Aug 2020 1st edition

Researcher uses information to fight COVID-19

It no secret that healthcare workers are at the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic but how do we ensure their safety?  

It has been widely reported that the country has been facing a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the past few months. This equipment is crucial for healthcare workers to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19 while attending to patients.

Many sectors of society, including business, responded to the shortage by donating PPE equipment to the national Department of Health as well as provincial departments of health.

Katekani Ngobeni, a senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has been at the forefront of advising officials on whether the protective gear is safe for use and if it offers sufficient protection for nurses and doctors.

“We were caught off-guard with COVID-19 and we were not prepared for the challenges,” she says.

The CSIR was able to help provincial health departments meet these challenges by offering technical support on various issues, including interpreting the COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations; giving advice on how to adequately protect employees; and helping ensure that activities are carried out within the recommended practice standards, which are based on evidence and international guidelines.

Ngobeni, who was born in Ka’Ndengeza, outside Giyani in Limpopo spent her early life with her grandmother. When joined her parents in Protea Glen, Soweto, she was forced to repeat Grade Three because she did not understand a word of English.

In high school, she found inspiration in a young female environmental health practitioner, who was a friend of her mother.

She decided to follow in her footsteps and after matriculating, enrolled for a National Diploma in Environmental Health with the University of Johannesburg. She went on to obtain her B Tech (equivalent to a degree qualification) and after joining the CSIR in 2011 as an infection control specialists, she did a Master’s degree, exploring the use of respiratory protection devices in low-income healthcare settings.

She urges young people to play an active role in the fight against the virus.

“Young people have a huge role to play during this pandemic. We need to educate ourselves and others about the importance of hygiene and living a healthy life.”  ñ

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