A senior researcher from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is among the many dedicated young South African scientists who have rolled up their sleeves to help curb the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the country. Katekani Ngobeni is (34) from Kaโ€™Ndengeza outside Giyani, Limpopo, has worked in the field of infection prevention and control locally for nearly 10 years. Ngobeni is using her experience to provide scientific advice and training countrywide in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

She has established herself as an active researcher in the field of TB infection prevention and control over the past few years. Her work has taken her around the world to ensure that health-care workers in resource-limited areas operate in a safer environment. This has paved the way for her current contribution to the fight against Covid-19 in healthcare settings, where the risk of infection is higher.

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Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Ngobeni has been providing ongoing workshops to various provincial departments of health struggling to cope with the new reality brought about by COVID-19. She carries out these advisory responsibilities by developing and maintaining close working relationships with government departments and implementing partner organizations in order to ensure that program activities are carried out within the recommended practice standards based on evidence and international guidelines. She also facilitated a COVID-19 preparedness course for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

Recently, Ngobeni presented her work at the first South African COVID-19 Conference held from 24 to 25 February 2020 in Pretoria and attended by more than 250 healthcare professionals who obtained a free scholarship from the Health and Welfare Sector Education and Training Authority (HWSETA) and co-sponsored by the Foundation for Professional Development (FPD).
โ€œHealthcare workers need critical information about respiratory protection. Hospitals across South Africa are running out of N95 masks, which filter at least 95 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns or larger, including the new Coronavirus. In response to continued respirator shortages, many countries, including South Africa, have resorted to the use of KN95 masks. However, currently, there are no specific guidelines in South Africa on which criteria apply for the use of the product, including evidence demonstrating that the respirator is authentic. In addition, there is conflicting guidance about the application of these respiratory masks. In order to continue providing technical assistance and capacity building to healthcare workers during this lockdown period, we collaborated with the FPD to provide online training,โ€ says Ngobeni.

Since joining the CSIR, Ngobeni has pursued a Masterโ€™s degree through the University of Johannesburg, exploring the use of respiratory protection devices in low-income healthcare settings. Her work on TB and personal protective equipment has set the foundation for her as a key player in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

Among other achievements, Ngobeni was selected to attend the Building Design and Engineering Approaches to Airborne Infection Control training hosted by Harvard University in the USA. In 2013, Ngobeni was a runner-up for the JD Roberts Award for emerging researchers under the age of 35 to recognize and celebrate the contributions of younger colleagues within the CSIR.

โ€œThere is an urgent need to address the challenges in the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa. Young people have a huge role to play during this pandemic. We need to educate ourselves and others, especially those in disadvantaged areas, about the importance of hygiene and living a healthy life,โ€ says Ngobeni.

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