UKZN Awarded Five New SARChI Chairs
UKZN was awarded new five SARChI Chairs during the recent announcement made by the Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor when she awarded 42 new research chairs to various higher education institutions‚ and awarded to female academics.
UKZN was one of a few institutions to be awarded all five of the positions it was allowed to apply for.
The new UKZN Chairs are Professor Deevia Bhana, the DST/NRF Tier 1 South African Research Chair: Gender and Childhood Sexuality; Professor Theresa Coetzer, the Chair of Proteolysis in Homeostasis Health and Disease; Professor Colleen Downs, the South African Research Chair in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KZN and the Eastern Cape; Professor Sabiha Essack, the South African Research Chair in Antibiotic Resistance and One Health; and Professor Fanie van Heerden appointed as the South African Chair of Chemistry of Indigenous Medicinal Plants.
The main goal of the Research Chairs initiative is to strengthen and improve research and innovation capacity of public universities for producing high quality postgraduate students and research and innovation outputs.
It is designed to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation at South African public universities through the establishment of Research Chairs at public universities in South Africa with a long-term investment trajectory of up to fifteen years.
The NRF had contributed more than R340 million to the research projects of female scientists in 2014 alone; and‚ since 2002‚ supported more than 18 000 women in obtaining their postgraduate qualifications.
The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) was established in 2006 by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF).
Research Chairs are established at the Tier 1 or Tier 2 level based on the candidate’s research track record and standing and postgraduate student and postdoctoral fellow training track record. Tier 1 Chairs are for established researchers that are recognised internationally as a leader in their field and/or have received international recognition for their research contributions. Tier 2 Chairs are for established researchers, with a potential to achieve international recognition for their research contributions in the next five to ten years.
Education Academic gets SARChI Chair in Gender and Childhood Sexuality
Professor Deevia Bhana of the School of Education has been awarded the DST/NRF Tier 1 South African Research Chair: Gender and Childhood Sexuality. Tier 1 Chairs according to the NRF are ‘internationally recognised as leaders in their field and have received substantial international recognition for their research contributions’.
This SARCHI in Gender and Childhood Sexuality: violence, inequalities and schooling is an area of high relevance both for theory and policy especially in the context of gender/sexual violence, AIDS, teenage pregnancy, homophobia, structural inequalities and young people’s right as sexual agents.
Gender and childhood sexuality are long considered to be of critical importance in understanding and addressing male power, sexual violence, heterosexual domination, relationship dynamics and young women’s vulnerability to HIV. The unending cycle of gender and sexual inequalities are exacerbated by structural conditions and cultural norms which impacts upon safety and school safety in particular.
The Chair aims to produce top level research output with policy relevance in analysing and documenting the ways in which childhood sexualities and gender are experienced, enacted and the effects for gender inequalities.
It will grow a cohort of postgraduate students in the field of sexualities/gender as it aims to provide a systematic evidence base and advanced research and interventions that can benefit young people and ensure commitment to sexual health, gender equality and quality education.
Bhana has a coherent and sustained focus in sexualities/gender and is considered a pioneer in the field of childhood sexualities. She has over 100 publications in some of the most prestigious journals in her field including Social Science and Medicine, Sexualities, Culture, Health and Sexuality and Youth Studies. Her work is of high policy relevance and in light of the new laws which decriminalise sex amongst consenting 12 to 15 year olds.
She has argued in support of laws which recognise children as sexual agents as the persistent denial of childhood sexuality prevents children from coming out to find support in schools, in clinics, in churches and temples, in families and communities which could address some of the dynamics that place children at risk. The SARCHI Chair will continue to argue strongly for an expanded understanding of childhood sexuality as we as broaden our social world.
Bhana has supervised 33 masters and doctoral students to completion and currently supervises 16 students. Her latest book Childhood Sexuality and AIDS Education: The price of innocence will be available from Routledge later this year. Under Pressure: The Regulation of Sexualities in South African Secondary Schools (whole book) was published in December 2014.
She is also co-author of the book Towards Gender Equality (2009) and a co-editor of Books and Babies (2012).She is currently working on two other books related to the work of the Chair including young children and sexualities and a co-edited book on young families and gender. She is a WISA awardee, has delivered several keynotes and was twice a recipient of the Fogarty at Columbia University.
‘I am pleased to receive the Tier 1 Chair especially as it firmly recognises the quality and excellence in my research output, the internationalisation of my research as well as my investment in and support for my postgraduate students.’
‘The Chair’s work will consolidate and catalyse fresh approaches to theorising gender and childhood sexualities, as it provides the evidence base through which to direct policy changes and schooling interventions to secure better outcomes for children’s sexual health, well-being and gender equality. When we accept that children are sexual beings, we have better avenues to address the problems that currently beset our country.’
‘It would mean better services, educational and health support that treats children with rights to a range of resources to protect them from the scourge of gender and sexual violence, unintended teenage pregnancy and HIV. This challenge underlies my work as Chair,’ said Bhana.
Professor Theresa Coetzer, a biochemist in the School of Life Sciences at UKZN, is the newly-appointed South African Research Chair of Proteolysis in Homeostasis Health and Disease.
As part of the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) and the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), Minister of Science and Technology Ms Naledi Pandor recently announced the appointment of 42 women academics to these positions at public higher education institutions throughout the country.
This brings the total number of SARChI Chairs to 197, with almost half now being women. With a rigorous and demanding screening process, the drive to appoint deserving women academics saw more SARChI positions created than were initially planned, thanks to the sheer quantity and quality of the applicants.
At UKZN, five female academics were awarded this honour in recognition of their excellence in research, teaching and supervision, and as part of an effort to improve the country’s international standing in research and innovation.
UKZN was one of only a handful of institutions to be awarded all five of the positions it was allowed to apply for. These positions are also designed to enable these academics to continue and expand their portfolio of contributing to vital local and international knowledge.
The Chair positions are awarded for a minimum of five years and are renewable for 15 years, with the programme giving these academics extra capacity and resources to intensify their research and postgraduate training.
Coetzer, a professor in Biochemistry and the Acting Dean of Research for the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, has an impressive record of research and teaching in her field. Her speciality is the study of the proteolytic enzymes of African trypanosomes, unicellular parasitic organisms that infect animals and humans.
African trypanosomiasisis a fatal parasitic disease spread by the bite of the tsetse fly, and is commonly known as sleeping sickness in humans. This disease and its counterpart that affects cattle, nagana, are huge problems in sub-Saharan Africa, with millions of people exposed to the disease and economic losses in livestock on the continent running into billions of US dollars.
Research on this neglected tropical disease has consumed the large part of Coetzer’s academic life since she was working on her PhD at the then University of Natal in the late 1980s. The evasive parasite, explained Coetzer, changes its coat and subverts its victims’ immune systems, making it difficult to pin down for the creation of a vaccine.
However, Coetzer’s work, which has been supported by the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed) and other philanthropic funding bodies, has been focused on using molecular techniques to characterise the parasite’s enzymes. These proteolytic enzymes break down proteins and are central to understanding parasite metabolism, and finding clues to what sustains it and enables it to disable its victims’ immune systems.
This innovative work has allowed Coetzer to develop an innovative, simple pilot diagnostic test which would enable correct diagnosis of these diseases by identifying its enzymes in a blood sample. Research into the development of this test could also be applied to proteolytic enzymes in other parasitic diseases in Africa, potentially helping millions of people and animals affected by these diseases and streamlining the work of the physicians and veterinarians treating them.
This remarkable work is the result of Coetzer’s passion for her research, which began during her school days.
‘In Standard 9 I remember reading articles in Top Sport magazine about the biochemistry of fitness, and I knew then that I wanted to be a biochemist,’ says Coetzer.
Coetzer found working with proteolytic enzymes fascinating, leading her to this research, which has earned her international recognition and a B-rating from the NRF for her high quality research publications. She collaborates with scientists in France, Belgium, Austria and Australia.
This is not the only side to her academic life - she is also very invested in teaching and development of students. Many of the ten PhD students and 29 Masters students she has supervised have gone on to enjoy very successful international careers with the biomolecular techniques that she taught them under their belts.
She is passionate about training and retaining students in South Africa, particularly students who suffer from a lack of self-belief, and also female students who have what it takes to make a difference in the scientific and academic world, as well as in industry.
Coetzer’s female students outnumber her male students in the laboratory, evidence of her considerable influence as a top female researcher who inspires other women to follow in her footsteps.
One of the most rewarding aspects of her work is seeing students take ownership of the work they are doing, and she finds great satisfaction in her work when she hears sterling reports of how well her past students are doing, and sees them being good ambassadors for UKZN.
With her appointment to the SARChI Chair position, Coezter hopes that she can continue to be a role model in her immediate space at UKZN, and that she will show emerging scientists that as a leading scientist one can build a nucleus of support in the forging of a career. Coetzer also plays an active role in the South African Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SASBMB), and hopes that participation in the wider scientific society will also continue to inspire.
She gives credit to her family for their support, especially since her husband, Professor Dean Goldring, who is also an academic, making the demands on their family unique. She also mentioned the important influence of Professor John Lonsdale-Eccles, Professor Mike Dutton and Emeritus Professor Clive Dennison, who all supported her and gave her the space to come into her own as an academic.
Professor Colleen Downs of the School of Life Sciences on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus has been appointed as the South African Research Chair in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
As part of the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) and the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor recently announced the appointment of 42 women academics to these positions at public higher education institutions throughout the country.
This brings the total number of SARChI Chairs to 197, with almost half now held by women. With a rigorous and demanding screening process, the drive to appoint deserving women academics saw more SARChI positions created than were initially planned, thanks to the sheer quantity and quality of the applicants.
Downs was one of five UKZN female academics awarded this honour in recognition of their excellence in research, teaching and supervision, and as part of an effort to improve the country’s international standing in research and innovation. The other UKZN Chairs are Professor Colleen Downs, Professor Theresa Coetzer, Professor Sabiha Essack and Professor Deevia Bhana.
UKZN was one of only a handful of institutions to be awarded all five of the positions it was allowed to apply for. These positions are also designed to enable the academics to continue and expand their portfolio of contributing to vital local and international knowledge. The Chair positions are awarded for a minimum period of five years and are renewable for 15 years, with the programme giving these academics extra capacity and resources to intensify their research and postgraduate training.
Downs, who has been part of the University since 1994 when she started working with the Science Foundation Programme, is renowned for her work with terrestrial vertebrates which has contributed considerably to conservation activities in Africa. Her research has been featured in numerous forums including BBC Earth.
With more than 200 publications in peer reviewed journals to her name, Downs has earned recognition as the top-published female researcher at UKZN and has supervised more than 60 postgraduate students. She is also a reviewer for a wide range of international journals and examines theses for numerous universities in addition to UKZN.
Her research interests are broad and interdisciplinary but focus on the ecology, physiology, behaviour and conservation of terrestrial vertebrates particularly in KZN and the Eastern Cape. She is interested in how changing land use affects biodiversity and ecosystem health
Some of her work includes understanding the urban ecology of various species and their persistence. She has contributed to the understanding of the relationships between the physiology, behaviour and ecology of a range of southern African terrestrial vertebrates, including leopard tortoises, Nile crocodiles, various bird species and small mammals. Her research on the effects of changing land use and ecosystem health in KwaZulu-Natal has been done with relevance to animals including Cape parrots, bushbuck, oribi, pelicans, Nile crocodiles, fruit bats, serval, genets, raptors, hadedas and feral cats.
This research has been vital for conservation endeavours, with one of her most recent achievements being collaborating on the re-classification of the Cape parrot Poicephalus robustus as a distinct species, meaning a great deal for the status of the critically endangered species. Another recent notable study is her team’s observation of the sleeping habits of Wahlberg’s epauletted fruit bat and how these relate to surface body temperature, revealing important information about the effects of climate change on these bats.
An active lecturer and supervisor, Downs has played an integral role in the development of many of her students who have gone on to achieve great recognition in their fields. Some of her students have been recipients of international conservation awards and recognition for their work with species in Africa.
Downs is the Chair of the Cape Parrot Working Group and for 17 years has contributed to the annual Cape Parrot Big Birding Day, taking her contributions outside the classroom and into society where they are needed by liaising with hundreds of volunteers nationally, producing reports, magazine articles, and giving public presentations. She is currently the Chairperson of the Cape Parrot Working Group based at UKZN.
In international circles, Downs has presented a plenary at the 2010 Frugivory and Seed Dispersal Symposium in France and convened the 2015 conference in South Africa. She was the Scientific Chair of the Pan African Ornithological Congress held in Tanzania in 2012 and was also recently appointed a Fellow of the International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU).
She looks forward to the added capacity and resources that will come with the SARChI Chair position as she continues to forge a path in the area she is passionate about, and which needs increased attention from scientists and society at large.
UKZN’s Professor Sabiha Essack has been awarded the prestigious South African Research Chair in Antibiotic Resistance and One Health.
Essack provided the context as follows: ‘The pandemic escalation in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global public health challenge with extensive health, economic and societal implications. Resistance emerges because of selection pressure from indiscriminate antimicrobial use. Although the nature, extent and burden of antibiotic resistance (ABR) is representatively quantified nationally or provincially, available evidence indicates that ABR is an escalating challenge, particularly in the human and agricultural sectors.
‘My role as the new SARChI chair will be to give effect to the AMR National Strategy Framework 2014-24 by exploring a provincial model for surveillance on antibiotic use and resistance, antibiotic stewardship and infection prevention and control yielding an evidence base to inform strategies for containment informed by the provincial burden of communicable diseases and/or ABR reservoirs.’
Essack began her professional career with the B. Pharm degree in 1988 and practised as a hospital pharmacist for three years in the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health before returning to the former University of Durban-Westville in 1992 to pursue M. Pharm and PhD degrees.
A C-rated researcher with the NRF, she has established the Antimicrobial Research Unit at UKZN and has secured several research grants for Essential National Health Research, from the Norwegian Agency for Cooperation Development NORAD, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the MRC and the NRF investigating strategies for the prevention and containment of antibiotic resistance.
Essack is an expert consultant on AMR to the WHO Africa Office, founder and co-chair of the South African Chapter of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA) and country representative on the Global Respiratory Infections Partnership (GRIP). She serves on the South African Chapter of the Global Antibiotic Resistance Partnership (GARP), the South African Antibiotic Stewardship Programme and is co-founder of the South African Committee of Health Sciences Deans.
She is a Ministerial appointee on the Board of the Office of Health Standards Compliance, an elected member of the Academy of Sciences of South Africa (ASSAf), a peer-reviewed member of the Southern Africa FAIMER Regional Institute (SAFRI) community, member of the Bio-economy Heath Innovation Sector Coordination Committee of the Department of Science and Technology and also serves on the ASSAf panel on Reconceptualizing Education and Training on an Appropriate Health Workforce for the Improved Health of the Nation.
She previously served as Ministerial appointee on the National Health Research Ethics Council as well as on the National Executive of the Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa, the Professional Body Reference Group of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and the Programme Accreditation Panel and Standards Development Reference Group of the Council for Higher Education (CHE).
Her research areas include antibiotic stewardship and conservation, molecular biology/genetics of bacterial resistance to antibiotics; extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL)-mediated resistance in State hospitals; nosocomiology and infection control; antibiotic resistance determinants in agriculture, human resources for health and access, retention and success in higher education.
Prior to receiving the award of the SARChI Chair, Essack served as the College Dean of Teaching and Learning in the College of Health Sciences at UKZN and is currently a professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences.
She is also a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow who completed research towards her PhD in Pharmaceutical Microbiology at St Bartholomew’s and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry in the United Kingdom.
Her research has been published in several journals and has been presented at a number of national and international conferences.
Professor Fanie van Heerden of UKZN’s School of Chemistry and Physics has been appointed the South African Chair of Chemistry of Indigenous Medicinal Plants.
As part of the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) and the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Naledi Pandor, recently announced the appointment of 42 women academics to these positions at public higher education institutions throughout the country. This brings the total number of SARChI Chairs to 197, with almost half now being held by women.
With a rigorous and demanding screening process, the drive to appoint deserving women academics saw more SARChI positions created than were initially planned, thanks to the sheer quantity and quality of the applicants.
Five female academics were awarded this honour at UKZN in recognition of their excellence in research, teaching and supervision, and as part of an effort to improve the country’s international standing in research and innovation. The other UKZN Chairs are Professor Colleen Downs, Professor Theresa Coetzer, Professor Sabiha Essack and Professor Deevia Bhana.
UKZN was one of a few institutions to be awarded all five of the positions it was allowed to apply for. These positions are also designed to enable these academics to continue and expand their portfolio of contributing to vital local and international knowledge. The Chair positions are awarded for a minimum of five years and are renewable for 15 years, with the programme giving these academics extra capacity and resources to intensify their research and postgraduate training.
Van Heerden has been at UKZN since 2005, when she was attracted to the institution because of its reputation for excellent facilities and the long history it has in the field of Natural Product Chemistry, which is van Heerden’s speciality.
A Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, she has been involved in teaching Organic Chemistry at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and has supervised 19 PhDs and 26 masters students over the course of her career.
For van Heerden, it is this contribution to the development of people which first attracted her to the field of Natural Product Chemistry and inspires her to continue to work at it.
‘At first, I liked Chemistry because it was practical and opened up a wide range of career opportunities, but later it was the people I met and the professors who inspired me to continue in this field,’ she said.
Van Heerden’s commitment to her work is evident. Before applying for the SARChI Chair she was contemplating retirement but is now fired up to continue her research and innovation in the post as she continues to invest in the most important part of her job - the people it is about.
Her motivation to succeed in her vocation is provided by the students she interacts with, and she looks forward to the new students she will have the opportunity to work with in her position as SARChI Chair. She also hopes, as she has proudly observed with most of her past students, that those she trains will stay in the field of science to strengthen the knowledge base in South Africa. She described her desire to see a new generation inspired to be involved in research and the development of new products.
Van Heerden has seen many of her students go on to hold important positions in research and development at companies, in academia and government. She aims to encourage her students by reminding them that, by investing their skills in science, they become part of an international club of innovators and researchers.
In addition to the capacity-building aspect of her work, van Heerden is an active researcher, with more than 100 publications to her name. Her research at UKZN has most notably included her work with the discipline of Physiology on the Westville campus on the anti-diabetic properties of indigenous plants.
She worked extensively with Professor Siegfried E Drewes at the University on the anti-diabetic properties of Hypoxis and is currently investigating the anti-HIV properties of Euphorbias.
One of the most remarkable projects van Heerden was involved with during her career was the identification of the appetite-suppressing qualities of the indigenous South African succulent, Hoodia gordonii.
Van Heerden spoke of the enjoyment she gained from her work thanks to its novelty and continuous new innovations, and the people it led her to meet and work with.
She looks forward to seeing more discoveries in the field of medicinal plants and the isolation of complex compounds that can be used for medicines.
Explaining the role of plant compounds in the development of a number of important drugs for the treatment of cancers and infectious diseases, van Heerden remarked that it was an interesting time to be working in this field, with opportunities for the discovery of transformative compounds ‘right under our noses in the plants around us’.