PhD Study Seeks to Improve Postnatal Outcomes
‘I feel ecstatic because it was always my dream to obtain a PhD qualification in Health Sciences. I am truly grateful and blessed to have such amazing, kind and humble parents who made major sacrifices to educate me and who instilled in me the importance of hard work and perseverance.’
These were the sentiments of Dr Pragalathan Naidoo on obtaining his Philosophy in Health Sciences (Medical Biochemistry) Doctoral degree at the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences.
Naidoo is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Discipline of Medical Biochemistry and Chemical Pathology at UKZN. Prior to that, he has worked as a student lecturer, teaching assistant and senior tutor. He also attended several workshops focusing on genetics/epigenetics, HIV/AIDS, data analysis using statistical software packages as well as biological instrumentation usage.
Born in Umkomaas, south of Durban, Naidoo obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry and Microbiology, Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Biochemistry, Master of Science degree in Biochemistry, and now Doctor of Philosophy degree in Health Sciences (Medical Biochemistry) from UKZN.
Titled: The Influence of Maternal Genetic and microRNA variations and Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) Pollution Exposure in Adverse Birth Outcomes in Pregnant Women in the Mother and Child in the Environment (MACE) Birth Cohort in Durban, his study investigated whether maternal HIV/AIDS and exposure to ambient and indoor air pollution throughout pregnancy play a role in adverse birth outcomes and adverse respiratory health outcomes amongst children of the cohort as they mature in age.
To date, the majority of such studies were conducted in Caucasian and Asian populations, however, such studies in an African population are scarce. In South Africa, HIV/AIDS, poverty, malnutrition and unhealthy living conditions (ambient and indoor air pollution exposure and poor sanitary conditions) deeply affect the Black African population; thus Naidoo’s study.
‘Findings to this study highlight the dire need of simple cost-effective intervention programs to educate women on the harmful effects of tobacco smoke exposure and alcohol use as well as the importance of proper hygiene, nutrition, weight control and antenatal care during pregnancy in order to minimise the risk of adverse birth outcomes and postnatal deaths, especially in Black African women from poor demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is also important to promote proper health intervention programmes to routinely test women for sexually transmitted infections (HIV, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis and syphilis) and tuberculosis before and during pregnancy so that necessary therapeutic steps can be taken to prevent perinatal infant mortality and adverse birth outcomes,’ said Naidoo, who has already published five research publications and has presented his research projects at local and international conferences.
He was awarded a full Travel Grant Award from the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) to present his PhD research project at the 28th annual ISEE conference held in Italy. Recently, he was awarded a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship from the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa under the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) where he is affiliated with UKZN’s renowned researcher, Professor Thumbi Ndung’u, who is also the UKZN Systems Biology of HIV/AIDS Chairperman.
‘My study experience at UKZN has been fruitful. I owe my accomplishments thus far to Professor Anil Chuturgoon and Professor Rajen Naidoo who are my PhD and Postdoctoral supervisors, and Professor Shahidul Islam my Honours and Master’s supervisor for believing in my research capabilities and constantly motivating me to strive for academic excellence,’ he said.
Words: Lihle Sosibo
Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal