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Research Capacity Development - PhD Graduates

2014 - click to close

Anesh SukhaiCongratulations to Anesh Sukhai from the MRC-UNISA Safety and Peace Promotion Research Unit who recently defended and completed his PhD at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. His dissertation, registered at the School of Environmental Sciences, focused on ‘Understanding the physical and social environmental determinants of road traffic injury in South Africa’.

A large range of physical and social environmental effects, using various spatial and spatial- temporal frameworks, and empirical models, were considered for this research. The findings have also been published in local and international peer-reviewed journals, including the South African Geographical Journal (SAGJ) and Accident Analysis and Prevention Journal (AAPJ).

‘Epidemiology and risk of road traffic mortality in South Africa’ was published in the SAGJ (2009). Subsequent work examined predictors of temporal variations in road traffic mortality using a hierarchical time series framework. This work informed the development of a journal article entitled ‘Temporal variations in road traffic fatalities in South Africa’, which was published in the AAPJ (2011). Using a geographical framework, multi-level models were used to delineate the predictors of spatial variations in road traffic mortality by police areas across the country, and a journal article based on this work, ‘Understanding geographical variations in road traffic fatalities in South Africa’ was published in the SAGJ (2013). A journal article on ‘Urban density, deprivation and road safety’, based on a small area study in the eThekwini metropolitan area, is being finalised for publication.

The research provides novel insights into the role of contextual influences and predictors of road traffic mortality in the country. In addition to important and well-recognised effects relating to alcohol and travel exposure, findings have shown most environmental influences on RTIs in SA to be developmentrelated, including effects relating to social and area deprivation, violence and crime, and rurality. The findings have implications for alignment and integration of road safety policies and practices with other developmental policies in the country. The adoption of more sustainable spatial forms such as ‘compact cities’ and ‘new urbanism’ are also proposed for addressing spatial disparities arising from historically skewed planning policies.

A range of recommendations for policy and practice have been detailed, which are also informing the release of a policy brief on the determinants and necessary actions required for addressing road safety in the country.

2013 - click to close

Yanga Zembe Congratulations to Yanga Zembe who successfully completed her PhD at Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. The aim of her dissertation was to analyse and explore HIV, sexual risk taking, intimate partner violence and relationship power inequity among young, black women aged 16−24 who have multiple sexual partners in a peri-urban setting in the Western Cape, South Africa.

Young women face the highest risk of HIV infection than any other group in South Africa, and those who have multiple sexual partners are thought to be particularly vulnerable to HIV. However, little is known about the extent and organisation of sexual risk factors such as inconsistent condom use, transactional sex, age mixing and intimate partner violence among women who have multiple sexual partners. Further, there is limited knowledge on how the continuities between the apartheid and post-apartheid periods may be affecting the ways in which poor, young, black women use their sexual behaviour to negotiate life in the country.

The young women featured in this dissertation presented with a constellation of high-risk sexual behaviours that clustered to form a risk syndrome. Multiple concurrent sexual partnering, transactional sex and age mixing were shown to hold important economic and existential meanings for the young women. They used these sexual risk behaviours to pursue social inclusion and avoid exclusion in a local context marked by social and economic inequalities, new and sudden exposure to commodities, global technologies, and a strong and punitive popular youth culture. Importantly, despite high levels of violence in their relationships, the young women challenged prevailing gender and cultural norms regarding women’s roles in intimate relationships with younger men, sought sexual pleasure and were shown to experience relationship power inconsistently. However, their sexual risk behaviours were inherently structured to exacerbate vulnerability to male dominance, extremely high levels of violence, and ultimately HIV. A combination of macro-level and bottom up strategies that address social, economic and gender inequalities and the negative impact of global technologies and peer pressure on young women are urgently needed in South Africa.



Yandisa Sikweyiya Yandisa Sikweyiya has recently been awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from the University of the Witwatersrand, School of Public Health. His dissertation is titled: ‘Perceptions of participants and community members about research on gender-based violence”.

The thesis, by publication, presents five peer reviewed journal publications which include a review of ethical guidelines in Gender Based Violence research practices globally; a case study of ethical dilemmas confronting researchers working on sensitive issues such as Gender Based Violence; articles on researchers’ perceptions about safety and risks in gender-based violence research; and on potential and actual participants’ experiences of participating in community based research on sensitive topics. Dr Sikweyiya’s cutting-edge research has contributed to new knowledge and interpretation of ethical practices in the gender based violence research arena.

Dr Sikweyiya was supervised by Prof. Rachel Jewkes (Acting Vice President and Director of the Gender and Health Research Unit, MRC).


Aník Gevers from the Gender & Health Research Unit, recently graduated with a PhD in Psychiatry and Mental Health from the University of Cape Town. Her thesis, titled ‘An Exploration of the Nature of Contemporary Adolescents’ Intimate Relationships’, was supervised by Dr Cathy Mathews (Health Systems Research Unit) and Prof. Rachel Jewkes (Acting Vice President and Gender and Health Research Unit Director).

Aník’s PhD thesis contributed a nuanced understanding of contemporary adolescents’ intimate relationships to inform intervention development. Intimate relationships in adolescence play an important role in psychosocial development and can impact on relationships during adulthood. There is a need for evidence-based interventions to prevent intimate partner violence (IPV), promote sexual and reproductive health, and equitable, enjoyable relationships during adolescence.

A series of studies was undertaken to explore (a) contemporary adolescents’ ideas about and experiences of relationships; (b) young adolescents’ sexual behaviour and dating; (c) adolescents’ conceptions of a good relationship; and (d) evidence-based guidelines for developing school-based violence prevention interventions. For study (a), qualitative data were collected during focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with 14−18 year olds. Survey data from 13−16 year olds (for study b) and 15−18 year olds (for study c) were analysed using regression analyses. A desktop review informed study (d).

Adolescents’ intimate relationships are fluid and unstructured, highly gendered, and greatly influenced by peer relationships. However, experience with relationships and sex are varied. For girls, good relationships were associated with having a mutual main partnership with an older, educated boyfriend in which there was good, open communication, particularly about sexual and reproductive health. For boys, a mutual main partnership and very little quarrelling were associated with good relationships. Young adolescents reported engaging in a variety of sexual behaviours ranging from kissing to sexual intercourse with the former more common than the latter.

These findings indicate a need for early interventions that are carefully adapted and acceptable to adolescents who have varying levels of experience with relationships, sex and violence. Adolescents would benefit from developing gender equitable attitudes; critically reflecting on their ideas and practices related to good and poor relationships; building sexual decision-making skills to better prepare them to develop and maintain good, healthy relationships, and end poor or abusive ones. Interventions should incorporate adolescents’ perspectives and balance evidence-based best practice and resource availability.


Congratulations to Dr Nadine Burnhams from the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Unit who graduated with her PhD from the University of Cape Town on 6 June 2013. The title of Dr Burnhams’ thesis is ‘The effectiveness of a substance abuse and substance-related HIV workplace prevention programme implemented within a service industry in Cape Town, South Africa.’

This study tested the effectiveness of a substance abuse and substance-related HIV prevention programme designed for use within a South African workplace setting. There were several phases to the study. Phase 1 involved a systematic review to identify a suitable intervention to prevent substance abuse and substance-related HIV risks at the workplace. This was followed by the selection of a substance abuse and substance-related HIV prevention programme for implementation within a service industry in Cape Town, South Africa. Phase 2 employed a cross-sectional study design for collecting baseline data on substance abuse and substance-related HIV risks at the selected workplace. Phase 3 involved adapting the selected evidence-based substance abuse and substance-related HIV risks prevention programme for application in the selected workplace. This phase was followed by an outcomes evaluation, using a clustered randomised controlled trial of the implemented programme. For this phase, data were gathered from 325 employees who were employed in two divisions within a local municipality. The Team Awareness (TA) intervention, an eight hour evidence-based programme addressing behavioural risk among employees, was administered to 168 employees in the intervention arm.

The 157 employees in the control arm received a one hour wellness talk. Self-report questionnaires were used to gather data on demographic variables, the work environment, policy and EAP service utilisation, substance abuse behaviours, co-worker substance abuse and substance-related HIV risks. Data were analysed using a random effects model accounting for clustering. Qualitative in-depth interviews with eight participants, all senior management in the organisation where the study was conducted, concluded the study. This study found that alcohol is the most commonly abused substance reported by persons in this sample. Of the sample surveyed, more than three-quarters indicated alcohol misuse, with only a small proportion of employees reporting drug use. A third of employees who reported alcohol use also reported engaging in risky sexual practices. The results suggest that employees who received TA showed significant reduction in the risky use of alcohol from baseline to three month follow-up. TA was also found to increase willingness to use the EAP service and improve employee knowledge in relation to workplace substance abuse polices. These findings highlight the need for evidence-based prevention programmes in workplace settings. Findings also show that an evidence-based work place intervention, such as TA, can lead to reductions in problem drinking, increase help-seeking behaviours, and create positive attitudes towards policies that regulate substance-abuse within the workplace environment. The study makes useful recommendations for research practice and policy to help organisations address the burden of substance abuse.

2012 - click to close

Ben Murrell Ben Murrell recently graduated with a PhD in Computer Science  from University of Stellenbosch. His Thesis is titled "Improved models of biological sequence evolution." This dissertation, by publications, presents five papers describing improvements to models of molecular evolution. Such models are used by biologists to identify regions in genomes or lineages in phylogenetic trees that are evolving adaptively or under purifying selection, allowing them to examine hypotheses about the evolution of viruses, for example. This facilitates the identification of sites involved in drug resistance or sites at which the virus escape from immune selection pressure.


Health Systems Research Unit


Health Promotion Research and Development Unit: PhDs Graduated

Anam Nyembezi recently graduated with a PhD from the Department of Work and Social Psychology at the Maastricht University, the Netherlands. His dissertation is entitled “The psychosocial determinants of sexual behaviours that place initiated and traditionally circumcised young men in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa at risk of STI/HIV infection”. The study was initiated by the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders in an effort to obtain evidence-based information that will inform health education interventions which can be integrated with the traditional practices of initiation and rites of passage into manhood. The research resulted in six articles, three of which have already been published, with the other three accepted and under review. The behaviours that place initiated and traditionally circumcised men at risk of STI/HIV infection include; engagement in multiple concurrent sexual partnerships and unprotected sexual behaviours (i.e. inconsistent and incorrect condom use), whilst reported low rates of HIV voluntary counselling and testing. Importantly, ethnic identity was found to be a protective factor against risky sexual behaviours.


Malik Vazi recently graduated with a PhD from the Department of Work and Social Psychology at the Maastricht University, the Netherlands. His dissertation is entitled “Explaining sickness absence behaviours among public school teachers in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa: a social psychological analysis”.  The overall aim of his research was to lay a foundation for the development of a sickness absence reduction program targeted at the Eastern Cape primary and high school teachers, working in the public education system. In addition, explore the role of poor mental health in explaining teacher sickness absence, to see which psychosocial and environmental determinants were most important in explaining feelings of stress and burnout, to gain an in-depth understanding of the meaning of stress as experienced by teachers, and to explore common coping behaviours teachers deploy against stress. Currently, he is a CEO of Zeal Health Innovations, a health promotion and education company working with employer groups, insurers and the general public.


Gift ChaukePUDAC (Primate Unit and Delft Animal Centre) proudly congratulates colleague Gift Chauke who obtained her PhD on the 21st of September 2012 from UWC.  Her dissertation is entitled:

Defining the African green monkey (Chlorocebus aethiops): Expression behaviour of selected lipid metabolism genes in response to niacin
The study provided new insights into the molecular biology of the Vervet monkey (African green monkey), which is commonly used in biomedical research, and closely related to humans but genetically not as well defined. The main objective was to investigate the molecular genetics of the Vervet monkey in relation to cardiovascular disease. The study applied a number of original approaches to identify candidate susceptibility genes for lipid modulation. For the first time many genetic aspects of the Vervet monkey have been identified, which will further contribute towards the mapping of its genome sequence, and help better understand cardiovascular disease in humans.


Environment and Health Research Unit PhD Graduate

Dr Nisha Naicker
Nisha recently graduated with a PhD from the School of Clinical Medicine at the University of Witwatersrand. Her thesis assessed the prevalence of lead exposure and its effect on the health of adolescents participating in the Birth to Twenty cohort study. The research resulted in the publication of three papers and showed that children from lower socio-economic households were more likely to have higher blood lead levels at birth and at adolescence. Higher blood lead levels were associated with a delay in the onset of puberty in girls, and with anti-social behaviour among boys. The effects of high blood levels are more profound in low or middle-income countries compared to high income countries, and thus, research on lead exposure and its impact has important public health significance for South Africa. In 2009 Nisha won a PhD scholarship from the Ford Foundation and in 2010 she was awarded the Phyllis Knocker Bradlow award from the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa for exceptional results in a final Fellowship exam and making a substantial contribution towards medical research in South Africa.

 

 
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Last updated:
9 April, 2014
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