Stellenbosch University
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Student wrestles buffalo, camps, to earn degree
Author: Wilma Stassen
Published: 15/03/2017

​​Nearly 230 students from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) were capped this week at Stellenbosch University's March graduation.

For most of these students, this marks the culmination of years of hard work and countless hours of working behind a desk. For Charlene Clarke, who this week received her MSc in Molecular Biology, preparation for her degree also included 12 weeks of camping in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park in KwaZulu-Natal, wrangling African buffalo and coming face-to-face with some of Africa's biggest predators – who luckily were anaesthetised at the time.

Clarke's research for her MSc looked at the effects of the tuberculin skin test (TST) on a group of proteins (interferon-gamma) in buffalo and cattle, which required the collection of blood and other samples from these animals. Her work forms part of the FMHS's Animal TB research group that does extensive research on bovine TB and its effects on wildlife.

Record number of PhDs

Among the graduates are fourteen new PhD candidates who received their doctorates this week. Combined with the 21 PhD students that graduated in December last year, this is the highest number of PhDs that Faculty has ever produced in one year.

Among the group of newly capped PhD graduates are three academics from the FMHS – two paediatricians from the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health and a senior lecturer from the Division of Physiotherapy.

Dr Angela Dramowski's PhD research assessed the rate of healthcare-associated infections (HAI) of hospitalised children. She found the South African rates to be higher than in other high- and middle-income settings, mainly due to overcrowding, understaffing and the prevalence of HIV. Her study also looked at the contribution of HAIs to childhood deaths and the additional costs associated with it. Dramowski's study also offers methods of curbing HAIs and is the first comprehensive roadmap for addressing HAI in Africa.

For her PhD Dr Dawn Ernstzen developed clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal pain specifically for the South African context. Her findings indicate that modifications in current practice patterns, healthcare system organisation and governance will contribute to the implementation of the guidelines.

Dr Pren Naidoo's PhD research evaluated the impact of a new TB diagnostic tool, called the Gene Xpert, in 142 Cape Town clinics. She found that although the tool increased the number of diagnosed multi-drug resistant patients and reduced the time to treatment, there were also some serious issues with the Xpert. For example, it did not result in more TB cases being diagnosed or better treatment outcomes, and increased the cost per diagnosis by 150%. Her study concludes that certain health system failures diminish the full potential of the Xpert, and must be improved urgently to optimise the benefits of this expensive investment.

Other degrees

Among the Faculty's almost 230 graduates, 14 candidates completed their MMed degrees, making them medical specialists; 14 newly-qualified doctors received the MB,ChB degrees; 34 students received MSc degrees; five Honours degrees were awarded; 39 Master's students graduated; and 104 students received postgraduate diplomas.

Caption: Graduates Trisha Parbhoo, Alma Polson, Ncite Da Camara and Charlene Clarke.