Leading up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, we’re sharing the stories of many womxn researchers working in ASSET. Today University of Cape Town-based Dr Zulfa Abrahams shares her journey by answering a few questions.

Dr Zulfa Abrahams presenting her research.

How did you become interested in research?

I worked for many years as a community dietician at the SA Heart and Stroke Foundation. My role included managing the primary school programme which entailed educating young children about a healthy lifestyle with regards to healthy eating, regular exercise, and no smoking. About 12 years after working as a dietician, I met some researchers from the Medical Research Council while attending a conference. Some time later they asked me to collaborate on a school based intervention study. My collaboration, and later involvement in the HealthKick study started my journey in research.
Describe your research career thus far?
During the time I collaborated on the HealthKick study, the PI on the study (who became my mentor) encouraged me to complete an MPH. I enrolled at UCT and completed an MPH, specializing in epidemiology in 3 years. During that time I moved to the HSRC where I worked on a national nutrition survey (SANHANES). My mentor encouraged me to complete a PhD and introduced me to some researchers in the Dept of Medicine who were at the end of a longitudinal study looking at the metabolic complications of ART in HIV positive patients. Using my newly acquired statistical skills, I used secondary data analysis to complete a PhD in 3 years. After completing my PhD I joined PMHP where I first started working on maternal mental health. 18 months later, with my maternal mental health knowledge, I joined the ASSET study as the Project Manager.
Why do you think research in your field is important?
I chose to work in public health because I wanted to help those who were the most vulnerable. I believe that working in public mental health improves the quality of life for many living in significant distress. As a mental health researcher, I enjoy contributing to building resilient communities with reduced levels of mental health stigma and discrimination.
What is one thing you want to see changed between now and this time next year?
Decreased stigma around mental health issues!