Prof Petra Bester, director of the Africa Unit for Transdisciplinary Health Research (AUTHeR) on the Potchefstroom Campus, says the nationwide lockdown has bought the province time to prepare for the outbreak.


“We are using this very valuable time effectively to place the province in a better position,” she says, adding that it is a great compliment to the NWU that provincial government is drawing on its expertise.


The team was approached for assistance by the NWDoH early in April.


Their task is firstly to predict the course of the virus in the province (epidemiological projections) so that the provincial government can spread resources optimally. Secondly, they are creating a centralised database to identify areas where symptoms are evident for testing and screening purposes.


A Titanic experience


The project has had a profound personal impact on Petra. She says the potential ramifications of the pandemic became frighteningly clear after the team made their first projections about two weeks into lockdown.


“It was a chilling realisation. While people on social media were making light of the virus, we knew that the television scenes of mass graves across the globe could also become a reality in our province.”


She calls it her Titanic experience. “The hull of the ship is damaged and water seeps in. First-line crew works ceaselessly to keep the water out, while the orchestra plays and unwitting guests dance in the dining room. This scene applies to Covid-19.  Only time will tell how big, how fast and how fatal the impact will be.”


The team’s hard work has led to the launch of a community campaign called Cobuntu (Cobuntu: fighting the Covid-19 pandemic through Ubuntu).


Staying positive in tough times


Working on the frontlines of the pandemic can make lockdown an extra lonely time, even when Petra is extremely busy.


“Energy levels fluctuate and traditional working hours and working according to a diary are a thing of the past. Home schooling of my children and housework sometimes come to a standstill.”


She stays motivated by remembering the significant contribution the team is making. “I dedicate myself to helping people reach their full potential in order for us to collectively experience better health.”


She says contact with caring and sincere people when demotivation creeps in has a positive impact on her.


Her advice to staff – and especially women – busy with challenging projects is to be adaptable and take things one step at a time. “No-one is superhuman, and nobody expects that from you.”


Sometimes it helps to take a step back. “Make sense of what is important and reprioritise when you are overwhelmed by a full desk. Be honest with yourself about what is important.”


In this way, she stays focused while coordinating the team as they continue to play their part in overcoming this huge challenge to humanity.

The university’s researchers are making significant contributions in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic in the North West Province.


eish! spoke to Prof Petra Bester, who is coordinating a formidable team of NWU academics, researchers and experts in advising and assisting the North West Department of Health (NWDoH) to prepare for the anticipated peak of Covid-19.


To read more about the NWU’s assistance to the North West Department of Health, follow these links:

Prof Petra Bester says she finds joy in the simple things. “I appreciate God’s Grace, my husband and my sons, humour, a few good friends, Beethoven, lemons from my garden, thyme on my windowsill, an old painting and our basset, Alfons. A special joy is to see how students and colleagues develop and grow in their work."

Researcher steers team against



Petra's team of experts


The NWU’s multidisciplinary team of experts includes various specialists.


Among them are a specialist public health physician (Prof Andrew Robinson), a cardiovascular physiologist (Prof Lanthé Kruger), a digital health expert (Dr Herman Myburgh), a biomedical statistician (Dr Cristian Ricci), a geneticist and ethicist (Prof Wayne Towers) and a molecular virologist (Prof Albie van Dijk).


The other specialists on the team are a physicist and computational modeller (Bertie Seyffert), an environmental virologist (Dr Hazel Mufhandu), an information management specialist (Tertius Bester) and a business administrator (Dr Christi Niesing).


Apart from collaborating with the North West Department of Health, they also work with epidemiologists from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and representatives from MezzanineWare, Britehouse (a division of Dimension Data) and Microsoft South Africa.





Click on each of the four circles in the image above to read more about the activities of the Africa Unit for Transdisciplinary Health Research (AUTHeR) on the Potchefstroom Campus.