Doctorate for Research into Infection by Parasitic Worms

Improving knowledge – about schistosomiasis a disease caused by infection of fresh water parasitic worms – in the uMkhanyakude area was the subject of research by Doctor of Philosophy in Health Sciences (Public Health) graduate, Dr Tafadzwa Mindu (29).

The uMkhanyakude area is endemic to schistosomiasis and Mindu’s research was conducted to determine how improved communication about the disease could assist in reducing the problem in that area.

Mindu said he chose to study public health because he felt it was one of the important disciplines in society. ‘Healing people is relevant and any practice that contributes to the functionality of the health care system is essential. I recognised the need to apply my expertise in communication technology into health care practice. This came from the realisation that communication is a critical part of the health care system.’

Mindu says it was challenging to start learning about schistosomiasis because in his undergraduate degree he had studied publishing so public health was a new discipline for him. Although this was a challenge at first, he feels that doing research in a transdisciplinary research group enabled him to learn through practice all the aspects of schistosomiasis.

The study discovered that poor living conditions and fewer health workers affected schistosomiasis knowledge uptake in the community, and that mass media and community gatherings were the most common methods of informing schoolchildren about the disease.

The study also found that schools and clinics were among the best places for schoolchildren to be taught about the problem.

Mindu designed a quasi-experimental trial to test the effectiveness of two methods of disseminating information – infographics and edutainment. The methods were applied in two primary schools where there was a high prevalence of the disease and the results from this experiment showed that both methods were effective in improving schistosomiasis health knowledge among the primary schoolchildren in the area.

Mindu said studies had been conducted on schistosomiasis knowledge uptake in Japan and Brazil using similar methods. These two countries as well as China had been able to successfully eliminate schistosomiasis using a combination of health education interventions and mass drug treatment. ‘We hope that if the methods we tested can be used in the whole area, it may increase awareness and knowledge about schistosomiasis,’ said Mindu.

‘Being at UKZN was an eye-opener. It exposed me to many cultures, religions and social beliefs, and changed my whole perspective on life and the future. Most importantly the student culture at UKZN is amazing and very welcoming. There is a lot of diversity; I have done things that I never thought I could do before.’

He is currently doing post-doctoral research fellowship under the supervision of his PhD supervisor Professor Moses Chimbari. His new project is on schistosomiasis research uptake using health informatics.

Mindu hopes to develop an artificial intelligence system for health monitoring and management using wireless digital communication systems and data capturing software. ‘Using artificial intelligence and machine learning is the next era for human development, hence I aim to boost my knowledge in this area of expertise,’ said Mindu.

During his spare time he enjoys playing golf and taking long walks. He also sings acapella and plays the traditional drum and horn at church.

‘I feel elated by this accomplishment because it came so early in my life and this will enable me to jump into my ultimate career early. I aspire to be a research scientist in the field of public health specialising in health informatics which is a fast-growing area of research in health sciences,’ added Mindu.

Words: Lihle Sosibo