The University of the Western Cape (UWC) School of Public Health in cooperation with The Mauerberger Foundation established an award in 2013 to honor the memory of Jakes Gerwel, the university’s late Vice Chancellor. Before joining the university, Gerwel was Director General in the office of Nelson Mandela’s presidency. Each year the award honors a graduate of the school for the outstanding work he or she has demonstrated in the field of public health.
Anne Mutunda, a Water & Sanitation Health (W.A.S.H.) Surveillance Officer with Akros, is being honored as a nominee for the work she did during her MPH studies at the university. The qualitative study, undertaken in 2012, was initially seen as an exploration of the factors influencing the understanding, experiences and practices of menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls in secondary schools in the Mongu District of Zambia’s Western Province. Mutunda recognized a situation where menstruation has been, and still is a taboo that is dealt with in secrecy, information and knowledge about menstruation and menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls being inadequate as a result.
During the process of the study, however, Mutunda would find that there would need to be a clear focus on the anticipated knowledge gap and the associated traditional cultural factors influencing menstrual hygiene. There was also a strong focus on the socio-economics, both of the girls individually and the schools they attended. The poverty in which they lived meant that the girls had no access to the basic necessities of sanitary towels, instead using torn bits of rags or toilet paper. Even more significantly, a lack of water and sanitation facilities at home and at the schools made even the most basic hygiene practices impossible.