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Feb 11
Happy International Day of Women and Girls in Science!

By: Lunga Memela (Communications Engagement Lead)

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HST young scientists, Nonhlanhla Sithole and Justicia Coopoosamy.

It's International Day of Women and Girls in Science – a day observed by the United Nations particularly in the pursuit to acknowledge, achieve and promote full and equal access to science by women and girls since 2015. For generations before then, careers in science were predominantly occupied by men, and that is why the time has come to shine the spotlight on women and girls making significant contributions to the scientific community; especially in the health sciences when it comes to promoting healthy, active lifestyles for all.

This year, the Health Systems Trust (HST) decided to profile two of its young pharmaceutical scientists, Nonhlanhla (Noni) Sithole and Justicia Coopoosamy – both graduates from the University of KwaZulu-Natal who have served just less than three years within the organisation, but whose work has had a huge impact in supporting the Department of Health in promoting the free and convenient service called CCMDD (Central Chronic Medicine Dispensing and Distribution) / Dablapmeds or 'Get Checked. Go Collect' (GCGC) .

Born and bred in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), Sithole always wanted to become a medical doctor, but pharmacy grew to become her first love after realising the profession had to do with less blood as did the former. She says that women are under-represented in science, with men still being in the majority.

"Young women are often misinformed. There is narrative that is pushed by society that science is hard, however, there should not be any gender roles. I believe we are all equal and have the capacity to achieve anything we set our minds to. Looking specifically at our health sciences, we are seeing growing numbers of women in different fields but there is a need for more women in leadership roles. Our input as women matters as well."

Sithole was one of HST'S regular interviewees in recent CCMDD radio slots aimed at promoting adherence to chronic medication in KZN. She said seeing the reception of the programme by people in our communities has been her biggest highlight. "This has somehow illustrated how disadvantaged our public patients have been. The programme could not have come at a better time."

Sithole enjoys reading and baking, and she aspires to seeing herself in a managerial position in the next five years. "There is huge space for women in science, I encourage all young women to pursue [the] career [that] they want in science. As women we have always been known for being imaginative, creative and curious. Let us not deprive ourselves from applying all of that to contribute positively towards science. We are needed; we are [the] future!!!"

Similar sentiments are echoed by Coopoosamy who has played an active role promoting CCMDD at events such as World AIDS Day 2021 and at the launch of KZN's 365 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign, also in 2021.

One of her highlights during her tenure at HST was her team's response to the July 2021 civil unrest which caused major disruptions in KZN. "Many external pick-up-points (PuPs) in eThekwini were damaged and looted, affecting thousands of patients. Patients were unable to access their chronic medication and so the pharmacy team worked closely with relevant stakeholders to re-route patients to alternative PuPs to ensure accessibility to medication and adherence during this difficult time."

Coopoosamy says, "Young people should make the most of the opportunities available to them which were denied to the women who came before them. Pursuing such opportunities will open the path for gender equality … Women are the most vulnerable in society, so bringing them to the forefront in science will allow a positive impact on the decisions that influence women healthcare."

"We are facing so many problems in South Africa, and we need solutions! Science provides a wealth of knowledge which can be accessed to enhance the provision of healthcare. A broad perspective through science will allow us to improve and ensure our objectives in the health sector are met," Coopoosamy says.


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