UKZN Joins Forces with Fuze Institute to Combat Food Insecurity

UKZN Joins Forces with Fuze Institute to Combat Food Insecurity
Hydroponics and glass greenhouses at the Fuze Farm.

The Fuze Institute, through its existing partnership with the College of Humanities, is poised to launch a ground-breaking Food Security Programme for marginalised citizens of KwaZulu-Natal in July 2022.

UKZN has pledged infrastructural support for the programme in the form of land for the planting of agricultural produce as well as personnel to facilitate the processing of the food. The University will also make its industrial kitchens on the Howard College and Pietermaritzburg campuses available to prepare food for disadvantaged students.

The programme is Fuze’s social investment initiative which forms part of the Institute’s humanitarian initiative. It will be conducted under the foundation called When Thandi Smiles, named after founder and CEO, Ms Thandi Ngcobo.

Ngcobo’s upbringing as a teenager was marked by severe hardship that caused her to suspend her education to look after her family. This inspired her to extend her compassion wherever she identifies poverty and human suffering.

The programme’s overall focus will be on alleviating hunger within our immediate communities, with a special focus on the unemployed, child and women-headed households, victims of the recent devastating floods in the eThekwini region and University students who are struggling to fund the daily demands of their education. A balanced meal a day will vastly improve their chances of successfully completing their studies,’ said Ngcobo.

UKZN students will be provided with daily cooked meals from the Fuze and UKZN farm and catering operations. The programme also includes an added innovation which involves the generation of solar power from a photo-voltaic system that will be installed on the roof-tops of the greenhouses that will be producing the food. All excess food and electricity will be sold to generate additional income for the purpose of supporting other humanitarian outreach programmes within the College of Humanities and the immediate community surrounding the university.

‘We hope this programme becomes a legacy project which will be self-sustaining long into the future. Apart from providing food security for the targeted sectors, it will be operated by cooperatives from previously disadvantaged communities who will prepare and sell the food at a fraction of its market value. It is sincerely hoped that this project will transcend narrow individual interests and become a true legacy project that will serve our communities long into the future,’ said Ngcobo.

Words: Lungile Ngubelanga

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Medical Research Fellow Admitted as an Orthopaedic Surgeon

Medical Research Fellow Admitted as an Orthopaedic Surgeon
ARI Fellow, Dr Vuyisa Mdingi.

AO Research Institute Davos (ARI) Fellow and Master of Medicine student at UKZN, Dr Vuyisa Mdingi, has been confirmed as a qualified orthopedic surgery specialist in his native South Africa.

He is confident that colleagues back home will also benefit from the expertise he is gaining in Davos.

Mdingi, who is currently undertaking a one-year medical research fellowship with ARI, has also been admitted to the South African College of Orthopaedic Surgeons as a Fellow. The 34-year-old earned a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) from the University of Cape Town in 2011. He completed his orthopedic residency in late 2021 at Grey’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg and is in the final stages of his Master’s in Medicine in paediatric musculoskeletal infection.

As an ARI Fellow, Mdingi joined the Infection Biology focus area led by Dr Fintan Moriarty. He is investigating how nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) interact with antibiotics in infected animal models. The aim is to better understand any synergistic or antagonistic effects that may occur and how these can benefit or hamper different treatment methods.

As part of his fellowship, Mdingi is also preparing a literature review on the same issue. ‘I developed a strong interest in research during my residency,’ he said. ‘My long-term goal is to study towards a PhD, and I consider the ARI fellowship an important stepping stone in this direction.’

Professor Geoff Richards, director of ARI and executive director of AO Research and Development, said: ‘We are extremely happy to host Vuyisa for his ARI fellowship and hope this will be the start of long-term future collaborations with him within the area of infection.’

On his return home following his ARI fellowship, Mdingi plans to return to his old employer. ‘The bulk of the work by orthopedic surgeons at Grey’s Hospital involves trauma caused, for example, by road traffic accidents or interpersonal violence,’ he explained.

In co-operation with UKZN, the hospital also has a budding research department where he hopes to contribute to studies on implant-related infections. ‘If we can enhance the overall quality of our treatment and services through research, we can reduce patient morbidity due to musculoskeletal disorders. Patients’ quality of life will also benefit greatly.’

Mdingi believes that his time at ARI will steer him towards being more research-driven as opposed to being purely service-delivery-driven as a surgeon. ‘I want to pass on that knowledge by training and mentoring young residents to help them improve their research skills,’ he said. ‘For many colleagues, their master’s thesis is as far as it will go in terms of research. Hopefully, I can make the topic more interesting and cultivate a research culture. Who knows, maybe I will even be able to inspire someone else to come to Davos for an ARI fellowship.’

Words: AO Research Institute Davos

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Students Equipped to Address Mental Health

Students Equipped to Address Mental Health
Westville Res students enjoyed a fun and informative afternoon with their peers.Click here for isiZulu version

The Department of Student Residences Affairs’ mental health programme on the Westville campus aimed to raise student awareness of the importance of mental health.

Resident Assistant (RA) Ms Thabile Madlala, the overall facilitator of the programme, said: ‘This programme aimed to start a conversation about mental health, something the majority of students shy away from. It gave them a sense of comfort to know they are not the only ones facing such challenges and that there is a platform for them to open up and share how they feel.’

Comprising two components, a virtual session addressed by Mr Sanele Zuma (student psychologist in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science) and a physical session outdoors, the interactive programme included an overview of mental health and triggers related to mental health issues (stress, depression, and anxiety). In the virtual session, coping methods were demonstrated to empower students to monitor and manage their mental health during stressful times (including tests and exams). Zuma highlighted the University channels which provide psychological support and counselling in the four Colleges.

The outdoor event, which included yoga, “how low can you go” and balloon dodgeball aimed to encourage students to become active, and also provided the opportunity to get to know their fellow Res students.

‘Physical movement is an important part of a mental health awareness programme because a healthy body is crucial for healthy and active minds. The few hours spent outdoors away from phones, laptops and books gave the students a chance to relax and free their minds,’ said Madlala.

She thanked the Westville campus Res-Life Coordinator Ms Lerato Khoadi for supporting the programme. ‘We understand the importance of these programmes and appreciate the Residence Assistants’ efforts to address mental health in residences,’ said Khoadi.

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer

Photographs: Supplied 


author : .
author email : .

Twin Optometrists are Successful Entrepreneurs

Twin Optometrists are Successful Entrepreneurs
Successful twins, Mrs Ayanda Mthembu and Mrs Andile Pieterson.Click here for isiZulu version

Mrs Ayanda Mthembu and her twin sister Mrs Andile Pieterson graduated from UKZN with Bachelor of Optometry degrees.

It was always their goal to start a business. Having run a foundation, TwinsOnEyes that identified learners in disadvantaged schools with visual problems and provided free spectacles, they decided to start a business in an accessible location to serve disadvantaged communities. They founded their first optometry practice at the age of 23 and in 2017, Mthembu opened her optometry practice, Bona Eye Care in Pietermaritzburg.

Mthembu believes that the winning formula is being highly motivated and working hard: ‘Considering the fierce competition in today’s business world, I pride myself on the service I give my patients whom I treat as patients as well as customers, offering them an experience rather than just a consultation every time they come to renew their spectacles. I believe in the brand that I have worked so hard to build as a young successful Black woman who is professional and compassionate. My husband is my greatest support structure as well as my twin sister because not only is she family, but she is in the same business so we are able to lean on each other for support as well as advice.’

Pieterson, who owns AZA Optometrists, is a semi-finalist in the 2022 Mrs South Africa contest. She hopes to use the contest as a platform to inspire young girls within her community and around the country, helping them realise that anything is possible and that their dreams can indeed come true.

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Inaugural Lecture Explores Technology Integration

Inaugural Lecture Explores Technology Integration
Professor Desmond Govender.

Professor Desmond Govender of the Discipline of Computer Science Education in the School of Education delivered his virtual inaugural lecture titled, A Turbulent Learning Curve: Technology Integration.

Against the backdrop of ongoing research on the adoption of technology in education, Govender posed the question: ‘With ongoing technological developments, and the classroom having evolved into a sea-bed of technological advances, how do we facilitate an exploration of new educational approaches that reflect today’s students and 21st-century skills?’

He noted that integration of technology is a persistent challenge in most organisations and industries.

‘A recent survey, post the onset of COVID-19, shows that emerging technology adoption has a people problem and one needs to move out of one’s own way to embrace change. This is also true for the education sector. As early as 2007, it became evident that, regardless of the amount of technology and its sophistication, it will not be used appropriately unless educators have the skills, knowledge, and positive attitudes towards its use,’ argued Govender.

He explored the relationship between teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs pertaining to their level of competence and their attitudes towards technology integration. Govender used the analogy of how engineered control systems work to explain how humans act to keep their reference condition/goals in check.

He elaborated that educators have other higher-level goals which may impact their adoption and integration of technology: ‘Therefore, we need to ensure that we try to reduce the so-called disturbances to these goals.’

Govender also shared the potential and impact of augmented reality in the classroom, citing it as a whole new world for education, including biometrics, artificial intelligence and multi-touch services. ‘Learning can be transformed as we continue to discover new technologies and innovative knowledge. Therefore, technology integration can be viewed as a turbulent learning curve as we move forward,’ he added.

Govender concluded, ‘when technology integration truly becomes routine, it’s important to bear in mind that, ultimately, control is in our hands…the educator and human. As Albert Einstein believed, the human spirit must prevail over technology.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Medical Students Receive NSFT Award

Medical Students Receive NSFT Award
Mr Phila Mbuyisa was one of the recipients of the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Brilliants Award.Click here for isiZulu version

First-year Medical students at UKZN’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, Mr Phila Mbuyisa and Ms Anele Mnguni will receive the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Brilliants Award at an event that will be broadcast on the NSTF’s YouTube channel on 21 July 2022.

The NSTF has hosted the NSTF-South32 Awards for 24 years. The current sponsors of the Brilliants programme are South32, the Department of Science and Innovation and the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions. This unique annual programme recognises the top young men and women in each province based on their marks in Physical Science and Mathematics in the previous year’s National Senior Certificate Examinations and their choice of studies in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related fields.

‘I come from a disadvantaged background and I am excited about my achievement. I was admitted to my first-choice programme at UKZN,’ said Mbuyisa.

Amongst his many achievements, Mbuyisa was selected to participate in the UPREP programme sponsored by Stellenbosch University. The programme aims to bridge the gap between school and university and to prepare and support talented Grade 11 and 12 learners from educationally disadvantaged communities for university admission.

Mbuyisa’s future plans include becoming one of the best cardiothoracic surgeons.

Words: Mandisa Shozi

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Academic Represents UKZN at an Africa-Nordic International Workshop in Finland

Academic Represents UKZN at an Africa-Nordic International Workshop in Finland
Dr Isaac Khambule.

Senior Lecturer in the School of Built Environment and Development Studies, Dr Isaac Khambule participated in an international workshop on Nordic-Africa Relations in a Changing Global Order, in Helsinki, Finland.

The workshop launched a report on Re-imagining African-Nordic Relations in a Changing Global Order, published by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI); a joint project between the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA), NUPI, UKZN, the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), the Institute of Peace and Security Studies (IPSS), and International Global Dialogue (IGD).

The workshop was opened by Ms Elina Kalkku, Under-Secretary of State at Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs who is responsible for the development policy of Africa, and the Middle East. Khambule reflected on his section in the report on Africa-Nordic Trade, Investment and Loans. He noted increased interest in trade with Africa as a result of bilateral and multilateral partnerships such as China-Africa, Turkey-Africa, Russia-Africa, and Nordic-Africa. Khambule also highlighted the need for new Nordic-Africa trade and investment strategies to promote structural transformation that supports Africa’s industrial needs.

The workshop was attended by various African embassies and coincided with the Nordic-Africa Summit in Helsinki. The closing session was presided over by the Foreign Minister of Norway, Ms Anniken Huitfeldt.

The report can be accessed at: https://www.nupi.no/en/publications/cristin-pub/re-imagining-african-nordic-relations-in-a-changing-global-order.

Khambule is currently based at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) University, where he is teaching Development Economics under the auspices of the long-standing Erasmus Mobility Programme between UKZN and FAU University.

Words: Lungile Ngubelanga

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Webinar Explores Critical Perspectives on Vaccine Hesitancy

Webinar Explores Critical Perspectives on Vaccine Hesitancy
From left: Professor Suleman Dangor, Dr Mayashree Chinsamy, Professor Pratap Kumar Penumala, Reverend Siphiwe Ndebele and Dr Lokesh Ramnath Maharajh.

The College of Humanities and the School of Education’s webinar on Critical Perspectives on Vaccine Hesitancy featured Professor Suleman Dangor; Dr Mayashree Chinsamy; and Professor Pratap Kumar Penumala of UKZN and Reverend Siphiwe Ndebele (Baptist Convention of South Africa). The session was facilitated by Dr Lokesh Ramnath Maharajh (UKZN).

The webinar responded to the question, how are religious institutions, beliefs, leaders, and practices contributing - positively and negatively - to the ongoing coronavirus crisis and response?

In his introduction, Maharajh said, ‘Engaging religious communities in global vaccination efforts is a continuing theme and challenge. Collaboration among faith leaders is possible and essential in the fight against COVID-19.’

Dangor’s presentation examined the attitudes of Muslim scholars, scientists, doctors and the lay public on vaccination, focusing on the coronavirus vaccine. He presented arguments for and against vaccinations based on science, theology and conspiracy theories.

‘The overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars in South Africa are in support of vaccination. There is a sizeable minority who are either opposed to vaccines or hesitant. For some their hesitancy is based on science, where they are not sure that the vaccines are safe enough and argue that not enough trials were conducted to convince people that they actually work,’ said Dangor.

Penumala reflected on the global and local impact of COVID-19 on the Hindu community. ‘Responses to COVID-19 from a religious point of view have varied. In South Africa, the Hindu response has generally been positive in that no major opposition to health mandates prescribed by the government in line with scientific recommendations has been witnessed thus far. The extent to which individuals actually follow those protocols may vary, and perhaps needs closer study at the level of local communities,’ said Penumala.

Ndebele focused on religious institutions’ contribution to combating the coronavirus: ‘Religious institutions definitely play a role during the era of COVID-19 as they are the cornerstone of our communities. Society looks to religious leaders and institutions for guidance and support at this time.’

He said that ‘many Christian leaders supported vaccines, but some used their religious authority to mislead people against it. The religious sector has had to stand up and correct the wrong doctrine publicly.’

Chinsamy looked at indigenous knowledge conceptualisations of vaccine hesitancy, providing a holistic understanding of a complex global challenge. She noted that, ‘medical communication and information on vaccines tend to be shared in a digital space to which marginalised communities and social groups have no or limited access or cultural association.’

Chinsamy suggested that understanding pandemics including COVID-19, from local community-based knowledge and attitudes, especially socio-cultural, linguistic, economic, ecological and political imperatives in terms of vaccine intentions, could assist policy makers and other stakeholders to increase vaccination uptake and achieve herd immunity. 

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photographs: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Dietetics Student Among Top 10 Contenders for Miss South Africa Title

Dietetics Student Among Top 10 Contenders for Miss South Africa Title
Miss South Africa Top 10 finalist, Ms Ayanda Thabethe.Click here for isiZulu version

Ms Ayanda Thabethe, a final-year student in the Discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at UKZN is one of the Top 10 contestants in the annual, nationwide Miss South Africa pageant.

The winner will be crowned at a ceremony in August and represent her country at Miss Universe 2022, Miss World 2022 or Miss Supranational 2023.

The 22-year-old is one of two contestants from KwaZulu-Natal selected by professional and public judging and has spent the past three years balancing her modelling career, business and studies. The aspiring dietitian plans to contribute to developing nutrition-related guidelines to combat South Africa’s double burden of malnutrition and obesity.

Currently based in the private sector where she is completing her Food Management Studies block, earlier this year Thabethe was based at the Harry Gwala Regional Hospital where she focused on the clinical components of her qualification.

The older of two siblings, she was born and raised in Pietermaritzburg and attended Longmarket Girls’ School and Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School (GHS) where she excelled in athletics and cross country. A prefect, vice house captain and vice-captain of cross country in her matric year, she maintains her fitness by running recreationally.

Thanks to the influence of Consumer Studies educator Mrs Shelagh Goddard at GHS who studied Dietetics, Thabethe set her academic goals early on, deciding in Grade 8 that she would pursue Dietetics Studies at UKZN after researching her options and finding the University’s academic offerings and proximity to family appealing.

‘The structure of the course is phenomenal and I liked the modules; it was a strong programme,’ she said.

She found the environment at UKZN stimulating and conducive to success because of the small and personal Discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, and exposure to a diverse student body. She said the staff showed care for their students, provided all the necessary information and were always available.

Thabethe began modelling after a spur-of-the-moment suggestion from a friend that she apply for a modelling opportunity. She soon realised her aptitude for it and completed the requisite courses for professional modelling, signed with an agency, successfully freelanced, and was then signed by Boss Models which accelerated her career. She also started her own business, The Closet which rents out formal dresses and ball gowns for pageants.

Driven to be a trailblazer and role model and inspired by women including Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey and former Miss South Africa Basetsana Kumalo, Thabethe was inspired to enter Miss South Africa to bring about positive change in South Africa.

Emerging as one of the Top 10 contestants was foreshadowed by her family saying she would be Miss South Africa from before she could walk. Thabethe has found that modelling is not simply about walking a stage but includes considerable opportunities for empowerment and advocacy. She reached the top 12 of the Miss Greater Edendale Mall pageant, and went on to win the Miss KZN Queen, a year-long title that enabled her to focus on self-discovery and prepare for Miss South Africa.

Participating in Miss South Africa has been an unexpected journey, providing more opportunity for individual expression than Thabethe anticipated, and offering contestants routes to self-improvement through lessons and information in the pageant workshops.

While modelling is important to Thabethe, her career is her first priority, and she hopes to focus on holistic health, inspired by time in a rural area with her family where they motivated their community to take up pastimes including jogging. She hopes to promote the use of outdoor gyms, host boot camps and encourage the use of community centres for discussions on mental health.

She said that her Dietetics internship has crystallised her learning and enabled her to put her studies into practice, and she and her UKZN colleagues have received praise from hospital dietitians on the depth of their knowledge. When her studies are complete, Thabethe will be one of the first in her family to attain a university degree. She is looking forward to her Community Nutrition block and preparations for the next stage of Miss South Africa.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Dental Therapist a Role Model to the Youth

Dental Therapist a Role Model to the Youth
Owner of SAVON Dental, Mr Bradley Poovan.Click here for isiZulu version

Mr Bradley Poovan graduated from UKZN in 2009 with a Bachelor of Dental Therapy degree.

‘I must say that as a student I was quite demotivated as I was unsure if my qualification would allow me to live the life I wanted. I came to the realisation that life as a dental therapist will always be hard. My university life was stereotypical with a focus on social life rather than learning. I am happy to say this changed when I got to final-year and wanted to move forward,’ said Poovan.

At the age of 24, Poovan took a gamble and with financial assistance from his family, ventured into private practice as SAVON Dental. ‘From 2012 to 2017, I worked on my own with a dental assistant and receptionist. I was not the best businessperson, as my compassion overtook my urge to be wealthy. I did not want my patients to feel like numbers but to be respected as people. I did not market my practice well and all my referrals were word of mouth. This created a sense of trust. I continued to develop my skills and invested in better equipment. My passion for the restoration of smiles evolved into an addiction that drove me to want to improve my work daily. I found myself studying harder as a graduate than I ever did as a student. I learned from my patients and had many discussions that helped me grow as a person and clinician,’ commented Poovan.

‘I have now built the practice into a team of 10. I am still the principal owner and manage the business. We have created a collaborative business model that promotes team work, with staff free to express their ideas and be creative as well as grow as individuals.’

His advice to new graduates is, ‘focus on being the best clinician possible. Focus on treating patients, without whom we are just an individual with a piece of paper on the wall. Never believe you are the best you can be; you can always improve. Do not fear a challenge or failure. Divide financial gain into needs and wants. Needs must be met immediately but wants can wait. Be focused and understand that all great things require hard work. Nothing of value comes easy. I love my profession and am proud to be part of it.’

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Honours Students Engage with Learners at “May Medical Madness” Workshops

Honours Students Engage with Learners at “May Medical Madness” Workshops
Some of the Medical Sciences students who participated from left: Miss Nozipho Sibulawa, Mr Lungelo Mthembu, Miss Wendy Mdluli and Miss Kholeka Vezi.

A community engagement initiative piloted by Dr Saajida Mahomed, Public Health Medicine Specialist in the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences saw B.Medical Science Honours students registered for the Research Methodology and Bioethics Module engage with learners from schools across the country participating in weekly online Eskom Expo Young Scientist workshops.

Under the theme of Medical May Madness, students from Human Anatomy, Human Physiology, Medical Microbiology and Medical Biochemistry worked in groups to create videos of an overview of their research topics, and the relevance of their research to the public, highlighting the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

‘Educating young learners about research undertaken in university laboratories not only inspires them to pursue a career in medical sciences but also shows that the information they are learning is important when tackling medical issues and that science is an indispensable facet of our daily lives. We should strive for scientific progress as it improves our lives. All in all, it was an exceptional experience and I would be delighted if we were to do it again in our master’s next year,’ said Mr Lungelo Mthembu, who represented the Physiology group.

Four 60-minute online sessions were held during which the videos were presented. The range of topics included pulmonary hypertension and cannabis administration (human physiology), the apoptopic effects of a traditional African concoction (medical biochemistry), the effect of estrogen on HIV replication (medical microbiology) and comparative analyses of the brain and urinary system in humans and Sprague Dawley rats (human anatomy). The student videos were engaging and were very well received by the learners. The co-ordinators of the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists provided positive feedback and indicated that they are keen to extend this initiative.

The students reported that they enjoyed this experience which was important for their training. It also highlighted that community engagement activities do not always require face-to-face meetings.

‘It was a challenge to make it fun and attractive for high school students; we ultimately focused on what we thought we would have liked to have heard when we were at that stage of our schooling career. The assignment made us realise the purpose and importance of community engagement, and we thank Dr Mahomed and everyone at Eskom for the opportunity,’ said Mr Sashendren Govender of the Medical Biochemistry group.

‘I appreciate the opportunity to present our study to high school learners, who probably haven’t heard much about medical science or human physiology. I hope it motivated them to look beyond what they already know and what is readily available on the Internet. We hope to see more young inquisitive minds investing their time in exploring the fascinating physiology of the human body, said Miss Wendy Mdluli.

These online workshops can be viewed here:
https://youtu.be/F51wS7wpP1w
https://youtu.be/_Bl4Hv0a33g
https://youtu.be/WwjuqwCL8mY

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photographs: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Advancing Pharmaceutical Knowledge

Advancing Pharmaceutical Knowledge
Dr Sahejna Bantho.

Dr Sahejna Bantho is embarking on a career in medicinal plant research on a strong footing after having her master’s degree upgraded to a PhD, achieving top results in the Laboratory for Medicinal Plant Research in the School of Life Sciences, and benefiting from training under the University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP).

After achieving a summa cum laude result of 90% during her master’s, the highest among her peers, Bantho was able to upgrade her degree to a PhD to hone her specialisation in microscopy, phytochemistry, nanoparticle synthesis and biological activity evaluation techniques in medicinal plant research.

Capped at the Autumn Graduation ceremonies, Bantho analysed the phytochemical components of the indigenous river bushwillow tree (Combretum erythrophyllum) for use in drug delivery systems. This species is valued in Africa for its many applications in traditional medicine; it is used to treat bacterial infections, venereal diseases, abdominal pain, sores, infertility, and labour pains, and displays anti-viral, anti-parasitic, cytotoxic, and mutagenic activity.

To close the gap in knowledge about this species, Bantho conducted a comparative analysis of the biological activity of leaf and stembark extracts of C. erythrophyllum under the supervision of Professor Yougasphree (Yogis) Naidoo. She examined its micromorphological features, histo-phytochemistry, total flavonoid and phenolic content, as well as the antioxidant, antibacterial, apoptotic and cytotoxic (anticancer) potential of the plant’s extracts.

Bantho found that the river bushwillow has potential for use in modern medicine, with her work providing grounds to further isolate compounds from the best-performing extracts. She said that its considerable medicinal potential should be evaluated for the transformation of isolated compounds into a drug. Her research resulted in two publications in the South African Journal of Botany with more forthcoming.

Originally from Durban, Bantho completed all her degrees at UKZN, drawn to the Institution by its international reputation and proximity to home. With its well-equipped research facilities, it was the ideal environment to pursue her interest in medicinal plant research, sparked by her passion for helping people and finding solutions by adding value to current medical knowledge.

‘Seeing the negative impacts of conventional treatments for many diseases, I decided to explore an avenue that would possibly allow for the same or better results with minimal side effects,’ she said.

During her studies, Bantho was selected for the UCDP PhD Teacher Training Programme, receiving instruction in the fundamental skills necessary for an academic career. Topics included effective time management, lecture delivery and classroom management, teaching strategies, online and blended learning systems, curriculum and design, assessment, and instructional design of research projects and proper prioritisation for completing a PhD.

She received scholarships from the National Research Foundation for her master’s and PhD studies and became a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society. Bantho had the opportunity to present at conferences including the congregation of the South African Association of Botanists in 2018, the international Conference on Traditional Medicine and Phytochemistry and the 56th Microscopy Society of Southern African conference, receiving awards for the best micrograph and the international Wirsam prize for best presentation at the latter. Presenting at UKZN’s annual Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium in 2020 and 2021, Bantho won third place for the best flash presentation and the award for the most impactful presentation, respectively.

Aiming at a career in drug development systems and cancer research, Bantho hopes to gain experience at a pharmaceutical company and is considering postdoctoral research.

She thanked her family for their support and for affording her the opportunity to pursue her dreams, saying that her ultimate goal is to make her parents proud. She also thanked Naidoo for her support and guidance and for the platform to complete her research.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .