Empowering women can solve most of the world’s problems

It’s been a long and winding road for family medicine registrar and Discovery Foundation Award winner Dr Kartik Naidoo

Dr Kartik Naidoo.
Dr Kartik Naidoo.
Image: Supplied/Discovery Foundation

On his way to studying to be a family medicine physician, Dr Kartik Naidoo has worked as a software salesman, a Hindi teacher and even qualified as a computer engineer. But it’s his groundbreaking work in reproductive health that earned him a 2020 Discovery Foundation Award.

Naidoo believes that empowering women through education and control of their reproduction, would help solve most problems in the world. This belief has led him to do research for his MMed in family medicine on patients in the community of Mossel Bay in the Western Cape. He explored their attitudes, beliefs and expectations, as well as the social influences that play a role in family planning in the community.

“The issues involving reproduction provide a window into fundamental beliefs and attitudes that a community has. It is in understanding these that, I believe, the solution to unplanned pregnancies lies,” says Naidoo.

A country’s history in one family

His own family history reveals the effects of apartheid on his life decisions, the family’s livelihoods, and their paths in life.

Naidoo was born in Verulam in KwaZulu-Natal to a mother who was originally from India, and a father who had gone to India to study medicine, as apartheid laws prevented him from pursuing his studies in SA.

It was illegal for African labourers to stay overnight in an Indian-designated area at his grandfather’s farm. His father had to abandon his studies and return to SA to assist on the farm. By then, Dr Naidoo’s parents had married.

After his father’s retrenchment in 1992, and the uncertainties in SA at the time, the family briefly relocated to India when Naidoo was in his early teens. He says leaving connected him even more to his SA roots. In 1996 they returned to Durban, where he matriculated at Verulam High School, graduated as a computer engineer from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and worked as a computer engineer for Telkom in Pretoria.

“A serendipitous conversation about career choices led to my father offering to pay for my medical studies if I still wanted to become a doctor. I did, and eventually was accepted at the Wits University, where I completed my medical studies,” says Naidoo.

Community service an inspiration to do family medicine

It was during his community service year in Ventersdorp that he became inspired to do family medicine through the University of Stellenbosch.

Now in his third year as a family medicine registrar, and living in Mossel Bay with his husband André Cilliers, Naidoo works at the Mossel Bay District Hospital and is also involved in outreaches to various clinics in the area.

“My research is on the experience of clients and nurses regarding family planning at the local clinics. I hope to bring deep knowledge about the community, their attitudes and beliefs, and the factors that influence family planning for both nurses and clients,” says Dr Naidoo.

He says there is a high rate of unplanned pregnancies in Mossel Bay, and young women have a number of children at a young age.

“Nurses can and do bring their own world views into the workplace, which, research shows, may influence the decisions their clients make. My research focuses on this aspect and health service factors that may influence nurses’ provision of family planning. It could also be a problem if there is some social connection between the nurses and clients, such as if the nurse is a friend of the client’s mother.”

Naidoo says he was motivated to apply for the Discovery Foundation Award, as he is doing research in a rural area, and knew that strengthening rural health-care systems is one of the foundation’s priorities.

“There have been many doctors that have inspired me in my path so far, and all of them have inspired me through their compassion and love and care, beyond anything else in medicine.”.

This article was created for the 2020 Discovery Foundation Awards and has been edited for the Discovery Magazine.

This article was paid for by the Discovery Foundation.