Woman in Public Health: Prof Angela Mathee

Prof Angela Mathee Prof Angela Mathee heads the Medical Research Council's Environment & Health Research Unit and her main research interests are exposure to lead amongst South African children and urban housing and health.

What is the nature of your current work?

I work in the field of environmental epidemiology, and I have particular interests in childhood lead poisoning, and urbanization and health.

What career path led you to the position you currently have?

Having not had the benefit of vocational guidance at school, for years I drifted from one job or field to another – nursing, midwifery, food microbiology, biochemistry. I found the field of environmental epidemiology purely by chance, but knew quite early on that it was right for me.

What do you think is the most significant contribution you have made to the field of Public Health?

I was instrumental in raising awareness and facilitating the promulgation of legislation to control the use of lead in paint in South Africa. These measures will afford protection to young South Africans for years to come.

Is there a particular woman in Public Health that inspires you?

There are many; public health stands on the shoulders of many strong South African women, for whom I have great admiration. However, two decades ago Dr Yasmin von Schirnding introduced me to environmental epidemiology, and I will always be grateful to her for that.

What message would you like to give to women who want to make a successful career in Public Health?

There is so much to be done – just make a start.

What do you aspire to see in women in Public Health?

Fulfilling careers that make a difference to the quality of life of our people.

What interesting work are you currently busy with?

I am working on a variety of projects, including the ingestion of non-food substances (such as soil) in pregnant women, climate change, acid mine drainage, hookah pipe smoking, as well as a range of research projects on lead exposure and health.

What are your personal goals in the field of Public Health?

I would like to see much greater collaboration at the early planning phase between the health sector and sectors not directly involved in health, but that play incredibly powerful roles in the determination of public health, such as treasury, planning, housing, transport, water, sanitation etc. This is critical for primary prevention of ill health.

What are the challenges you face in achieving these goals?

Though widely agreed to be fundamentally important for public health, inter-sectoral action remains a challenge that public health workers are struggling with around the world. To be successful I believe we need nothing less than a complete re-orientation of the way we as a society think and plan.

How do you balance work and family?

With lots of juggling and guilt – it is a huge balancing act, and I am never sure that I am getting the balance right!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love visiting South Africa’s national parks, I have a passion for photography, and have recently been inspired to take up jogging, which I am surprised to find that I am thoroughly enjoying.

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3 thoughts on “Woman in Public Health: Prof Angela Mathee

  1. Hi
    Is there any way of taking on duties in public health as I recently relocated to RSA and have since been struggling,if so,where can i start at

    1. Dear Mookho, 

      It might be a good idea to post your question on our forum e.g. at Internships or Working in public health in RSA. http://www.phasa.org.za/forum-home

      Kind regards,


  2. Good morning I just read the info about you. I’m an Environmental Practitioner by profession. I’m currently busy with my btech degree specialising in environmental epidemiology and occupational health and safety. I want to pursue my masters in epidemiology. Which institutions offer such course and in south Africa is it easy to get recognition in terms of employment. And I would also like to get more information about environmental epidemiology

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