Mary Grace Katusiime. Researchgate/ Stellenbosch University
Mary Grace Katusiime, the 2019 Margaret McNamara Grant winner, attributes her honour to hard work, faith and resilience.

The 27-year-old PhD student in the department of medical virology at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences was recently awarded a R100000 grant to assist to continue her study on HIV in children.

“The award has shown me that my efforts are not in vain. My dreams are valid and if I am willing to work hard and pursue my personal vision, then somewhere along that road, help will find me and give me a boost when I need it most.

“For my research, the grant has been an immense source of financial support in the fourth (and final) year of my PhD, enabling me to complete my laboratory work, write, publish and present my findings at various forums,” Katusiime said.

The Margaret McNamara Education Grant is a non-profit public charity which supports the education of women from developing countries who are committed to working for the benefit of women and children in developing countries.

It was set up in 1981 to honour the late Margaret McNamara, who dedicated her life to advocating education for under-served populations worldwide. The grant enables the receiver to continue their academic studies for a year and covers expenses ranging from tuition to course material, research needs, research-related travel and daily student living.

Speaking to the Cape Times, Katusiime said she chose to study HIV in children because South Africa had the highest number of infected individuals in the world and, consequently, a significant number of children infected through mother-to-child transmission.

“HIV-infected children are a vulnerable population group as most come from low socio-economic backgrounds. These children are born with the infection when their immune systems are still naive/immature and will have to remain on ARV (antiretroviral) treatment for their entire lives.

“The high cost of providing life-long ARVs, strain on the immune system, the challenges of proper adherence to treatment as children reach adolescence, health side-effects of life-long ARVs are all reasons why it is important to study HIV persistence in children in order to inform on-going cure interventions. As a young, educated African woman, I believe that I have a responsibility to use my skills towards solving some of the major challenges our continent faces.

“I would love to encourage young African girls to understand that they have a role, unique contribution towards building our continent. Find a passion, a cause bigger than yourself and use your skills, natural gifts and combine them with education and aim to make a difference,” she said.

CAPE TIMES