SA women scientists honoured in Kenya for pioneering research

Madelien Wooding from the University of Pretoria, one of eight South African winners at the recent L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science Awards.
Madelien Wooding from the University of Pretoria, one of eight South African winners at the recent L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science Awards.

What is in our skin that attracts mosquitoes and spreads malaria - and how can we use that knowledge to keep the little critters away from us?

These are some of the vital questions being answered by one of eight emerging South African researchers who last week received one of the highest scientific honours in sub-Saharan Africa.

Madelien Wooding from the University of Pretoria was honoured at the prestigious L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science Awards in Nairobi‚ Kenya.

"My research uses analytical chemistry techniques to study insect chemical communication‚ specifically in mosquitoes responsible for the spread of malaria in South Africa‚ in order to find alternative ways to control the spread of malaria‚" said Wooding.

By exploring chemical compounds on the skin that attract a mosquito to bite a human‚ Wooding hopes to "use this knowledge in the future to develop outdoor mosquito traps" so that fewer humans are bitten.

Another scientist to be recognised was Charlene Goosen from Stellenbosch University. She works in paediatric HIV care and studies the effect of iron supplements on the gut health of HIV-positive children.

Goosen said her research could "inform policy makers of the safety of oral iron supplementation interventions in HIV from a gut microbial perspective" for the benefit of vulnerable groups with HIV and malnutrition.

Shalena Naidoo‚ another Stellenbosch winner whose work focuses on HIV‚ said the lens through which women viewed these problems was "unique on many levels" and their responses would be distinctive too.

Naidoo said the preliminary findings of her research "indicate that immune damage caused by the virus in the first few months of life‚ following HIV infection in utero or birth‚ appears to persist".

Full restoration of immunity did not seem to "reach normality" and this was linked to other disorders such as cardiovascular and metabolic diseases‚ as well as poor neuro development.

The other South African scientists to be honoured at the event were Lerato Hlaka (UCT)‚ Takalani Cele (Unisa)‚ Dr Marilize Everts (University of Pretoria)‚ Harshna Jivan (Wits) and Andrea Wilson (University of Pretoria).

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