Stellenbosch University
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New modules put healthcare economics on the map
Author: FMHS Marketing & Communications / FGGW Bemarking & Kommunikasie - Edna Ellman
Published: 21/09/2023

The interplay between high-quality research, teaching and learning, and policymaking is something Professor Lungiswa Nkonki feels strongly about. Nkonki, an accomplished curriculum designer, developed a Health Economics module within the Master's in Health Systems programme which offers comprehensive training that will have benefits well beyond the lecture halls.

“I have developed a specialised Healthcare Economic Evaluation module within the existing MPhil Health Systems and Services Research programme, and this year we had our first intake of students for this specialised track. In addition to being trained in the standard curriculum – which includes modules in Biostatistics, Epidemiology, an Introduction to Health Systems and Public Health, Research Methods and Grantsmanship, and Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis – students who pursue this track will also cover modules in Economic Evaluation, Advanced Economic Evaluation, Systematic Reviews of Economic Evaluation, Healthcare Financing, and Priority Setting. Next year we will offer Healthcare Financing and Priority Setting as modules and short courses for the first time.

“The two modules available for the first time will be Healthcare Financing and Priority Setting. My approach to teaching and learning is to create an experiential and transformative learning experience for our postgraduate and short-course candidates. The modules are grounded in theoretical approaches, global evidence of what works and does not work, industry players, and policymakers' application of the design of policies."

The health economist

How would she describe the work of a health economist to the man on the street? “My work involves allocating resources to healthcare at national, provincial, and programmatic levels. I do research to generate evidence to inform policies on where to allocate resources best to improve population health."

Nkonki grew up in Port Elizabeth and matriculated in 1997 from Ndzondelelo High School. Her journey started at the University of the Western Cape with a BSc and honours degrees in Medical Bioscience, a master's degree in Public Health (Health Economics) from the University of Cape Town, an MSc in Economics from the University of Sussex (United Kingdom), and a PhD in Health Economics from the University of Bergen in Norway.

“I have been privileged throughout my career. I have worked on projects that sought to resolve South Africa and Africa's vexing health problems with team of esteemed researchers driven to conduct research for impact that influences policy in South Africa and globally, particularly Professor Mickey Chopra."

Career highlights

Nkonki says a few of the many great achievements she holds dear include being a panel member in the first ever Health Market Inquiry into private healthcare chaired by the retired Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo, and being selected to be part of the Futures Professors Programme, an initiative of the Department of Higher Education and Training to develop a transformed next generation of South African professors across all disciplines.

“Another highlight was the selection of the Systematic Review of Economic Evaluation Short Course to be offered on the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research, an international health economics society committed to research excellence. I am proud that short courses developed in the Global South and in Africa by African researchers is of value to the rest of the world."

She also mentions successfully supervising to completion six master's students who have presented their work in both local and international conferences.

It is no wonder a peer review of her work described her as “incredibly energetic, with excellent training" and an “unusual" person in the range of work she does in terms of organising, advocacy and work that is of great importance to the country.

In between the hard work and achievements, it's hard to believe that there are still some dreams on her bucket list. “I would love to run the Two Oceans Ultramarathon. And in my career my vision is to create a critical mass of health economists and conduct research that supports the development of a unified, universal, and integrated health system, thereby advancing the global pursuit of universal health coverage."