April 26, 2019

My NRF Story: Dr Shakira Choonara

Dr Shakira Choonara, African Union Youth Advisory Council

Field of research/study

Public Health

How was the NRF involved in your studies/career?

Being from a disadvantaged background, without the support of the NRF I would not have been appointed to my first job as an intern or had support for postgraduate studies, i.e. to reach and complete the doctoral level. The NRF provided significant financial support through various scholarships for the completion of postgraduate studies (Honours, Master’s and PhD) and provided hosting support through the internship programme which aided in work experience and preparing for entry into doctoral studies.

The NRF also provided a series of training courses during the internship programme which was invaluable – from project management to excel training and public speaking.

Finally, the continuous follow-up through various divisions of the NRF and also referrals for opportunities or media interviews has contributed greatly to a successful career.

How has your relationship with the NRF influenced your career and personal life?

Having the opportunity to pursue further studies aided in changing the type of circumstances I was raised under, in terms of transformation and our past. Both my paternal and maternal grandmothers were illiterate and my mother never completed high school. I am the first in the family to reach a postgraduate level and receive a doctorate degree.

Professionally, youth often face discrimination in the workplace and are considered to be inexperienced. Pursuing further studies bolstered my space within the workplace, added a competitive advantage for employment, and more importantly, led to immense exposure and opportunities at a national, continental and global level. Moreover, the support to pursue studies led to critical training in demography, a scarce skill in South Africa and Africa with further training in the field of public health which is absolutely essential in our setting – given the current health crisis in the country.

The continuous support of the NRF even as an alumnus of several programmes has undoubtedly contributed to a successful career and equipped me with the skills necessary to contribute to society.

How do you think your work can benefit/impact South Africans?

As mentioned, the public health care system has been failing on many fronts in South Africa and globally. There is an urgency to address these issues and address the collapse of the healthcare system. Public health expertise and an understanding of policy, implementation and multiple disciplines are necessary to strengthen the health system.

Sexual and reproductive health issues, HIV and malaria prevention remain the largest causes of morbidity and mortality on the continent. Receiving training in these areas led to the capacity to designing and implementing programmes, including a youth leadership programme, “Developing a #YouthQuake in SRHR” across the continent. Finally, doctoral training focussed on the national health insurance (NHI) through research and thorough understanding has been gained, as well as policy drafting and analysis skills which the country requires as we move forward with implementing the NHI and universal health coverage which now also has global political commitment.

Ultimately, all these efforts must translate to better patient care and a better healthcare system which meets patients’ needs.

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