Professor Christine Varga.

American academic Professor Christine Varga has rejoined UKZN after completing her Masters Degree in Nursing at the Xavier University in Ohio in the United States.

Born in Cincinnati, Varga first came to South Africa in 1991 as a Masters’ student in Bio Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States. Her masters’ project explored maternal-child health practices among Zulu women in Ubombo, northern KwaZulu-Natal.

She returned to South Africa in 1993 as a Fulbright and National Science Foundation scholar to pursue fieldwork towards her PhD. She received her Doctorate in Anthropology (biomedical emphasis) in 1998 from the University of Pennsylvania and received an Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship to work with well-known demographer Mr Jack Caldwell at the National Center for Epidemiology and Public Health at the Australian National University.

While writing up her PhD and lecturing Anthropology at the former University of Natal, Varga became interested in HIV/AIDS-related issues in South Africa. This began a 10-year career working on sexual and reproductive health and HIV-related social science research, programme evaluation, and policy matters.  During that time, her work focused on various populations including adolescents and young adults, blood donors, men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers, pregnant women and infants.  Varga’s research on social and community dynamics influencing vertical HIV infection risk, helped to shape existing national-level policy and legislation in South Africa on mother-to-child HIV transmission.

In 2005, Varga founded her own non-profit research organisation, Nozizwe Consulting. Nozizwe focused primarily on programme monitoring and evaluation, formative and evaluative research linked to public health interventions, and training on social science research methods and programme evaluation. Nozizwe Consulting also received three years of PEPFAR funding to undertake research on infant HIV testing.

In 2008 Varga made the decision to move from research and policy to clinical medicine/health care, and this led to her pursing a Masters’ degree in Nursing at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received her degree and nursing licence in 2012 and worked as a medical surgical cardiac telemetry nurse until she returned to South Africa last year to take up the post of associate Professor in the School of Health Sciences at UKZN.

She says it has been a big change coming back to South Africa after being away for an extended period. ‘I think a lot has changed since I have been away. The country has changed so has UKZN.’ Recalling her last contact with the University as a Lecturer in Anthropology (1995-1998), she noted: ‘Most of the change is good, although with transition comes challenges.’

Varga, who began her duties at UKZN in August, says she has since overcome many challenges associated with settling into the Institution. ‘Things have taken shape and I have a wonderful line manager who can see my potential and how it can be harnessed,’ she added.

Asked about her plans for her Department, she excitedly said: ‘My big plan is to get students involved in our newly revamped Postgraduate Cohort Supervision Seminar Series in the School of Health Sciences.’

Varga has taken on the co-ordinating roll for the seminars in 2014 and encourages postgraduate students at both Masters and PhD level to attend. The aim of her current teaching is focused within the online Master of Health Sciences programme.