Lifestyle

Testing patient knowledge in fight against noncommunicable diseases

Dr Zamanci September received a Rural Individual Award to assist in her research project for her MMed

Dr Zamanci September is in her third year of studies as a family medicine registrar at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in Tshwane.
Dr Zamanci September is in her third year of studies as a family medicine registrar at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in Tshwane.
Image: Supplied/Discovery Foundation

Dr Zamanci September knew she wanted to specialise, but couldn’t decide on any particular field, so she solved the problem by choosing to do them all. That was how this year’s Discovery Foundation Award recipient finally settled on doing family medicine. 

There is a tidal wave of noncommunicable diseases in SA. Worldwide, noncommunicable or chronic diseases kill 41-million people each year, according to the World Health Organisation. The four main types of noncommunicable diseases are cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks and strokes, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma.

“Many of these conditions are lifestyle-related,” says September who received a Discovery Foundation Rural Individual Award in 2020 to do her MMED research project on noncommunicable diseases. The 31-year-old is in her third year of studies as a family medicine registrar at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in Tshwane.

“The only way to combat these conditions is through education and the dissemination of correct information as a preventive mechanism and a practical guide to lifestyle changes,” she says.

For her research project, she will do a knowledge, attitude and practice study of patients taking the cholesterol medicine statins to treat dyslipidemia at the Phedisong 4 Community Health Centre in Tshwane. 

Dyslipidemia is an important risk factor for heart disease, especially heart attacks, owing to elevated cholesterol or fat in the blood, while statins lowers the level of cholesterol in the blood. Her research will reveal how much patients know about their condition.

Joining the fight against noncommunicable diseases

Seeing how dyslipidemia affected her mother’s life inspired her to become a doctor. “I also saw how access to the correct information could open peoples’ eyes and what a difference this knowledge could make in their lives.”

September was born in Mthatha and completed her schooling at the Bizana Senior Secondary School close to the KwaZulu-Natal border. She initially studied biological sciences for one year at the Walter Sisulu University, after which she went to the University of KwaZulu-Natal to do medicine.

“Fortunately, I had already passed some of the first-year courses, so I didn’t have to redo them,” she says. She qualified as a doctor in 2012.

It was during her community service year in rural KwaZulu-Natal that she saw that doctors need broad, general knowledge and skills. “There was not any one speciality that appealed to me in particular, and I loved the diversity of being involved in a variety of fields. This led to my decision to specialise in family medicine,” she says. 

“Dr Hervey Williams showed me what a family physician does, and he inspired me to follow this route.” Another source of inspiration was Dr Vangile Mkhatshwa, who works at a local clinic in Pretoria. She saw that Mkhatshwa was really dedicating to educating patients about conditions that affected their lives — and that encouraged her to want to do the same.

Tailoring research to the patients’ needs

“The more patients understand about the condition, the better they can manage it.”

For her research, she will ask patients questions before and after they have received information on their condition. The education levels of patients may vary, and she will have to keep this in mind when doing the research. 

She expressed gratitude to the Discovery Foundation for giving her an award, which has encouraged her to keep pursuing her work and covered some of the costs of her research. 

“When I received this award, it also encouraged some of my colleagues to start thinking about conducting research projects on ways they can provide a better service to their patients and help to ensure their long-term health,” says September.

This article was paid for by the Discovery Foundation.

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