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#WomenofSU: Addressing poverty and health inequalities in Africa
Author: Corporate Communication/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Rozanne Engel]
Published: 26/08/2020

As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, many poorer countries, especially in Africa, are facing immense health inequalities because of poverty and disadvantages affecting communities.

For Ronelle Burger, a professor in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University, fighting inequity and addressing problems with health care delivery has been a core part of her research work for many years.

As part of South Africa Women's Month celebrations, Burger shares insight into her work and the importance of investing in more women researchers.

1.      Can you tell us more about your research?

Our research looks at inequality and poverty. We try to understand the mechanisms that perpetuate disadvantage and poverty in our society, but also in other African countries. My interest is specifically in health inequalities: We are working alongside NPOs and government to try to improve the health system's responsiveness to the needs of the poorest communities.

2.      Why or how did you become interested in this specific area of research?

I have always had a bit of an idealistic streak, but my interest in development policy distilled into a more mature commitment after three years of management consulting. I enjoyed many parts of consulting life, but found the work utterly meaningless and soul-destroying. So I returned to university to do my Masters in Economics and then eventually, my PhD, and have stuck around since. I have a really amazing job and I am grateful for it.

3.      Why do you think this is such an important area of research for South African women?

I think women tend to be more naturally collaborative and holistic in their perspective, and health research requires collaboration and an encompassing, full-person perspective to understand all the dimensions of the problem and to examine all the constraints.

4.      What would you consider the greatest impact of your research on women in the country?

Our research has made a number of important contributions, but whenever I have to think about what it all means, I always think the most valuable thing we do is our investment in the next generation of researchers. I have had the privilege of supervising a spectacular group of female PhD students, and I expect each of them to go very far. The training and mentoring of researchers is by far the most meaningful part of my job.

5.      Do you have any message for the next generation of women researchers?

Unfortunately, I do not have any words of wisdom. I think the working environment for researchers and academics will become more challenging and competitive due to pressure on funding. On the other hand, due to the greater social and economic uncertainty, I also expect research to become more valuable and useful. We will need to dig deeper; find the creative courage to challenge old frameworks and traditional approaches. Women are well suited to this changing environment, because they tend to be tenacious trailblazers. For instance, it has been shown that female long distance runners are significantly more likely than males to finish marathons in extremely adverse weather conditions.