Rhodes University PhD graduate on a quest to reduce the health burden

Dr Yolande Ikala Openda celebrates her achievement. Photo cred: Uyanda Ntloko.
Dr Yolande Ikala Openda celebrates her achievement. Photo cred: Uyanda Ntloko.

By Nizole Qete


Recently graduated with her PhD, Dr Yolande Ikala Openda, is a Rhodes University PhD science graduate in Chemistry. Dr Openda was born in Kole in the central part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is the oldest in a modern family of five consisting of four girls and one boy.

Dr Openda describes her late mother as her source of inspiration, constantly reminding her about the importance of education and humanity from an early age. “Yolande, a sense of humanity and education should be your only boyfriend, father, and mother; it is the only way you can become fully independent and respected in this society where women are not worthy”, she said her mother would say.

Dr Openda said her mother's words had been rooted in her heart as she navigated through her academic journey from a tender age to finally being a doctorate graduate. She followed her name's meaning (Yolande means strong). She remained strong despite the challenges she encountered in her academic journey. “I had to constantly remind myself that the aim is to get the red gown before returning home. Also, I have my family and an entire territory looking up to me,” she said.  

Her PhD thesis focused on developing a technique that could successfully deliver drugs to cancerous areas catering primarily for breast cancer without affecting healthy tissue, thus avoiding the detrimental effects of treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy. She also developed dual-action drugs that can be used for cancer treatment and antibiotics. She described the rapidly increasing multidrug resistance toward commonly used drugs against chronic infections and breast cancer as her motivation for developing dual-action drugs.

“I am grateful to my supervisor Distinguished Professor Tebello Nyokong and her research team for their exceptional support and guidance. The three main things I will remember from her are: know how to stand on your own – self-development, perseverance and excellence,” she explained.

She further stated that some analysis instruments and resources were needed to pursue her project. Her research was made possible because their research group had all the specialised equipment, infrastructure, and resources that enabled her to conduct her research smoothly.

 She quoted a quote by a French novelist to describe the kind of work that she does, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” She said her project generated new knowledge by applying existing knowledge and methodologies in the health field. Speaking on the benefits of her research for society, she said that the study is linked to socio-economic benefits, namely the reduction in health and financial burden resulting from chronic wounds, for South Africa.

Currently, Dr Openda is pursuing a postdoctoral researcher position in Professor Nyokong’s Lab at the Institute of Nanotechnology and Innovation at Rhodes University.