HIV/AIDS Infection Continues to Rise in Gay Communities Says Former UNAIDS Director

HIV/AIDS Infection Continues to Rise in Gay Communities Says Former UNAIDS Director
Professor Peter Piot.

The incidence of HIV/AIDS continues to rise in gay communities because of drug abuse, according to former UNAIDS Executive Director, Professor Peter Piot.

Speaking at a seminar at UKZN’s Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies in Mtubatuba, Piot’s address was titled: “AIDS – A Long Term View”.

‘They say that there is an end in sight for the disease, but the truth is, treatment isn’t enough to cure the disease. Behavioral interventions don’t work and integration of these aspects isn’t always the answer. Stigma and discrimination still exist among many cultures, and domestic funding doesn’t cover all costs for HIV treatment.

‘HIV continues to rise in gay communities due to drug abuse. Swaziland has a very high ARV coverage due to drug use and the use of dirty needles for injecting of heroin which increases HIV infection,’ said Piot.

He gave a global as well as an African perspective on HIV in his talk, saying that with 200 000 new infections occurring annually, prevention of mother-to-child transmission was a growing challenge.

HIV had increased globally due to rising drug incidence around the world. ‘There are also many factors that one has to acknowledge to combat this disease. With crimes against humanity and with criminalisation of same sex couples and the death penalty, there has been a massive neglect of prevention in recent years. Furthermore, with management inefficiencies, there is a collective denial of the long term consequences of HIV.’

Piot addressed a variety of issues concerning HIV/AIDS in Africa such as male circumcision infection rates and ARVs.

Between 2009 – 2012 there was an increase in male circumcision due to the information that circumcision reduces the risk of contracting HIV by 50%. However, in countries like Kenya, the average risk of HIV infection for low risk women is estimated to vary 10 fold between countries. Uganda was the first country where there was a decline in infection in 1996 but now the country has increased in infection due to its population growth. With all this happening across the continent, it is important for resistance to develop in order to combat the disease for those who are undergoing treatment. ‘It was found that the price of ARVs in South Africa was among the highest in the world,’ said Piot.

He said people living with HIV and on treatment were living longer. ‘There is no one single magic solution to end the epidemic. But what we can do is bring the levels lower. Service delivery and drug resistance can be achieved for a long term method. Delivery of innovation of new drugs, and political as well as technical leadership can aid it.

‘How do we stop HIV spreading? Through increasing knowledge, reducing transmission, and sustaining prevention and implementing research. There are many pressures that are increasing HIV, such as drug abuse and we need to address these transmissions and risk determining factors. Integrated decision making is needed in addressing health and social needs, and service delivery and political science need to fuse together in order to bring about empowering development.’

Piot, a former Under Secretary-General at the United Nations and the former Executive Director of the UN specialised agency, UNAIDS, is the Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and a Professor at the Imperial College in London. He is also the Author of the book: No Time to Lose: A Life in Pursuit of Deadly Viruses which details his experiences of discovering the fatal Ebola virus and AIDS in Zaire, 1983. 

*The Wellcome Trust Africa Centre for Health and Population studies is based in Mtubatuba and works closely in partnership with the rural community to conduct policy relevant health, population

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UKZN Professor Showcases the Sanitation Facilities and data available in Durban at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India

UKZN Professor Showcases the Sanitation Facilities and data available in Durban at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India
From left: UKZN’s Ms Susan Mercer, Professor Chris Buckley and Dr Tina Velkushanova.

Professor Chris Buckley of the Pollution Research Group (PRG) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) recently travelled to India to showcase the facilities and data available to other Grantees that aims to help bring sanitation to those who need it most at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair, an initiative hosted by The Indian Department of Biotechnology and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

Buckley was accompanied by his UKZN colleagues Ms Susan Mercer and Dr Tina Velkushanova as well as Mr Teddy Gounden, the Manager for Special Projects at the eThekwini Water and Sanitation Unit (EWS). The four work together on projects through the PRG which is based in the School of Engineering.

The group focuses on research projects dealing with urban and industrial water and wastewater management.

The PRG has provided research assistance to the EWS for over 10 years and has developed a biochemical processing laboratory in order to analyse faecal and urine waste streams, undertake laboratory scale experiments, and provide data to support the development of sanitation systems.

The PRG team was one of 16 worldwide to be awarded a BMGF grant for the design of innovative sanitation systems. The grant title is: Reinvent the Toilet Challenge Phase II: Data Acquisition and Field Support for Sanitation Projects.

Research under this grant aims to characterise physical and chemical properties of excreta streams from dry onsite sanitation systems or from decentralised low-water consuming sanitation systems. Their research will be made available to other institutions which received BMGF grants in order to assist with the development of prototypes and other research groups around the world that aim to improve access to sanitation.

This Reinvent the Toilet Fair is the second to be held since the BMGF initiated the global Reinvent the Toilet Challenge (RTTC) in 2011. The aim of the RTTC is to provide sustainable sanitation solutions to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to safe, affordable sanitation.

The Fair in New Delhi was a follow-up to the first Reinvent the Toilet Fair held in Seattle in the United States in 2012. Buckley and team also presented his solutions at that Fair.

The innovative sanitation solutions developed by participants in the RTTC were expected to meet certain requirements - the design had to:

•  cost less than US$ 0.05 per user per day 

•  remove germs and disease from human waste  

•  recover valuable energy, clean water, and nutrients  

•   operate without connections to electrical, water and sewer systems  

•  promote sustainable and financially profitable sanitation services and businesses that operate in poor, densely populated areas  

•  be appealing to developed countries.

There were hundreds of demonstrations and more than 45 models from 15 countries were displayed to the more than 800 people who attended the Fair.

Said Velkushanova: ‘What amazes me is the amount of work that has been done over the last years, incorporating great ideas from different sectors such as academia, industry and government. It was rewarding to hear about the appreciation for the UKZN team’s work and to receive support from the foundation and all the partners we have been working with so far.’

Mercer said the Fair provided an ideal opportunity to network with the many organisations working in the field of sanitation and to view the innovative solutions developed under the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. ‘For me, the greatest reward from the Fair was to meet the many people we have been communicating with and sharing information with over the last year and to hear first-hand how beneficial they found the input and support from the PRG. Our visit to the Sulabh toilet complex was a highlight of our visit.’

Reflecting on what the UKZN team needed to consider as their work continues, Buckley said: ‘The interaction with the other Gates grantees and funders indicated how necessary it is to obtain field data to enable robust decision making.’

The research conducted by Buckley and his team for the RTTC is also being utilised in a new partnership between South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which will evaluate innovative sanitation technology. The collaboration was announced at the Fair and a memorandum of understanding titled “Partnership in the Demonstration of Sanitation Solutions in Rural and Peri-urban South Africa” was signed.

Buckley continues his work with the BMGF on other projects, having recently taken up a position on the international reference group committee for the Water Research Commission (WRC)-BMGF Sanitation Research Fund for Africa project.

-          Christine Cuénod

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CHS Welcomes New Associate Professor

CHS Welcomes New Associate Professor
Professor Mershen Pillay.

Professor Mershen Pillay has been appointed an Associate Professor at UKZN’s School of Health Sciences where he will support and collaborate with research entities within the School and continue building his own research portfolio.

Pillay is both an Audiologist and a Speech Language Therapist and his academic qualifications include a doctorate in education which focused on transforming the practitioner-patient relationship.

His research interests are partly the area of ototoxicity with special reference to ‘workers exposed to chemicals in the workplace who lose their hearing as a result of “ear poison”. These workers include paint strippers, road workers and others exposed to chemicals that directly or indirectly destroy hearing’.

He is also interested in dysphagia – or swallowing disorders - in adults and children who may develop chest infections due to foods/liquids going into their air pipe because of the inability to swallow safely.  ‘I also want to raise awareness amongst employers about workers’ exposure to chemicals that slowly destroy hearing over time,’ he said.

Pillay’s future plans include developing a service for people with disabilities who are at risk of malnutrition and have problems accessing and sustaining food. He argues that dysphagia may be considered a food security issue with members from displaced and/or low socioeconomic contexts representing the most vulnerable of this clinical group. 

‘For example children with cerebral palsy or adults after a stroke may have difficulties drinking liquids like water which go into their air pipe resulting in chest infections which often result in death,’ said Pillay. ‘Modifying foods to, for example, slow the flow of water will result in improved safety.’

To achieve his goals Pillay plans to collaborate with local and international chefs and food scientists to develop, for example, the use of “high-cuisine” methods like molecular gastronomy to modify foods and liquids.

Pillay worked at the former UDW between1993 to 2003 and then at Stellenbosch University from late 2012 to early this year when he returned to UKZN. He also holds honorary positions at the University of Cape Town as a Research Associate and at Manchester Metropolitan University in England as a Visiting Research Scholar.  

He has in over two decades, worked mostly as a clinical practitioner in England, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa.

He has held positions as the Editor-in-Chief of the SA Journal of Communication Disorders and has presented/published his work in Africa – including South Africa and Uganda – and in various countries in Asia, Europe, North America and the Caribbean.

His clinical research interests are in swallowing disorders (dysphagia) and hearing disorders due to chemical exposures in the workplace. He is passionate about theoretically and practically repositioning the way in which health care professionals work with people who have disabilities.

-          Nombuso Dlamini

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Artificial Intelligence HIV Management Tool a First in Africa

Artificial Intelligence HIV Management Tool a First in Africa
Dr Yashik Singh.

An HIV/AIDS management tool able to predict whether a patient is resistant to ARVs has been formulated by UKZN PhD graduate, Dr Yashik Singh.

Singh’s mathematical model is being developed to alter drugs to change a patient’s CD4 count, to predict CD4 counts below 200 as well as the onset of AIDS and to monitor a patient’s use of ARVs. The study is believed to be the first of its kind on the continent.

‘The PhD was a pilot project, so to speak. International experts have analysed the framework so that they could further develop, build and implement it,’ said Singh. ‘The idea was to build it to apply to almost anything, so it has to be made as generic as possible. Governments ask a lot of questions about how to authenticate telemedicine, which is why this process of testing takes so long to implement. We are currently trying to see whether we can develop accurate algorithms to predict drug resistance based on information we can use from patients every day.’

The aim of Singh’s study was to ‘develop a physician-administered, artificial intelligence based decision support tool that aids the management of patients on antiretroviral therapy. This would be facilitated through the creation of machine learning algorithms (MLA) to predict current and future CD4 cell count using genomic sequences, current CD4 cell count using standard of care data, report a single interpretation to a HIV resistance profile; and the development of a web-based portal design that integrates these tools together.’

Singh’s idea will allow tests to be done on a patient’s resistance to HIV based on information and standard of care data, which doctors acquire from their patients. Masters students are currently building the framework developed by Singh and adapting and applying the framework model so that it can be applied to any domain before taking it to hospitals to be tested on patients.

‘In South Africa, we need to take into account the merging of telemedicine and informatics. We needed to develop a more holistic system that takes into account the environment, whether in a rural area or a city, along with the doctors, patients and medication so that integration can be maximised to provide more data needed to help patients.’

Currently, Singh is trying to implement and further develop the model produced from his PhD. ‘The model aims to improve fertility and prevent resources from being wasted. An education campaign is also currently underway to increase awareness to doctors and patients of drug resistance tools which are available in South Africa.

A survey was conducted amongst final year students at the UKZN’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine and only 4% of students knew about drug resistance tools being available. Doctors need to be trained to know of these tools as well.’

Singh’s PhD, which he completed last year, was titled: “A Physician-Administered Artificial Intelligence-Based Decision Support System Tool that Facilitates the Management of Patients on Anti-Retroviral Therapy”.

Singh’s PhD was the first in medical informatics to be awarded by an African university and one of the very few internationally. ‘I guess the most important thing I learned from the PhD is gratitude. As one comes to the end of the PhD journey, one realises how little one actually knows, and you are enveloped with a feeling of immense gratitude.’

Singh’s main interests are in artificial intelligence applied to finding ways of creating mathematical models that explain the behaviour of data. ‘As such, most of my current work deals with mining data. I am working on various issues that range from predicting fertility, models that predict CD4 cell count and viral loads, predicting diagnosis of silicosis.

‘I am also working on needs assessment, design and implementation of electronic medical records in all its forms ranging from small practice computer based records systems to national electronic hospital records systems. I also am working on a few projects dealing with education and trying to improve access and knowledge to medical informatics tools.’

 Singh is a Lecturer and the Academic Co-ordinator of the Medical Informatics programmes in the School of Nursing and Public Health’s Telemedicine discipline. Singh supervises Masters and PhD candidates, as well as lectures many Medical Informatics modules. In his free time, he participates in local outreach programmes for his community temple.       

-         Zakia Jeewa

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Umtholampilo waseUKZN weBhayokhayithikisi ungundabamlonyeni kwabadala

Umtholampilo waseUKZN weBhayokhayithikisi ungundabamlonyeni kwabadala
Abadala bezibusisa emtholampilo wezeBhayokhayinethikisi eUKZN.

Umtholampilo weSikole Sezifundo ZezeMpilo weBhayokhayinethikisi uwundabamlonyeni kubantu asebegugile.

Lo mtholampilo oneminyaka eyi 15 oyingxenye Yomkhakha weSayensi yezeBhayokhayinethikisi, Ezokuzivocavoca neZokuphumula ungumtholampilo ogxile emphakathini obheka impilo nokuphatheka kahle kwabantu abanezifo eziyisimbelambela.

Lo mtholampilo ovakashelwa omkhulu nogogo abanezifo eziphathelene nenhliziyo noma eziyisimbelambela, uvulwa njalo ngoMsombuluko nangoLwesithathu kusukela ngehora lesi 8h00 kuze kushaye ihora le10h00. Abasebenza lapha bambandakanya nabafundi beminyaka yesine nesihlanu ezifundweni zeBhayokhayinethikisi abaphethwe uNksz Beverly Peters ongumfundisi nomelaphi obhaliswe ngokugcwele.

Lolu hlelo lunamalungu angama 20 abhalisiwe kodwa izinombolo zenyukile phakathi nonyaka. ‘Sesibe namalungu angama 30 eminyakeni edlulile,’ usho egcwalisa.

UPeters uthe umtholampilo unikeza umphakathi ukuzivocavoca okuqashiwe okuhlanganise nokuqashwa kwesilinganisozinga lokushaya kwenhliziyo nomfutho wegazi.

‘Inhloso ukukhuphula izinga lempilo nokuphatha izimo zezifo zabongokuzivocavoca,’kusho uPeters.

Lolu hlelo luyinzuzo kubo bonke abathintekayo ngoba abafundi bathola ukuqeqesheka abakudingayo kanti nomphakathi uthola ukusebenzisa umtholampilo oletha usizo olusezingeni eliphezulu nokusebenzisa izinsiza zokujima ezitholakala khona. ‘Okuyinzuzo kakhulu ezigulini zethu ukuthi inani lemali elikhokhwayo yincane kakhulungoba kuwuhlelo lomphakathi,’ kugcwalisa uPeters.

UNksz Susela Naidoo (72) wajoyina lolu hlelo eminyakeni eyi 10 edlule futhi usho lokhu ngalendawo : ‘Lo mtholampilo uwusizo olokhulu. Nginesifo samathambo kodwa ngithole ukuthi ukunakekelwa engikuthola kubafundi balapha kungenza ngizizwe ngikhethekile.’

Uthe umtholampilo usebenza njengendawo yokuhlanganela yomphakathi : ‘Sonke sesakhe ubudlelwane ngenxa yeminyaka yethu yobudala nezinkinga zethu zezempilo.’

UMnz Collins Ross (83) uthi amaholidi nokuhlolwa kwabafundi kuyayiphazamisa inqubo yabo yomtholampilo abayithanda kakhulu. ‘Ngifisa sengathi besingabuyela ezinsukwini zakudala lapho amaholidi ayemafishane,’ usho emamatheka.

URoss usewuhambe lo mtholampilo iminyaka eyi 11. Wathunyelwa udokotela wakhe emva kokuhlinzwa enhliziyweni.

‘Umtholampilo ungigcina ngisemandleni. Ngamaholidi sizivocavoca emakhaya kodwa kungcono uma silapha emtholampilo’.

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-          Nombuso Dlamini

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Americana Singer Performs at UKZN

Americana Singer Performs at UKZN
Jaspar Lepak who performed at the Centre for Jazz and Popular music.

Folk/Americana songstress Jaspar Lepak performed at UKZN’s Centre for Jazz and Popular Music.

Lapek travelled from her home in Seattle in the United States to debut her new album. Special guests included her husband Kale Lepak (accordion and harmonies) and Richard Haslop (mandolin and dobro).

The Lepaks lived in Durban from 2009 to 2011 during which time Jaspar performed on some of KwaZulu-Natal’s premier stages including Splashy Fen, White Mountain Music Festival, and the Barnyard Theatre.

She also recorded and released her sixth album Forgiving Wind which was hailed by Rolling Stone South Africa as an album full of “beauty and original charm”.

Lepak returned to KwaZulu-Natal this month to reunite with local musicians for three special shows, the first at UKZN’s Centre for Jazz and Popular Music.

Lepak started writing songs just after university and while living in Minneapolis. Between 2004 and 2009 she recorded five full length albums before heading for Durban. 

Her music found an enthusiastic audience, and in 2011, she recorded her sixth original CD, Forgiving Wind. Best known for her bell-like voice and introspective storytelling, Lepak sings with ‘the kind of Americana, lullaby ghost of a voice that listeners search for in roots music’ (Twin Cities A.V. Club).

She became a Seattle resident in 2012 and tours frequently between her former homes and her new home in the Pacific Northwest. Her seventh album, Wide World, will be released this month.

- Melissa Mungroo and Thuli Zama

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New Book Launched at UKZN Seminar

New Book Launched at UKZN Seminar
Professor Ben Turok.

ANC veteran Professor Ben Turok discussed his new book With My Head Above the Parapet: An Insider Account of the ANC in Power, at a seminar hosted by the School of Social Sciences and the Centre for Civil Society.

The book, launched a few weeks before Turok’s retirement from Parliament, is a record of his experiences as a participant in the political life of the country since 1994.

It is also an insightful account of the ANC’s decline and current malaise, told by an insider intent on holding his party to its historical mission of liberating South Africa from poverty, inequality and discrimination.

Speaking about the title for the book, Turok said it reflected his stance of always taking risks by putting his head above the parapet.

Turok described and analysed the ANC’s years in power, the achievements and the failures of the organisation, often enticing the audience with snippets from his autobiography and lived experiences mentioned in the book which contains some of Zapiro’s cartoons. 

He shared his experiences working in parliament, drafting the Bill of Rights, working as the Head of the Reconstruction and Development Programme in Gauteng and his 25 years of exile.

He also spoke about his work as co-chair of the Ethics Committee mentioning two controversial cases involving former Communications Minister Dina Pule and ANC MP Yolanda Botha, who faced charges of fraud and corruption.

‘This book will search for the sources of the decline and record my experience as a participant. I write as an insider, but not so deeply embedded as to need to be defensive. So this is no lament about what might have been, nor is it written in bitterness.

‘I do not feel, as some who were participants, that my lifelong commitment has been betrayed. Rather, I want to stand back and try to work out what has gone wrong and why.’

*Professor Ben Turok is a former anti-apartheid activist and veteran ANC MP. He played a key role in the writing of the Freedom Charter, in particular its chapter dealing with economic equality. In November 2011, he broke party ranks and did not vote for the controversial Protection of Information Bill, also known as the Secrecy Bill. He has three degrees, in engineering, philosophy and political science and is the author of 20 books on Africa’s development economics and politics.

Turok has lectured at many universities across Africa, and presented papers at numerous conferences and seminars including the United Nations and the European Parliamentary Assembly. He taught at the Open University in the United Kingdom for many years, the University of Zambia, and is visiting Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

-           Melissa Mungroo

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Students take Family Planning to the Community

Students take Family Planning to the Community
From right: Ms Mpume Mahlangu, Ms Ntokozo Sithole, Ms Nombuso Goba, Mrs Nono Dhlomo, Ms Jackquiline Gumede and Ms Bupe Mwamba.

First year Nursing Management students in partnership with the eThekwini Health Unit hosted a Family Planning Awareness Day at Burlington Informal Settlement outside Durban hoping to attract people aged between 10 and 18.

There was a good turn out with people keen to learn more about family planning as a way to help reduce teenage pregnancy which was identified as a concern in the community during a recent survey there.

The event was attended by three clinic sisters from Queensburg Clinic who offered family planning services on the premises.

Three Social workers from Ethelbert Youth Centre in Malvern also attended. Student Social Worker Ms Xoli Mngomezulu spoke to the community about teenage pregnancy and how to deal with issues and family problems as well as the social impact and consequences of not being involved in family planning.

Queensburg Clinic Manager, Sister Gladness Sukude, told the gathering that clinics were not only for sick people, but also provided services such as counselling, male medical circumcision and family planning counselling. Her team distributed condoms and explained different types of family planning methods available at clinics.

After Sukude’s presentation the students taught the community a condom use song before continuing with the programme.

Guest of honour, Mrs Nono Dhlomo, wife of KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, advised the youth to get educated as that was the key to success.

-          Nombuso Dlamini

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UKZN Press Author Honoured Internationally

UKZN Press Author Honoured Internationally
Nthikeng Mohlele.

UKZN Press is delighted to announce that one of its authors, Nthikeng Mohlele, was listed by Bloomsbury Publishing, Hay Festival and Rainbow Book Club among the 39 most promising authors under the age of 40 from sub-Saharan Africa and the diaspora.

Works of the 39 authors will be collected in an anthology to be launched in London and Port Harcourt in Nigeria in October this year. As one of the selected authors Mohlele will also participate in the Port Harcourt Book Festival.

For more details visit or follow on Twitter @Africa_39

UKZN Press last year published Mohlele’s second book, Small Things, which is currently being translated into Swedish by respected publishers, Weyler Forlag, for publication in 2015.

The book is available in most book-stores and online. For more details about Small Things visit: Things

-          Adele Branch

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UKZN Academic Addresses Pan African Parliament on Access to Medicines

UKZN Academic Addresses Pan African Parliament on Access to Medicines
Professor Yousuf Vawda.

Law academic Professor Yousuf Vawda focused on various issues during his address on advocacy measures to improve access to medicines in Africa at the policy roundtable meeting at the Pan African Parliament hosted by the African Union in Johannesburg.

Vawda said that the intellectual property landscape had changed since the adoption of the World Trade Organisation’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement in 1994. This had negatively affected the rights and abilities of people in developing countries to have access to the necessary medicines, educational materials and other products given monopoly protection by TRIPS.

Vawda also explored the issue of “flexibilities” – the opportunities available in that agreement to improve access – such as compulsory licences, setting high standards for granting patents, procedures for opposing patent applications on public health and public interest grounds, various exceptions to patent rights, and the use of parallel importation.

Vawda pointed out that these access-friendly options were not only permissible in international law, but also mandated by the African Union’s own Roadmap on AIDS, TB and malaria. Thus, countries were obligated at a minimum to legislate and implement them.

‘It required will on the part of political leaders to adopt these measures in the interests of the public, and to stand up to pressures in trade and other negotiations to resist the dictates of developed countries and the commercial interests that they routinely promote.’

Vawda also raised concerns that while many of the AU’s policies were aligned to promoting access, such as the AU Draft Model Law on Medicines Regulatory Harmonisation, others such as the Statute to establish the Pan African Intellectual Property Organisation (PAIPO) appeared to do the opposite, and were designed to shore up vested interests.

He also pointed to other areas of policy incoherence, such as the laws in several African countries criminalising transmission of HIV, commercial sex workers and relationships between gay persons. These were prime examples of the failure of some African legislators to protect the human rights of “marginalised” groups in those societies.

Vawda challenged parliamentarians to engage in critical introspection, saying that the instances mentioned were inconsistent with their obligations under international, regional and domestic human rights instruments, and contrary to the spirit of Ubuntu.

Among the resolutions emanating from the Roundtable are plans to:

·        Review laws and policies that affect access to services for key populations;

·        Review the PAIPO framework to ensure that it addresses the social and health issues related to intellectual property rights and patents; and

·        Ensure that Ministers responsible for WTO TRIPS consult broadly on the key issues for negotiation, to ensure that they are adequately prepared for the negotiations and South to South Co-operation.

-          UKZNDabaOnline

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Youngsters Thrilled with Experiences at Fun Physics Day

Youngsters Thrilled with Experiences at Fun Physics Day
Professor Francesco Petruccione, Ms Marion Takis and Dr Sahal Yacoob with with Protec Tongaat learners, who visited UKZN.

PROTEC Tongaat, a not-for-profit, learner-enhancement programme, recently brought a group of Grade 10 and 11 learners from a variety of schools to UKZN. The learners visited UKZN’s Science and Technology Education Centre (STEC), to enjoy Fun with Physics and also received career counselling by UKZN’s College of Health Sciences.

The learners described their visit as the highlight of their April holidays.

Talks from academics included “Quantum is Good for You” by Professor Francesco Petruccione, “The Unusual Nature of Nature” by Dr Sahal Yacoob, and “Unlocking Secrets of the Sun and the Deep Earth” by Dr Heather McCreadie.

A science show by Dr Tanja Reinhardt and a chemistry demonstration by Mr Ajay Bissessur brought the fundamentals of science alive.

The learners also spent time enjoying the interactive activities available in the Science Centre and visited the Geology museum. ‘Physics will never be the same again,’ said one enthralled learner.

As part of the holiday programme, Grade 12 learners also attended a mini Career Day in the College of Health Sciences (CHS) to assist them with career decision-making; while Grade 11s participated in a bridge building workshop where they designed and built a bridge out of balsa wood.

CHS Student Counsellor Ms Kamilla Rawatlal organised two sessions at the Career Day. The first took students through the process of career decision making by way of reflection of self, abilities, personality and occupational type. This was done to expose students to self-reflection. It was emphasised that ‘information sessions are just ''information sessions'' and without self-reflection they are pointless’.

The second session was an Experiential session and consisted of 22 learners interested in Health Science. The aim of this session was to assist learners in making an informed decision based on sharing and learning from experiences of others in the process of making a career decision.

School of Health Sciences staff members were also present to give the students information about college life and studying.  ‘Health Sciences is very demanding. The passion you have when you enter the degree is what will keep you in the degree, no matter how hard it is,’ Ms Andiswa Mbatha, an ADP Officer from Occupational Therapy, told the youngsters.

‘There is so much support at the University. You’re taught how to study and have good time management. As a new learner, you must arrive with a mind that is prepared and open to learning. You’ll get to meet like-minded people and you’ll get the opportunity to become a professional in your field of interest.’

In addition to testing their skills and aptitude in engineering concepts and increasing their understanding of careers in civil engineering, the aim of the workshop was to prepare learners for the South African Institute of Civil Engineers (SAICE) inter-schools bridge building competition in August.

-        Sally Frost and Zakia Jeewa

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Good Nutrition Vital for TB and HIV/AIDS Patients

Good Nutrition Vital for TB and HIV/AIDS Patients
From left: Dr Basil Kransdorff, Dr Siphiwe Mndaweni of the Department of Health and Professor Fanie Botha.

The importance of a healthy diet for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) infected patients was emphasised during a Public Lecture at UKZN by Dr Basil Kransdorff who recently received an honorary doctorate from the College of Health Sciences.

Kransdorff, a visionary and lobbyist for affordable, effective, bio-available nutrition that results in nutrient repleteness, said that with foods being genetically enhanced and manufactured, it was becoming increasingly difficult to eat healthy because many products had lost their nutritional content.

His address was titled: “Bioavailability and the Importance of Effective Nutrition in the Management of HIV/AIDS and more important, in TB Programmes”.

‘With the majority of HIV and TB infected patients having low immune systems, it is vital that not only do they take their medication, but that they maintain a healthy, balanced diet.

‘Malnutrition plays a significant role in HIV morbidity due to the body not receiving important micronutrients which provide energy, leaving patients vulnerable,’ he said.

‘People who are severely malnourished and infected with TB and HIV need to reach what is called “Nutrient Repleteness”.’

Kransdorff defines nutrient repleteness as ‘bringing the body back to its natural condition. It is the body’s optimal, nutritional condition that results from a well-balanced, nutritionally rich and diversified diet. Nutrient repleteness is the basis of sustainable health, functional successful business and healthy communities.’

He said the importance of micronutrients in food was crucial in a world where mass production had emphasised quantity rather than quality, making the nutrient value of many foods much lower that what it was, 20 years ago. About 48% of tuberculosis infections were actually re-infections.

‘If a patient’s nutritional status was kept up, this problem wouldn’t exist. Nutritional interventions have shown full recovery in patients within a month. When nutritional status is restored, people are able to resist disease and they can go back to work and this also decreases the risk of infecting health workers.

‘TB cannot be fought with drugs alone. If we want to manage this pandemic, nutrition needs to be acknowledged as a factor that can solve a lot of problems. Good nutrition prevents low immune systems, thus helping patients to resist infections better. Mortality is now six times higher for somebody on ARVs who is malnourished.’

Kransdorff explained that through a combination of modern agriculture, food-processing and food fortification, modern science had created a method of stomach filling where a product lacked nutrient value. ‘Food is now harvested earlier than it should, making fruit and vegetables lose the majority of their nutrient value. Modern farming also uses de-vegetation, deep ploughing and acid fertiliser which all decrease the nutrient value of vegetables.’

Micronutrients were removed during food processing. ‘With milling, processing, extreme use of sugar, salt, high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils, food has never been unhealthier, which makes it difficult to tackle an issue like malnutrition.

‘There is a failure of using traditional approaches to solve malnutrition. Many of the modern solutions are not affective and instead replace the problem with another issue.’

Food in the purest state is considered healthiest. With a 76% drop of nutrient density over the past 60 years, modern commercially grown agriculture has made micronutrient content in food drastically lowered.  Because of limited food choices available for people, obesity and malnutrition affects both the rich and the poor.

‘We will be able to get a six fold improvement if nutrient repleteness is acknowledged and addressed. Stomach filling isn’t the answer. A patient’s immune system functions better with proper nutrition. It should be made a priority, as chemicals won’t solve the problem.’

 * Kransdorff is the creator of ePap, a pre-cooked maize meal distributed in 15 African countries that contains all the nutrients needed for those who suffer from malnourishment and HIV. People eating it regularly generally experience weight gain and improved energy in five to 10 days.

-        Zakia Jeewa

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UKZN’s MBA Programme Evaluated at GSB&L Round Table Discussion

UKZN’s MBA Programme Evaluated at GSB&L Round Table Discussion
Professor Stephen Migiro (left) and Professor Cosmas Ambe.

Is the MBA course keeping up with the needs of business? That was the topic of a round table discussion at UKZN’s Graduate School of Business and Leadership (GSB&L) facilitated by Professor Cosmas Ambe, Head of the Nedbank Chair in Accountancy at the University of Limpopo.

The discussion created an open line of communication where staff and leadership of the GSB&L could reflect on whether the MBA programme equipped students with the skills needed in the business world.

In his presentation, Ambe said the GSB&L needed to revisit its teaching strategies and philosophies because many companies were providing internal training due to the fact that the MBA curriculum was too narrow.

 ‘We need to produce quality graduates who are fully equipped to perform in the industry. Everyone wants to be associated with quality, success and high standards and we need to always strive for that.’

The discussion also compared GSB&L’s MBA programme with others in terms of the skills it offers, corporate governance, sustainability and linkages to highlight areas of improvement.

GSB&L’s Dean and Head Professor Stephen Migiro responded by saying that the content of MBA programmes in the country was not homogeneous and that GSB&L was in the process of reviewing the MBA curriculum and the new programme will be rolled out  to the market in 2016.

‘We are currently in the process of including modules that look at the role of leadership, governance and international business which will take into account the issues of sustainability and governance. These additions will make it possible for students to discuss what is happening in both the local and in the international business environment.

‘Nevertheless, we are confident that our current programme produces well informed graduates who are experts in the leadership field,’ said Migiro.

- Thandiwe Jumo

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The Answer Lies in the Soil

The Answer Lies in the Soil
Bee keeping is promoted at Msinga in an effort to promote food security.

UKZN’s Farmer Support Group (FSG) and the community around Msinga have hosted yet another successful event titled: “Sustainable Agriculture for Food Sovereignty”.

The FSG provides smallholder farmers with training, advice and project support, ranging from organic and indigenous gardening to manufacturing building blocks with the aim being to assist them and other land-users to actively manage their natural and related cultural resources in a sustainable manner in order to improve their livelihoods and quality of life.

A Food Sovereignty Indaba was held in Bergville in October last year in conjunction with the Okhahlamba Local Municipality and this was followed by the Sustainable Agriculture for Food Sovereignty event which allowed farmers to share what they had learned during the Indaba and discuss issues related to sustainable agriculture.

Day one started off with a brief overview of the event and its logistics and a group allocation for a site visit to the community gardens within Msinga. These events are a highlight of the year for most of these farmers and it clearly showed as the women started to sing and dance as they walked to the mini busses. The sites visited by groups focused on specific themes such as bee-keeping, planting systems, water harvesting techniques, flood irrigation, savings, marketing, and brick making.

On arrival at the Sizathina group’s farm the rain came down but it did not dampen the spirits of these people who proudly showed off their crops and shared their experiences and knowledge with the visitors.

The farmers work in groups or individually, depending on availability of land and other resources. The Sizathina group consists of 21 women, each having an equal share of work on the same piece of land. They have a joint bank account where the proceeds are kept to sustain their agricultural activities.  Each individual also has her own vegetable garden which she manages to suit her own needs. This enables her to feed her family or sell to the local community.

This group also produces their own seeds and has their own nursery.

The Institute of Natural Resources (INR) in collaboration with UKZN postgraduate students are currently conducting a research project in the garden related to soil erosion, water harvesting and irrigation. Similar research projects in association with UKZN are also currently running in other areas of the Msinga Municipality.

Two community group gardens were visited. The first was in Gudwini, which involves 29 women. Discussions focused on group coherence and management to ensure every member has an equal work load. Thereafter the group discussed their plating methods and conservation practices.

They also discussed their saving scheme in order to buy agricultural inputs and how it has worked thus far. Visitors were also interested in seed saving; one group member showcased her saved spinach seeds.

At the second garden in Mkhuphula, members discussed their group management and planting techniques, such as intercropping with chillies and explained their production of garlic for the market. They also showcased their bee-keeping site where they harvest honey for the market.

Day two focused on a plenary discussion which allowed farmers and stakeholders to share outcomes and recommendations of the previous day’s site visits and discuss various agricultural related issues.

A local councillor gave a very inspiring speech in which she asked the people to keep up the hard work.  Her message was clear: ‘Our work is in our soil’. 

Director of FSG, UKZN’s Dr Maxwell Mudhara, outlined the importance of understanding food sovereignty and thanked the local farmers for their co-operation with these projects.

Mudhara concluded by thanking the funders, Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) and Tshintsha Amakhaya.

The function ended with a delicious lunch prepared by women in the area who used meat from their own livestock and vegetables from their gardens.  They sang and danced while preparing the feast in traditional pots on fires.

The FSG and members from the community have joined forces in various projects in the Msinga district since 2004 and organise similar projects in other areas, including Bergville.

Farmers in rural areas often struggle with the same daily obstacles and events such as Sustainable Agriculture for Food Sovereignty not only educate them but remind them they have group support.

-          Gail du Toit

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Creating Statistically Literate Teachers

Creating Statistically Literate Teachers
From left: Statistician-General Mr Pali Lehohla with Teacher Ms Happiness Dlamini from Dubandlela High School and Professor Delia North.

More than 250 teachers graduated from the 2014 Maths4Stats Programme run by the Statistics section of UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science.

Maths4Stats is an innovative programme to help primary and high school Mathematics teachers engage with basic statistics concepts as they appear in the data handling component of the school syllabus. The programme is a joint initiative of UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, the Department of Education (DoE) and Statistics South Africa (Stats SA).

The lecture series forms part of ISIBALO, a capacity-building initiative conceived as an International Statistical Institute (ISI) legacy project in 2010. The University provides lecturers, lecture venues and course notes; the DoE selects teachers to participate in the training, and Stats SA provides co-ordination, funding and logistical support.

During the five-week programme, teachers travelled from all over KwaZulu-Natal to attend the lecture series held on Saturday mornings.  ‘We had teachers from as far away as Nongoma, Richards Bay and Dundee,’ said Academic Leader for Statistics and originator of the project, Professor Delia North. 

Educators who attended all the lectures in the series were awarded a certificate of attendance, while the teachers that achieved over 60% in the assessment test at the conclusion of the series were awarded a certificate of proficiency at the awards ceremony conducted by the Stats SA Provincial Co-ordinator, Mr Lusanda Mkwenkweni, who was in charge of all logistics for the lecture series.

Certificates were presented by representatives from the three participating institutions, including the Dean and Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science at UKZN, Professor Kesh Govinder; Statistician-General of South Africa and Head of Stats SA, Mr Pali Lehohla, and the Senior General Manager of Curriculum Management and Delivery from the Department of Education, Mr Edward Mosuwe.

In addition, the Deputy Director General of Corporate Services (Stats SA), Mrs Akhtari Henning; the Chief Director of Youth Programmes from the Dept of Public Works, Mrs Miranda Mafafo, and the General Manager of Corporate Affairs (SAS), Mr Murray de Villiers, addressed the teachers during the closing ceremony.

Teachers were united in their praise for the lessons they received from staff in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science.  Staff were equally complimentary of ‘their fellow passionate educators’.

‘These are the people who will lay the foundation for statistically literate school leavers,’ said North. ‘The children in their schools are very fortunate to have people like them as their educators.’

Maths4Stats is an on-going annual collaborative project between UKZN, Statistics South Africa and the Department of Education, with strong support from the Institute of Applied Statistics, Casio and SAS Computer Software.  Since 2010 about 2 070 teachers have been trained.

Statistician-General Lehohla provided some sobering statistics to back up the urgent need for interventions such as Maths4Stats – he said currently a dismal 14 percent of school learners passed Grade 9 Mathematics.

-          Sally Frost

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