Two Global Health scientists among Mail & Guardian’s ‘200 young South Africans’

Drs Lieketseng Ned and Xanthe Hunt.

Two FMHS researchers – both with the faculty’s Department of Global Health – made the department proud when they were recently featured in the Mail & Guardian’s “200 young South Africans”.

They are Dr Xanthe Hunt (27), a researcher at the Institute for Life Course Health Research and Dr Lieketseng Ned (30), a lecturer at the Centre for Rehabilitation Studies.

Hunt, who is also affiliated with California University and is studying with Harvard University, has two areas of research: she focuses on improving maternal and child health, particularly among young children affected by HIV and their caregivers in Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania. She is particularly interested in what makes public health programmes for mothers and children work – and how they can be made to work better. She also does research on sexual and reproductive health among people with disabilities and how mainstream health care services can be made more accessible to people with disabilities.

She is currently working on a book about disabled people's experiences of accessing sexual and reproductive health services.

Hailing from the Easter Cape, Ned convenes the postgraduate diploma programme in the centre. Her research is aimed at “contributing to the development of a situated disability and rehabilitation scholarship which centres the African experience. “More specifically, I am passionate about the following niche areas; critical disability and rehabilitation studies, community development practice, indigenous knowledges and methodologies, transformation in higher education and decoloniality,” she said. Her work is published in various accredited journals and books.

Hunt, who hails from KZN and published more than 30 academic papers, has been described as "an academic phenomenon", and was a recipient of last year’s prestigious Chancellor’s Medal at Stellenbosch University. She is also the first psychology department student to have her master's degree converted to a PhD, and passed with no changes needed.

Yet, in an interview about the achievement, Hunt said she felt “very flattered”.

“By being named, I think you begin to feel you should work harder to earn the place."

Asked what drives her in her work, Hunt said: “Coming from a privileged middle-class background in KZN, I started doing volunteer work in the public health system as soon as I got to university. It cemented my understanding that it was a complete accident that I ended up having access to good services while others did not. That accident is a result of inequalities with historical roots. For me healthcare services and systems can make a big difference in quality of life. I want to figure out how to make those services more equitable as it’s unfair that they are not.”

Ned, who is a board member for the South African Christian Leadership Association and Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre, said her doctorate, entitled ‘Reconnecting with indigenous knowledge in education: exploring possibilities for health and well-being in Xhora, South Africa’ has really assisted her to have a much more nuanced understand of disability and rehabilitation studies. She is now focused on raising funds to continue her engagements with AmaBomvane for further dissemination of this research using participatory visual methodologies. She also has a research collaboration with the University of Helsinki to focus of disability research in the Global South.

Ned said she feels “grateful and humbled” about being featured on the Mail & Guardian’s 200 List. “It is a recognition of work that is mostly located in the margins. Most importantly, I am filled with joy and gratitude towards AmaBomvane in the Eastern Cape as it is through their knowledges that I am this recognised scholar today.” She also voiced gratitude to friends, colleagues and the judges.

“The recognition is a form of affirmation as an emerging researcher and a future leader. It's a great privilege to be counted among the best minds and influencers in the country. I hope others are affirmed too that it's possible to re-imagine the present and actually re-create a better future” Ned said.

Acting head of the Department of Global Health, Professor Taryn Young said: “We are proud of Drs Hunt and Ned in being amongst the Mail & Guardian's ‘200 Young South Africans’. We celebrate their commitment and passion for their work, and value the contributions they are making to society.”

Sue Segar