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South African doctor receives grant to study at top USA medical school

Press release   •   May 29, 2013 11:45 GMT


  • Award is aimed at strengthening academic medicine and specialist healthcare in South Africa
  • The award will boost South Africa as a leading hub internationally for clinical research
  • Award will enable South African doctors to gain valuable knowledge and experience at a world-class institution

The Discovery Foundation today announced an annual grant for top South African academic doctors to do clinical research and study at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, USA. The new award category is aimed at building global excellence in South African healthcare and supports the South African government’s vision of boosting academic medicine in South Africa. The Discovery Foundation MGH Fellowship Award, which is valued at R2.1 million this year, forms part of the Discovery Foundation’s investment in South African healthcare.

Having already funded the training of over 150 medical and academic specialists in South Africa since 2006, the new award category will give one South African doctor the opportunity every year to learn from global experts and thought leaders. Dr Vincent Maphai, Chairperson of the Discovery Foundation, explains the motivation behind the Discovery Foundation’s investment in academic medicine; “One of the greatest healthcare challenges our country faces is a severe shortage of suitably skilled specialists. A critical link to address this need is academic specialists. This in itself is an area that needs attention and investment. Without a sufficient number of thought leaders and experts to teach our future healthcare specialists and leaders, South Africacannot continue its proud legacy of excellence in healthcare.”

The inaugural Discovery Foundation MGH Fellowship Awardhas been awarded to Dr Neliswa Gogela from the Universityof Cape Town. Dr Gogela specialises in hepatology and is working toward her PhD, and will join the MGH’s world-class research and training programme focusing on liver transplantation. There is currently a severe shortage of hepatologists trained in Advanced Hepatology and liver transplantation in South Africa, as the burden of liver disease and the complexity of available treatments have increased significantly. There is also increasing liver transplant activity in our country and this requires specialised training relating to pre- and peri-operative management and the management of long-term complications. The award will enable Dr Gogela and subsequent recipients to visit Massachusetts GeneralHospital on several occasions and gain first-hand experience in cutting edge medical research in collaboration with the hospital. They will be able to impart and share with their peers their newly acquired knowledge and skills upon their return to South Africa.

According to a report by the Academy of Science for South Africa, the number of qualified academic leaders at South African medical schools has been declining since the early 1990s. This decline has resulted in a growing need for mid-career academic fellowships to link doctoral and post-doctoral academics in our country who are leading medical schools, with world-class institutions.

Dr Jonathan Broomberg, CEO of Discovery Health and a trustee of the Discovery Foundation says, “The Discovery Foundation’s partnership with the Massachusetts GeneralHospital, which has a rich 200-year legacy, will help to boost our diminishing pool of medical academics and develop global experts in the academic healthcare field.”  

“The award will boost South Africa as a leading hub internationally for clinical research and science and will help to develop global experts in the academic healthcare field,” Broomberg continues. “The Massachusetts General Hospitalhas the largest hospital-based research programme in theUSA and is among an elite group of USA hospitals which has a full academic programme that is highly respected across the world.”

Dr David Bangsberg, Director of the Massachusetts GeneralHospital’s Center for Global Health says, “The Center for Global Health is dedicated to excellence and innovation in patient care, teaching and research, and to collaborating with governments and organisations around the world to improve healthcare for the global health community. We are excited about this relationship with the Discovery Foundation and proud to be associated with this award. We expect that this award will have a far-reaching impact on the recipients and on South Africa’s health care system as they benefit from exposure to the programmes at Massachusetts General Hospital.”

About the Discovery Foundation

Discovery is committed to supporting government in addressing the critical shortage of medical graduates and specialist skills, and by doing so, strengthen the South African healthcare system and make affordable, quality healthcare more accessible to more South Africans. In line with this commitment, Discovery launched the Discovery Foundation with a goal in mind – to, through the Discovery Foundation Awards, invest over R100 million in the education and training of 300 medical specialists over a period of 10 years. To date, the Discovery Foundation has invested R84 million in the training and education of 169 medical specialists who were doing their Master’s degrees and PhDs.

About South Africa’s healthcare system

South Africa’s eight medical schools produce only 1 200 medical graduates, which is not enough for serving the healthcare needs of over 50 million South Africans and reducing our disease burden. Furthermore, only 50% of these new graduates choose to remain in South Africa, and out of these remaining graduates, only 3% work in the rural healthcare environment. Compounding this challenge is our ageing, dwindling pool of available medical academics that are able to impart their necessary skills and knowledge on to a new generation of medical students, graduates and specialists, and our low doctor-patient ratio compared to our BRICS counterparts.

The following statistics highlight how critical our doctor shortage is:

South Africa has one of the lowest medical graduate numbers per 10 000 lives each year, with only 0.26 medical graduates to 10 000 lives while Russia has a ratio of 1.11: 10 000, Brazil 0.88: 10 000, and the UK 0.86:10 000 (World Health Statistics 2011).
In terms of available doctors per 10 000 lives, South Africa again has one of the lowest doctor-patient ratios, with 5.5 doctors per 10 000 lives, while Russia has a ratio of 43:10 000, Brazil 17: 10 000 and UK 21: 10 000 (World Health Statistics 2011)

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