By By Dorcas Mhungu
March 2011
Women in Business
MEDICAL practitioners in the biokinetics field all over the world have over the past decade embarked on an awareness campaign to lure more people to join this rare field.

An eye-brow raising fact Prime Focus stumbled upon during an interview with local biokineticist Jackie Retief is that there in not a single black Namibian biokineticist at the moment. The only black biokineticist in Namibia is neither in Windhoek nor is she Namibian.

Faith Tshabalala is a 23 year old South Africa practicing in Ondangwa.

Even for Tshabalala, she did not know what biokinetics was and it was only after she had approached her lecturer at Tswane University in Pretoria, for the meaning of the word that featured in almost all her lectures.

“I was studying sports science at Tswane University of Technology in my first year and the word biokinetics featured in all my lectures. I did not know what it was so I asked my lecturer.”

After the explanation, she got attracted and inspired to take up further studies in biokinetics after successfully completing her sports science degree program.

This marked the beginning of an exciting career for her but one that she yearns for more black colleagues to join. Her internship with Mercedes Benz South Africa further cemented her excitement and dedication to her new found rare profession.

“It was a fantastic set-up where people in the corporate sector put their bodies through so much stress and end up with back-aches, hip problems, knees or shoulder pain. I also worked with people who have had heart attacks. It provided a whole change in mindset in terms of functionality. It was awesome to educate people at such level and extremely rewarding. In a whole year you can change a person’s life and mindset,” Tshabalala explains with an excited intonation.

Boikinetics is a medical profession that specialises in exercise therapy. It uses exercise as a treatment modality in preventative health care, improvement of physical ability, performance enhancement and physical selection, according to a definition on the Biokinetics Association of Namibia (BAN) website.

Retief, who has been in practice in Namibia since 2000 says just a decade ago, there were only three biokineticists in the whole country and the number has steadily increased over the years to over 30 practitioners at the moment. Yet still there is not a single black Namibian practitioner, an astonishing fact.

She says after studying for a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Human Movements, students are selected to the honours program in biokinetics and another year under supervision or as an intern. Upon successful completion of the internship and registering with the Namibia Health Professions Council, the graduates can start practicing.

The rarity and scarcity of these professionals in Namibia, has prompted the formation of an association of biokinetics in Namibia whose main aim is to raise awareness among the youths. The members have also set up a fund to finance selected students undertaking studies in biokinetics.

Commenting on the yawning absence of black Namibian biokineticists, Retief who is the secretary of the Biokinetics Association of Namibia (BAN) says, “It would be fantastic to have one who speaks the local languages for ease of communication.”

Over the years, more energy has been spent on raising awareness including inviting schools to learn more about this unique career.

Outlining some of the areas where biokinetics is employed, Retief says in developed countries where there are professional sports teams, biokineticists work with teams in fitness testing and conditioning.

She was involved with the rugby team in Namibia that went to the last World Cup in France. Interestingly, Retief notes, the profession is pursued mostly by people who are active, confirming this writer’s admiration of the way she energetically carried herself despite her advanced pregnancy.

Biokineticists work in close collaboration with medical doctors. Patients first go to physiotherapists to address their swellings and pain management. Biokineticists handle the strengthening part of the medical condition as well as “putting them back into the playing field”.

Retief stresses that each exercise program is specifically and scientifically designed for each individual. The most common ailments dealt with are chronic lower back pain as a result of bad sitting postures or jobs and tasks that cause back pain. She said the majority of people are not aware that wrong sitting or standing postures can result in mechanical pain that can also result from tasks that require repeated bending and picking up objects.

Biokineticists also address problems that are structurally defective and that irritate the nerve system and resultantly give pain to other parts of the body.

Says Retief, “We strengthen the muscle and correct the way you sit on your desk. She explains how bad postures for example can tip the economies of scale in profitable production.

“The more pain the less you use that part of the body. The less injuries at work means, more work can be done and the less sick days are booked. Companies will then save on medical expenses and absenteeism.”

In recent years, corporate Namibia has invested in gyms at work places in response to calls for corporate wellness campaigns. Biokineticists also evaluate employees’ health by doing medical procedures like cholesterol screening, checking blood pressure, and body composition.

Analysis of a company’s work station is also done to facilitate proper work stations that minimise injuries at work. Recommendations of proper sitting postures is also emphasised as well as recommending employees to wear the correct shoe heel height.

Retief underscores the need to change to healthy lifestyles as it plays a vital role towards health. She quotes the South Africa Diabetes Association, which states that diabetes cases in Africa have increased at a faster rate than HIV, putting a question mark on African diets and lifestyles. For Retief, it is sad that the traditional foods have been shelved and abandoned for less healthy fast foods.

The two practicing biokineticists interviewed exudes enthusiasm and confidence in their fields but for Tshabalala; “My profession intimidates men especially those that want to have romantic relationships. When you tell them what you are they stare at you with blank faces and some don’t even bother to ask what it means.”

Being a black biokineticist in a field that does not have anyone who speaks the major indigenous languages like Oshiwambo, Damara, Silozi and Otjiherero has been the greatest challenge.

“Besides that, some patients think because you are a black woman, you are not competent enough. You have to work an extra mile to win the confidence but those that question your ability are the most grateful when you prove yourself,” she says.

Her most defining moment is when stroke patients with either a hand drop, leg drop or neck facing the other way begins to function normal after her therapy.

And yet above all this, the idea that she is the only one of her nature in this field, in a foreign land hurts her. She yearns for more ice breakers in biokinetics, just like herself. PF