Dr Zilungile Kwitshana.

Dr Zilungile Kwitshana, UKZN’s esteemed immunologist and alumnus of Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT), recently received an Honorary Fellowship at MUT’s graduation ceremonies in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the field of Medical Microbiology. Kwitshana has the reputation of mentoring masters and PhD emerging researchers, and ensuring that research projects address the problems facing South African communities.

She said immunology – the study of the immune system – is an evolving field and very few medical technologists of her day moved to academia. The Honorary Fellowship recognised her progression from medical technology to medical science; transcending barriers and stereotypes.

The Dean of MUT’s Faculty of Natural Sciences, Professor Nokwethemba Ndlazi, said she was proud of Kwitshana who has ‘raised herself to be among the very few prolific academics in the field of Medical Science with both national and international presence’.

According to Kwitshana, South Africa needs more professionals trained in immunology as the field is the ‘cornerstone’ for every disease process. She argued that HIV, Malaria and TB have taken centre-stage in medical research. This resulted in parasitic diseases being neglected and it comes at hefty cost as they have an impact in the pathogenesis of ‘bigger’ diseases.  ‘NTDs affect a large number of people at any one point with long term consequences, therefore the cumulative economic and health impact are astronomical.’

As a result, Kwitshana and the Deputy Director for Communicable Diseases Control formed a task team which is assisting the National Department of Health (DoH) in developing a strategic plan to control parasitic diseases in the country.

Kwitshana said mass treatment for schools, especially in rural areas, is one way of addressing the problem according to guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

In 2011, Kwitshana published one of South Africa’s first papers looking at immunological interactions between HIV and neglected parasitic/tropical diseases (NTD), particularly intestinal worms, in the medical journal: BMC Infectious Diseases. This was followed by another commentary publication on the topic was published in the world’s leading scientific journal: The Lancet.