Matie Voices

Dr Moleen Zunza

Alumna of the faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences and Economic and Management Sciences

Dr Moleen Zunza is the epitome of perseverance, dedication and hard work.

Raised alongside 19 other siblings in Zimbabwe’s Wedza district by her grandmother, she became a nurse after school, initially believing that to be the best option available to her.

“Being a village girl, and with no career guidance during my early years of schooling, it essentially just happened that I ended up in the medical field,” she remembers.

By 2008 Moleen was 37, married, had two children and worked at the Parirenyatwa General Hospital in Harare. It was at this stage, however, when things started to change drastically.

“My husband received a postdoctoral position at Stellenbosch University (SU), and we decided to move the family to South Africa.”

Facing tough times financially and unable to register at the South African Nursing Council, 2011 saw Moleen — in the hope of widening her career options — graduate from SU with a master’s in clinical epidemiology.

Next, she set her sights on pursuing two further postgraduate qualifications—a PhD in paediatrics, and a BCom honours in applied statistics. She graduated in both on the same day in 2016.

“My PhD characterised infant feeding behaviour of both HIV-infected and uninfected mothers during a HIV and infant feeding policy transition — from subsidised formula feeding to breastfeeding.

“The study also assessed the effect of such behaviour on infant growth and infection-related hospitalisation.”

During her studies she also worked at FAM-CRU (a research unit at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences) where she assisted with some teaching and research activities.

Today, Moleen is regarded as an expert in the field of breastfeeding by HIV-positive mothers, and continues to do research on the topic through the Janssen/CTN International Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Not surprisingly, she’s also in her final year of her fifth degree — this time an MSc in Biostatistics.

“After completing this degree I plan to secure funding and start research projects that address clinical issues affecting patients, both at individual and population level.”

What are the factors that continue to make her succeed?

“A very ambitious character, realising the importance of acquiring critical skills, the need to keep up with the competitive academic environment, as well as the support I received from my supervisors and line manager.”

- By Steyn du Toit -