Hamilton Naki Fellow sets his sights on Improving Mental Health in KwaZulu-NatalGeneral

New Head of UKZN’s Department of Psychiatry, Professor Bonga Chiliza.New Head of UKZN’s Department of Psychiatry, Professor Bonga Chiliza.

A former recipient of the prestigious Hamilton Naki Research Fellowship and the CINP Rafaelsen Young Investigators Award, Professor Bonga Chiliza, has been appointed Head of UKZN’s Department of Psychiatry.

Chiliza returned to his alma mater to take office on the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine campus at the beginning of this month.

Previously, he served as an Associate Professor at Stellenbosch University and Senior Specialist Psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry at Tygerberg Hospital.

Chiliza is passionate about improving mental health and was inspired as a young fourth year UKZN Medical student serving in local hospitals. He said he found patients with mental illnesses interesting after seeing many with severe psychotic problems improve significantly after treatment.

‘I thought it would be rewarding to work with people with serious mental illnesses and I hoped that by helping them I would get great job satisfaction,’ said Chiliza. ‘As I got to know more about psychiatry, I realised that the brain is really the final frontier in medical discovery. We are yet to discover so many things about how it works and becomes ill. The study of neurosciences is definitely where all the exciting discoveries are at the moment.’

His research interests include schizophrenia, consultation-liaison psychiatry, health services and medical education. He has authored more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and also served on a number of NGO boards, including the SA YMCA, Life Choices and Harambee.

Chiliza has a vision to ensure the provision of responsive and accountable psychiatry to the people of KwaZulu-Natal. ‘We will continue to improve the teaching and learning of psychiatry by both undergraduate and postgraduate students. I am looking forward to participating in the College of Health Science’s and KZN Department of Health’s Decentralised Clinical Training Platform. We will focus on strengthening primary health and district mental health services so we can deliver the services to our people.’

Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Professor Jonathan Burns, Chiliza will continue to enhance clinical research by increasing collaboration with other departments, particularly those at universities in Africa. ‘There are a number young African psychiatrists who are doing amazing research with very limited resources in places like Ibadan, Nigeria and Makerere University in Uganda.’

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Health Sciences and Acting Dean of the School of Clinical Medicine, Professor Rob Slotow, said: ‘I am very pleased to welcome Bonga back to the UKZN family and wish him every success in his new position.’

MaryAnn Francis