Head of UKZN’s Department of Rural Health, Dr Mosa Moshabela, has been awarded a Research Training Fellowship in Public Health and Tropical Medicine from the United Kingdom’s Wellcome Trust worth more than R8,5 million.
Moshabela’s grant will support his doctoral study titled: ‘The Impact of Medical Pluralism on the Cascade of Care for People Living with HIV and AIDS in Rural South Africa. His study, being done over three years, is a continuation of his doctoral research, which suggested that the use of multiple sources of health care or medical pluralism resulted in delayed access to care among HIV patients in rural settings.
‘We are therefore going to link the community surveillance data at The Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies (TAC) with the data in the HIV clinics to test this hypothesis using longitudinal data analysis methods,’ said Moshabela. ‘If this is true, then we need to re-orientate health services and health care seeking practices to reduce the negative impact of medical pluralism.
‘Our belief is that services of the so-called non-formal healers and health providers can be harnessed to help reduce and mitigate the burden of HIV/AIDS in Africa, but more systematic research is needed to inform such policy debates,’ he added.
According to Moshabela, it will be for the first time that such a study is done in Africa, as his work has expanded conventional health services to include the use of traditional and faith healers in these communities.
Moshabela’s study is supervised by Professor Till Bärnighausen, a Senior Scientist and Epidemiologist at the TAC and a Professor in Global Health at the Harvard Medical School, and Dr Alison Wringe, a Demographer and Senior Researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
‘I think it is about time that as scientists we stop burying our heads in the sand denying the reality that many people we serve in health care use traditional and faith healing services, and explore opportunities offered by this community of local practitioners. Until now we have been courageous enough to embrace community health workers in the fight against HIV and TB, and I believe we can go a step further to work out our ambivalence and differences regarding traditional and faith healing services,’ said Moshabela.
‘In the words of Adolf Woolf: “To acknowledge a practice does not necessarily mean to endorse it”. I believe acknowledgement will be a first step, otherwise our efforts in the antiretroviral clinics will be reduced to nought.’
The Welcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health by supporting bright minds in science, the humanities and social sciences. The Trust’s funding focuses on supporting outstanding researchers, accelerating the application of research and exploring medicine in historical and cultural contexts.
‘I feel very honoured to receive the award, which is the result of many years of preparation,’ Moshabela said. ‘I positioned myself to compete for this award four years prior to the day I submitted my application. I truly believe that the award is a tangible international recognition of the research I have been doing, and an opportunity for me to grow among the prolific scientists and fellows connected to the Wellcome Trust.’