PhD Student Overcomes Health Scare to Graduate

Dr Yonela Scina graduates with her PhD in Anthropology from UKZN.

Dr Yonela Scina graduated with a PhD in Anthropology from UKZN despite a struggle with depression and health problems while she was pregnant.

‘I beat depression and completed my research,’ said Scina. ‘Anyone who has suffered from the affliction or has supported a sufferer knows the difficulty of carrying out simple tasks while struggling with depression. I faced one of the most difficult times in my life as the pressure of full-time employment as a health consultant left me with little time for family or my research.

‘I was also diagnosed with a life threatening pregnancy complication known as placenta accreta which halted my research because I was in hospital for six weeks,’ said Scina.

Placenta accreta occurs when all or part of the placenta attaches abnormally to the myometrium (the muscular layer of the uterine wall) with an increased risk of heavy bleeding at the time of birth.

Despite the complication, Scina gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

She credits her supervisor Professor Maheshvari Naidu for helping her complete her PhD. ‘Prof Naidu refused to give up on me even when I had decided that I was giving up.’

Scina’s doctoral study was titled: Life Histories of Traditional Birth Attendants in the Context of Changing Reproductive Health Practices in uMzimkhulu, KwaZulu-Natal.

She was motivated to pursue this PhD because of her interest in medical anthropology and reproductive health within the South African context due to the dual healthcare system.

‘When I fell pregnant in 2012, family members advised that I consult a Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA) to assist with the management of my pregnancy. I knew very little about their practices. Thereafter, a spark of interest arose as I started reading about TBAs and found that there was very limited literature available on their traditional expertise.’

She found a session with a TBA interesting and valuable. As a young anthropologist, she wanted the voices of TBAs to be heard as a great number of the studies that she had read neglected to include an understanding of the practices and rituals from the perspective of the TBAs.

Said Naidu: ‘Her study is a contribution to medical anthropology from an invaluable and much needed African feminist perspective. Working through a feminist epistemology she offers qualitative life history narratives that attempt to disrupt the dominant hegemonic discourses from bio-medicine in the context of reproductive health care.’

Scina’s study revealed that traditional medicine and traditional birth attendants played an ‘invisible’ yet powerful role among African women with regard to their health-seeking behaviour.

Words by: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph by Rajesh Jantilal