Sthembiso Pollen Mkhize. Picture: Supplied
Sthembiso Pollen Mkhize. Picture: Supplied
Melusi Lungisani Mntungwa. Picture: Supplied
Melusi Lungisani Mntungwa. Picture: Supplied

Durban - The University of KwaZulu-Natal on Friday conferred masters degrees on two students from their ground-breaking research into the province's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.

Sthembiso Pollen Mkhize graduated with a Master's in Population Studies for his research into the use of sexual health services by LGBT students in Durban.

Mkhize examined the disproportionate burdens confronted by sexual minorities when accessing and using sexual and reproductive health services. "My study is close to my heart. Being a proud, young gay man, I was happy to contribute to the limited research on the sexual and reproductive health of the LGBT community," he said.

The study show that LGBT youth are victims of stigmatisation, prejudice and marginalisation within the South African health system, highlighting the importance of revising policies and interventions aimed at improving the overall wellbeing and quality of life for all young people whether heterosexual or homosexual.

"I believe my research is beneficial because it contributes to the limited literature and research on young sexual minorities, and it adds value to the Department of Health and relevant national health organisations. It also contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals such as good health and well-being, and reduced inequalities," said Mkhize.

Being openly gay, Mkhize says he encounters a lack of emotional and financial support from his father. "I had to apply for loans to further my studies. I battled depression, anxiety and headaches, however with prayer, faith and by the grace of God, I was able to overcome everything that came my way."

He thanked his support system of family, friends and supervisor Professor Pranitha Maharaj. His advice to other students is: ‘Never be intimidated. Know what you are aiming for and always believe that something wonderful is about to happen. In life, we all have unique purposes, and only you hold the key to your success.’

Mkhize plans to pursue an academic career and "to register a non-profit organisation that will give LGBT teenagers in high schools and Higher Education Institutions the knowledge and platform to challenge the social ills affecting them as they move into adulthood."

Meanwhile Melusi Mntungwa graduated cum laude with his Master of Arts (Media and Cultural Studies) in a dissertation that explored the communicative practices, attitudes and perceptions of Black Men Who Have Sex with Men in the Msunduzi Municipality in relation to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).

The study examined if the men knew about PrEP and established if they would be willing to take PrEP as a HIV preventative tool. 

Mntungwa was motivated by the fact that although Medicines Council of South Africa approved Truvada as PrEP in 2015, very little had been done to implement this drug to underserved key populations such as Black Men Who Have Sex with Men. This was particularly true for men that reside in non-metropolitan areas. "It felt like these men’s voices were not being heard, and I wanted to in my small academic way lend a voice to this group of sidelined men,’ says Mntungwa.

The study revealed that there is significant potential for the implementation of PrEP among the men in Msunduzi, with most participants enthusiastic about taking PrEP when available. The findings suggest for effective implementation, such a programme would need to provide more education in order to address concerns such as PrEP’s impact on their daily lives. Mntungwa further proposes that communication among friends and the use of men's own social networks have the potential to encourage PrEP engagement and increase adherence self-efficacy.

Mntungwa thanked his supervisor, Luthando Ngema, family and friends for their support."I am especially grateful to all the men who participated in the study as well as Sphelele “Rooi” Ntsiba of the Pietermaritzburg Gay and Lesbian Network," he said.

He plans on pursuing a PhD.

The Independent on Saturday