The College of Health Sciences’ Tackling Infections to Benefit Africa (TIBA) initiative hosted a community meeting in Ingwavuma in northern KwaZulu-Natal to report on achievements in the past year.
Launched two years ago, the initiative is part of a multidisciplinary research programme involving nine African countries, including South Africa, collaborating with the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom to tackle infectious diseases.
Project leader, UKZN’s public health Professor Moses Chimbari met representatives of the district’s traditional leadership, the Department of Health, the Department of Social Development, the local municipality, primary schools and learners.
The meeting aimed to assess the progress and impact of the project while learners competed for a floating trophy and a prize for the best drama production on the subject of schistosomiasis.
‘The purpose of TIBA is mainly to combat diseases in Africa and the aims of the meeting were to thank the community for the support, report back on progress since 2019 and explain the future projects linked to the initiative,’ said Chimbari.
Chimbari and specialist in Parasitology at UKZN’s School of Life Sciences Professor Samson Mukaratirwa have done research on bilharzia and malaria in Ingwavuma since 2014 under the auspices of the Malaria and Bilharzia in Southern Africa (Masbisa) campaign.
TIBA SA implements the Eco-health concept, which emphasises community/stakeholder participation. The Ingwavuma Community has been empowered through the participation of the Community Advisory Board (CAB) led by Nduna John Khumalo and Community Research Assistants (CRA).
Chimbari presented the project’s key research outcomes, objectives and the interpretation of the results, going on to explain that the lower number of infected children was the result of persistent drought in the area, emphasising there should be no complacency over this as the situation was likely to change when the rains came.
Chimbari said that TIBA’s work had contributed to the international approach in tackling schistosomiasis and praised the input of local councillors. ‘Our contribution to community education assists the Department of Health. Capacity building in this area includes four PhD students, the training of community research assistants and now we have extended our work to the rest of KwaZulu-Natal.’
He said there was a project in the pipeline that would upgrade resources for community care givers, providing them with tablets and an app to collect data.
‘The project expanded at the beginning of this year to cover the entire province. This will help us in assessing the situation in KwaZulu-Natal and also contribute to baseline data on children under five years old ahead of the planned mass drug administration.’
Khumalo thanked TIBA on behalf of CAB, emphasising the need for community participation and encouraged people to go to clinics and to keep healthy. He also thanked the team for the good work done in the area.
The Ubuciko Art group presented an Mfundisi drama on TIBA’s 2019 results which revealed the number of children tested and treated for schistosomiasis and the different projects undertaken.
Department of Health representatives thanked the traditional authority and the community for allowing TIBA projects in their area and the initiative personnel for solution-focused research.
‘Since TIBA arrived in 2014 they have assisted in addressing the parasitic worm infections. Currently we are facing a malaria challenge and hope they can assist,’ said Khumalo.
Chimbari informed the community that TIBA would cease operations this year but there were plans to find more resources to continue with projects underway in Ingwavuma.
Two doctoral candidates and three master’s students completed their degrees under the umbrella of the Mabisa project while two PhD candidates earned their degrees through TIBA.
There are currently five postdoctoral fellows, five PhD candidates and three master’s students involved in research projects in the area.
Words: Nombuso Dlamini