In celebration of Women’s Month 2018, we are featuring female researchers who receive funding from the NRF. We thank the ladies for volunteering to share their stories with us.
Nosipho Faith Makhakhe is currently pursuing a PhD in Health Promotion at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
I was born in the small town of Matatiele. I am the second born of six children and moved to Johannesburg when I was 16 years old. I moved to Durban at age 28 and I have been here ever since.
What made you decide to choose your field of study?
Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to work with people. At the same time, I had a keen interest in writing poetry and stories, and so I thought I would get into journalism. But during my time as an undergrad, I discovered my love for sociology and understanding individual and community behaviours influenced by social problems and personal struggles (the structure-agency debate) and the complexity between the two.
When I studied public health, I discovered health promotion and fell in love with the idea of empowering communities to take responsibility for their own health. So, my love for working with people coupled with my passion for empowerment and bringing about change was realised in my choice to specialise in health promotion. I now work with marginalised and stigmatised communities such as sex workers to design health interventions.
What does your current research focus on?
My current research focuses on the distribution of pre-exposure prophylaxis (i.e. preventative HIV treatments) among female sex workers (FSWs) looking at issues of knowledge, accessibility and acceptability. As well as designing an intervention addressing complex issues that may hinder optimal uptake and adherence to PrEP among sex workers.
How do you think your work/research can benefit/impact South Africans and/or the world?
The focus in South Africa is to reduce new HIV infections, of which research shows are persistent among female sex workers. So, the promotion of effective PrEP interventions will help reduce HIV prevalence among this group.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to get to where you are today?
I have had to overcome issues of low self-esteem and lack of self-belief and fear that I was not intelligent enough to study further, or even receive a scholarship to do my PhD. I even thought that a PhD was definitely out of my league. However, with the right support and encouragement, I managed to graduate my Master’s cum laude and develop the strength and belief to proceed with my PhD.
What is your vision for the future – what do you hope to achieve in the next ten years?
I would like to have designed impactful studies working closely with FSWs. Studies focusing on the reduction of HIV as well as looking at FSWs who are mothers and their children and how they can be protected and empowered. I would like to grow as a researcher and publish in high-impact journals. I would also love to have published a book by then.
What is your advice for young people who want to pursue a career in STEM?
They should believe in themselves but be prepared to work hard and aim to function and compete at an international level. They should take advantage of funding opportunities available and never give up.
What other interests do you have outside of your chosen career?
I love writing poetry, listening to live music and attending art festivals.