Scientist and humanitarian Diantha Pillay (32) has dedicated her research in public health to improving the health and wellbeing of the most marginalised members of society, including sex workers, adolescent girls and young women. Her passions and her personality enable her to continuously seek out ways in which research can inform practice and policy for the betterment of society.
Having studied at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, she holds a BSc, majoring in biomedical science, an honours degree in medical science, majoring in medical biochemistry with a focus on environmental toxicology, and a masters in public health focusing on epidemiology and biostatistics. She is currently reading towards her PhD in public health at the University of Cape Town, looking at the intersections between environmental health and adolescent sexual development.
Pillay has 10 years of experience in research (on topics such as biomedical, clinical, operational and social science research on HIV/Aids and tuberculosis, female and reproductive health and safer conception).
In addition, she is a programme manager in the implementation science portfolio of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, managing the Optimising Prevention Technologies Introduction on Schedule programme which focuses on providing technical support to the government and other stakeholders for the roll-out of new HIV/Aids prevention methods, with a particular focus on adolescent girls and young women.
The programme provides the Department of Health with technical assistance for the provision of oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to populations most in need such as sex workers, adolescent girls and young women.
High on her priorities, Pillay believes in translating research into action, and has led two key pieces of research on the implant contraceptive and oral PrEP, that has had impact on a national level. Furthermore, she led another key research focusing on factors associated with initiation, continuation and discontinuation of oral PrEP in South Africa amongst sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Through her engagement with the national Department of Health’s PrEP technical working group, Pillay communicated research findings which resulted in changes in national programming. She also presented the research findings during an oral presentation at the 2018 Aids Conference in Amsterdam, as well as the South African HIV Clinicians Society Conference of that year, which was the second international workshop on HIV and adolescents.
In December 2018, she won the executive director’s leadership award from the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV in recognition of her work.
Beyond her formal work commitments, Pillay belongs to a faith-based group that focuses on safeguarding children in religious environments. She works actively with the group to develop policies and educate parents, children and other members of society on how to protect children from harm. — Linda Doke