Dr Palesa Sekhejane is passionate about improving Africa’s health care status and is concerned that in Africa important developmental matters have been relegated and marginalised for material wealth.

Human life and health have become an ideal notion, she says, rather than a practical reality. “Instead of prioritising meaningful sustainable quality of life, Africa is romantically imagining what could potentially be, and not what ought to be. It is time that Africa’s renewal of the developmental agenda recognises health as a substerrenean state-building path. Health is classified as a human right, but it is appalling how the majority of people in the African continent do not have the privilege to enjoy this scarce commodity,” Dr Sekhejane says.

“Healthcare in many of the African countries is a service provided by the state and thus is supposed to be a priority in the national budgets. The hurdle is that many African states are, to a certain extent unable to provide this social service precisely because this would have to source funding from the government revenue. Therefore it is a matter of solely pressurising the finance part of things, then it is important to find means to curb the implications in order to reach the envisaged sustainable development.”

 She calls for the total transformation of the legacies and structures that Africa inherited so that they place the wellbeing of humans at the centre of the continent’s activities towards sustainable development. “The legacies I am referring to are those that perpetuate weak governance systems that undermine human life, particularly human life of peasants, purporting inequality and deprivation. The inherited infrastructural legacies that disadvantage the poor from accessing health care facilities. We need to convert Africa’s sustainable health agenda from ideas to implementation and ultimately realisation. 

Taking into consideration the proposed health system models, it is also important for the African countries to aggressively challenge the colonial arrangement for their economies, exercise a leadership style as well as patriotic responsibility in the best interest of their populations. This would enable countries to adequately respond to challenges such as deadly diseases like Ebola, Malaria and poor quality of life,” 

Dr Sekhejane says. She is an authority regarding researching about the neglected public health care systems in Africa; the benefits of encouraging biomedical technology sciences for improving the healthcare sector in the continent. “This is out of the realisation that most of the time as Africans we are unable to efficiently respond to our problems – we can think of the Ebola crisis in West Africa.” Her ambition is to see the technologies developed at the level of communities growing to a larger scale such that they can be incorporated into the mainstream business. Also, the insertion of lab based research with entrepreneurs, industrialists and social scientists. Whilst Dr Sekhejane’s work places her among the leading luminaries in the Africa’s corridors of research, particularly in the field of biosciences, health technology, systems and innovation, this gogetter has had to deal with and conquer adversity that threatened her progress.

Some of her teachers at primary and high school told her she would amount to nothing and that she would not make the grade in mathematics, science or physics – the combination that remains crucial to her career today. “Such negativity stayed on with me until my years at university. I believed the myth such that in my first year at university, I failed physics and chemistry and performed poorly in mathematics. I was labouring under a heavy burden of insecurity and low self-esteem. 

Then the second year going forward, I dropped that mentality and told myself that I will not allow anyone to determine my future. Indeed, my performance accelerated, I was passing with distinctions in physics. I ended up tutoring the subject. So that goes to show that it is a myth to believe that mathematics, science, and physics are difficult subjects. We should assist our young people to move away from this mentality,” Dr. Sekhejane says. Despite the naysayers, today she is a Biophotonics expert and a Research Specialist with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Research Specialist in the Africa Institute of South Africa and the Sustainable Development Programme.

 Biophotonics is an emerging area of scientific research that uses light and other forms of radiant energy to understand the inner workings of cells and tissues in living things. Dr Sekhejane’s experience includes being an academic writing consultant, research methodology lecturer, biomedical lecturer and doctoral scholar at the University of Johannesburg. She has also done research at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and was a Medtech intern in clinical pathology. These positions are occupied is occupied by those who have demonstrated the ability and competency to conduct research – be it through research experience or qualifications. “The foundation of science allows one to understand if the technology at hand will be beneficial or not because we would unpack the contents of that technology. We should allow children to start to learn physical science or applied sciences earlier than in Grade 10 so that they can decide whether to pursue the sciences for advancing their career path,” she says. Some of the challenges faced by people in her field include demonstrating their capabilities to conduct trustworthy research, think critically, and innovatively in order to earn the trust of peers. The other is that as a woman, and a black woman for that matter, the pressures are magnified.

Originally by Musa Dlangamandla

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