Anandavasagar were awarded Sport Science degrees cum laude during a UKZN Autumn Graduation Ceremony.

Said Munsami: ‘I am very proud of myself for achieving this honour especially during the trying times of COVID-19. It was unexpected - graduating cum laude is something I’ve always wanted to achieve from the first day I started university.’

Having played hockey in high school and being a sports fanatic, a sports degree was ideal for Munsami.

‘However, I had to deregister from my Sports Science degree at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) when my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumour and I needed to move back home to Durban.

‘I was accepted for a Sports Science degree at UKZN and I did well, achieving good results every year,’ she said.

Currently studying for an Honours degree in Biokinetics, Munsami hopes to one day work for the Liverpool Football Club in England.

Anandavasagar says consistency, self-discipline and perseverance were key factors in her achieving good results.

She said studying at UKZN taught her to respond and adapt to difficult situations and interact with people from different backgrounds and experiences.

Anandavasagar is currently studying for an Honours degree in Biokinetics.

She thanked her family and lecturers for their endless support.

Words: Mandisa Shozi

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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PhD for Eastern Cape Department of Health Physician

PhD for Eastern Cape Department of Health Physician
Dr Herbert Melariri received a PhD in Public Health.

Health Promotion (HP) was the research focus of a doctoral study by Dr Herbert Melariri of the Eastern Cape Department of Health.

Melariri graduated with a PhD in Public Health for his work titled: Evaluation of Health Promotion Roles and Services Offered by Healthcare Workers in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality of the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

‘I feel very fulfilled as I am now empowered, especially from the research point of view, to make more positive contributions to enhance the clinical outcomes in the health sector,’ said Melariri.

‘I hope to re-energise these pivotal but neglected fields of health promotion and disease prevention to make South Africa a model of excellence. I plan to achieve this through practice, landmark research, mentoring and community building.’

Supervised by Professor Moses Chimbari, Melariri’s study identified HP-measuring indicators, enablers, and hindrances for healthcare workers at various healthcare levels in South Africa. His investigations also discovered that inadequate HP knowledge among healthcare workers, lack of coordinated HP training and the operational strategy used in healthcare facilities were responsible for negatively influencing health outcomes.

Furthermore, the study showed that behavioural changes of healthcare workers’ patients, structural reorganisation and reprioritisation in healthcare systems were vital for enhancing health outcomes.

‘Following the findings of my doctoral studies, I have focused on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in addressing several preventable Ear, Nose, and Throat and Ophthalmology (eye) diseases within the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality. Ultimately, we aim to build sustainable community-based health promotion and disease prevention capacities to complement existing biomedical care,’ said Melariri.

In his study, the level of involvement of healthcare workers in health promotion and disease prevention was quantified and compared across all levels of healthcare delivery in the public sector for the first time. ‘As at graduation time, I have had all five results chapters of my thesis either published or in press. Four out of the five are in Q1 journals and one in a Q2 journal,’ said Melariri.

‘As a medical practitioner in the South African public health system, I note that we are regularly faced with large numbers of patients in dire need of care at all levels. It is worse at the tertiary levels where there are patients whose health needs should have been addressed at the primary and secondary levels but this is not happening because at those levels there is a struggle to cope with the volumes of sufferers,’ he said. ‘This stimulated my interest to explore measures that will empower healthcare workers and at the same time equip our communities and patients to positively take control of their health. Also, findings from the study will equip our stakeholders and policymakers with validated research-based evidence needed for informed decision-making.’

Melariri received his undergraduate medical training at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria, and his postgraduate training in general surgery at the University of Cape Town. He holds a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Roehampton in London and a certificate in Global Health from Harvard University in the United States.

He is married to an associate professor and faculty member at the Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) Ms Paula Melariri and they have three children.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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WHO’s Height-For-Age Monitoring of Children in Zimbabwe Explored in Doctoral Thesis

WHO’s Height-For-Age Monitoring of Children in Zimbabwe Explored in Doctoral Thesis
Dr Anesu Marume graduated with a PhD in Public Health Medicine.

A lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare graduated from UKZN with a PhD in Public Health Medicine for his study of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) child growth standards in height-for-age monitoring.

Said Dr Anesu Marume whose study was supervised by Dr Saajida Mahomed and Professor Moherndran Archary: ‘Completing the PhD was an exciting accomplishment. From proposal development up to writing the final thesis it has been a remarkable learning experience.

‘The University’s training workshops were highly informative and what I learned there will enrich my research expertise as well as my practice in public health. I hope to become a leading force in global health and research and a sought-after public health specialist.’

His study, titled: Validation of the WHO Child Growth Standards in Height-For-Age Monitoring, Zimbabwe, made use of three approaches in understanding height-for-age monitoring in Zimbabwe. The first approach questioned the appropriateness of WHO child growth standards in accurately identifying children with nutrition deficiencies in Zimbabwe. The basis for the challenge was that the sample size, settings and approaches used in the development of the WHO growth standards were limiting and inappropriate for a low income setting such as Zimbabwe.

The second approach assessed the predictors of childhood stunting in Zimbabwe using the WHO childhood stunting framework, while the third strategy comprised an evaluation of the child growth monitoring programme in Zimbabwe.

Marume says he found that the WHO growth standards over-estimated the stunting and underweight prevalence in Zimbabwe while not highlighting the fact that some children were overweight.

He said he also established that the Zimbabwean Growth monitoring programme was undersubscribed and failed to refer children identified with malnutrition for treatment.

The study confirmed that multiple predictors as outlined by the WHO stunting were present in the Zimbabwean population.

Marume recommended a multi-stakeholder approach in tackling childhood stunting and the development of regional-specific child growth standards that took into consideration genetic, cultural, economic and dietary differences within populations as opposed to the one size fits all approach of the WHO growth standards.

‘The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns coincided with the period I wanted to start data collection which resulted in an increase in both the time taken and costs involved for data collection,’ he said. ‘Additionally, access to dataset which I intended to use for validation of the WHO growth standards proved to be very difficult as the personnel designated to approve and provide the access were termed non-essential and were working from home,’ said Marume.

During his studies he received funding from the College of Health Sciences scholarship office to buy COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) materials. The validation of WHO growth standards, originally planned to be the first step in his research, had to be postponed until access to the dataset was granted.

‘Despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, platforms were created that enabled me to complete my PhD within my stipulated timeframe. Virtual meetings and workshops created in place of the face-to-face training were very helpful,’ he said.

Marume was previously employed by the Ministry of Health and Child Care in Zimbabwe for more than eight years. ‘Within the same period, I have been involved in implementation, coordination, research, monitoring and evaluation of multiple public health programmes and services among refugees, key populations, adolescents, children and women of child bearing age,’ he said.

He is an amateur chess player and uses his skills to teach the game to young children in schools and at orphanages.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied


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Dental Therapy Students Graduate Cum Laude

Dental Therapy Students Graduate <em>Cum Laude</em>
Bachelor of Dental Therapy top achievers.

Ten of UKZN’s Bachelor of Dental Therapy students received their degrees cum laude.

They were: Ms Aliyah Bassa, Ms Yenziwe Danisa, Ms Anabel Dlamini, Ms Andiswa Dlamini, Ms Nonkululeko Gwala, Ms Luyanda Miya, Mr Siminikiwe Ndonyela, Mr Wanda Ngcongo, Ms Axole Sigcau and Ms Sbongokuhle Zondo.

Said Bassa: ‘My dad is a dentist as was my grandfather and two of my uncles so I was drawn to the dental field, more so than others!’

Danisa says enrolling for a Bachelor of Dental Therapy degree had been a dream come true. ‘For me, dentistry is art. I need something that challenges me and develops my skills on a daily basis - dentistry does that. As a person who enjoys working with my hands, I just want to roll up my sleeves and showcase my talent,’ she said.

Anabel Dlamini says her biggest challenge was having to complete her studies during the COVID-19 pandemic. The transition from face-to-face learning to online tuition and also with lectures being delayed took its toll on students as they had to make up for lost time at the beginning of their third year.

She thanked her classmates for their support.

Andiswa Dlamini described her experience at UKZN as amazing, saying she would forever be grateful for the special relationships she formed with people she met at the University - people she will share lifelong bonds with. 

Gwala said she enrolled for a Psychology degree in 2017 but switched to a Dental Therapy course in 2019. ‘I always wanted to be in the field of health science.’

Said Miya: ‘Being one of the top students in the Dental Therapy programme and completing my studies cum laude is my greatest and proudest achievement. To be quite honest, I am humbled because my whole life has been a testimony of God’s grace. I am very happy that all my family’s sacrifices for me have finally paid off,’ said Miya.

For Ngcongo who had to learn to be independent at a very young age after his grandmother died, his biggest challenge was having to work while studying. Prayer helped him overcome his challenges.

Sigcau of Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape, outlined challenges she faced being a member of a big family. ‘I felt that to be recognised I needed to be a high achiever so I decided to focus on and excel in academics. I took it upon myself to become the first graduate in our family,’ she said. 

 Zondo highlighted the importance of having a loving and supportive family structure, identifying her father as her pillar of strength.

All students said they received excellent guidance from their Dental Therapy lecturers.

Words: Mandisa Shozi

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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