Medical scientist spreads knowledge

2016-11-30 06:00
Medical laboratory scientist, Ahfieyah Agherdien, at Life Mercantile Hospital's CliniLab. Photo: SASHIKA PILLAY

Medical laboratory scientist, Ahfieyah Agherdien, at Life Mercantile Hospital's CliniLab. Photo: SASHIKA PILLAY

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SHE has been in the medical field for over 40 years and spends hours in a laboratory contributing to the advancement of Haematology in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Ahfieyah Agherdien (62), a medical laboratory scientist, believes in empowering others through sharing knowledge.

With her white lab coat and sterile gloves on, Agherdien enters CliniLab at Life Mercantile Hospital, where she trains staff and works as a consultant. She also assesses laboratories for two South African accreditation bodies.

After matriculating from Gelvandale High School in 1971, Agherdien studied medical technology at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).

“I grew up in the apartheid era. I was actually the first non-white girl in the field of medical technology in PE,” she said.

Since apartheid was in effect, Agherdien had to write her exams in a separate examination room at the Bethelsdorp Community Centre while her peers wrote their exams at the university.

The medical technology lectures were mainly held at the South African Institute for Medical Research (SAIMR) which is now known as the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS).

“It was tough. Sometimes we couldn’t go to lectures,” Agherdien said. “If it was at the SAIMR, we could attend, but if the lectures were at the university, we couldn’t attend because of apartheid.”

Agherdien managed to pass her exams and graduated with her first diploma. She married at the age of 22, and continued studying towards two more diplomas related to medical technology.

While Agherdien, a mother of three, was pursuing her final diploma, she had to wait until her children were asleep in the evenings before she could study.

“I used to put them to bed, and at 12 in the morning I would study. My best time to study was after fajr salaah,” she said.

It was one of her desires to visit the Middle East with her husband once her youngest daughter, Aaisha Agherdien, was settled at university. However, in 2006, Agherdien’s husband, Abduragiem Agherdien, passed away while their daughter was in Grade 9.

In 2008, Agherdien was unexpectedly offered an opportunity to visit the Middle East. Through presenting numerous research papers at congresses in South Africa, she was invited by Roche Diagnostics International to submit a research proposal in Turkey.

Agherdien’s proposal involved a study on the impact of HIV on a certain disease. This led to the completion of a Masters in Biomedical Technology where she specialised in Haematology.

One of her most life-changing experiences was also in 2008, on a 23-day tour to five countries in the Middle East. She was still in the process of completing her research proposal, but since she had always wanted to visit different parts of the Middle East, she decided to go.

“I went to Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt on the tour,” she said.

What stood out for her, was the simplicity of the Syrians. She described them as honest and true to their word.

“I managed to see a beautiful Syria and I loved the people thereof as they symbolised the essence of living Islam and not just uttering it,” she said. “I have now got that same motto - be your word. That’s what I found in them.”

On December 26, 2008, Agherdien was in Jerusalem, on her way to Bethlehem when her tour guide announced there had been a bombing in Gaza. Israeli warplanes pounded the Gaza Strip which resulted in the death of hundreds of Palestinians.

“I will not forget it,” she said. “The first time they bombed Gaza in 2008, I was there.”

“When we got back to the Old City where we were staying, everything was closed. All the shops were closed in solidarity with the people of Gaza,” Agherdien added.

Her heart broke for the Palestinians and she described the current situation in Gaza as heartbreaking.

Agherdien believes in serving the community which is why she participates in organising various seminars and community events.

She is a member of the Muslim Women’s Network (MWN) where she held the position of secretary for four years and was the chairperson for six years.

Agherdien was a presenter on IFM Community Radio where she started the Women of Worth (WOW) programme with Zulaikha Amod in 2008.

“I’ve always said that if I didn’t do this, my next job would have been journalism because when I did the WOW programme, I enjoyed interviewing people.”

Agherdien is on the board of the Gelvan Park Frail Care Home and she is currently busy with preparations for the home’s annual fete which takes place on Saturday, November, 26.

She is part of the South African Haemophilia Foundation and has presented many research papers for the foundation. She was awarded the Alexander trophy for outstanding contribution in the field of Haematology last year.

As part of her work as a medical laboratory scientist, Agherdien travels regularly to various countries in Africa including Ghana, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Botswana, and Nigeria.

“I’ve been able to become a specialist in my field. I believe that it is very important to share your knowledge.”

Agherdien remarried in 2014 to Sharief Bedford (66) and they currently reside in Parkside. Although she plans to start slowing down and spend more time at home, she has a strong desire to continue assisting others.

“I feel like I still have a lot to give. One must not put restrictions on oneself because of age,” she said.

“While I can be of benefit through community work or at work, I will do so.”

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