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Discovery Foundation awards R16 million to public sector doctors in 2021

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Discovery Foundation awards R16 million to public sector doctors in 2021

The Discovery Foundation has awarded over R16 million in research and training grants to some of South Africa’s top doctors, researchers and future healthcare leaders in 2021.

Addressing the critical shortage of medical graduates and specialist skills

The Discovery Foundation is an independent trust that aims to address the shortages and quality of healthcare in rural and underserved areas in South Africa.

“Research by the Discovery Foundation in 2019 tells us that in South Africa, there are seven specialists per 100 000 population in the public sector and 69 per 100 000 population in the private sector, with an average national level of 16.5 per 100 000,” explains Dr Vincent Maphai, Chairperson of the Discovery Foundation.

To help address this problem, the Discovery Foundation has to date invested over R300 million in grants to support academic medicine through research, development and the training of nearly 500, predominantly black, medical specialists in the public sector.

The grants include scholarships, bursaries, research fellowships, and support for teaching and research institutions to strengthen the country’s healthcare workforce, particularly in rural areas that have a critical need of medical specialists.

“Our 2021 contribution of R16 million is an enormous contribution, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 that emphasised the critical shortage of healthcare professionals more profoundly than ever,” says Discovery’s Head of Corporate Sustainability, Ruth Lewin.

The grants will help boost academic, specialist and rural medicine in areas of critical need, including mental healthcare, anaesthesiology, and mother and child health.

“The Foundation believes that our country’s doctors are in a unique position to solve some of the most perplexing health and clinical challenges we face as a country. By giving our healthcare professionals the opportunity to learn and grow, we can facilitate a homegrown response to some of the world’s most challenging health problems,” Dr Maphai adds.

Announcing the 2021 Discovery Foundation Awards

The Discovery Foundation MGH Fellowship Award was first introduced in 2013 in partnership with the prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) – the largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School based in Boston in the United States.

The Discovery Foundation MGH Fellowship Award aims to develop the next generation of leaders in academic and clinical medicine in South Africa. The award provides support for mid-career clinical specialists committed to pursuing a career in academic medicine through a fellowship programme that links medical scientists based at South African medical schools with leaders in clinical science at this world-class medical institution.

The 2020/21 MGH Fellow Dr Sumy Thomas is now halfway through her year-long medical residency. She is exploring how HIV and antiretroviral medicine affect the endocrine system.

The 11 Rural Individual Awards support the training and development of specialists for rural and underserved areas, including medical registrars and senior doctors:

  1. Dr Funeka Pandelani is researching the impact of chronic pain on the quality of life of patients in the Tshwane District.
  2. Dr Meghan van der Linde-Brown seeks to understand how healthcare workers and patients in Oudtshoorn view mental healthcare.
  3. Dr Pfunzo Machimana is auditing the Road to Health booklet, a potentially powerful primary healthcare tool, in Hammanskraal.
  4. Dr Andrew Wilkins wants to make childbirth safer for mothers and their children in rural Eastern Cape.
  5. Dr Siobhan Booysen is exploring the link between drug use and psychosis in the Eastern Cape.
  6. Second-year anaesthesiology registrar Dr Abongile Sukwana wants to understand why patients in Mthatha cancel elective surgery.
  7. Dr Ncumisa Sabona wants to upskill junior doctors in anaesthesiology in Mthatha.
  8. Dr Pierre-Andre Mans is exploring what ultrasound skills a district-level doctor should have.
  9. Dr Tebogo Thaba aims to educate patients in Hammanskraal about the referral system.
  10. Dr Marine Beltran is studying patient responses to treatment and the course of catatonia in an acute mental health unit in the Eastern Cape.
  11. Dr Yakheka Dyasi aims to find solutions to burnout syndrome in anaesthesiology registrars.

The three Rural Institutional Awards give a one-year grant to an institution that supports training and capacity development in rural and underserved areas:

  1. Ms Stasha Jordan will use the infrastructure and capacity of the South African Breastmilk Reserve to test donated blood for HIV and hepatitis B.
  2. Dr Leigh Wagner will continue training healthcare workers in Khayelitsha on how to educate patients about diabetes.
  3. Dr Joleen Cairncross will continue to empower and train healthcare workers in the Western Cape on lifestyle diseases.

The seven Academic Fellowship Awards promote research-focused training in academic medicine to develop more clinician scientists in South Africa:

  1. Dr Sikhumbuzo Mbatha is investigating the link between HIV, HPV and oesophageal cancer.
  2. Dr Zozo Nene is doing a PhD focusing on the scarcity of local infertility data.
  3. Dr Tumelo M Satekge’s research focuses on improving the screening, diagnosis and clinical outcomes of infants born with galactosaemia.
  4. Dr Fikile Mabena aims to find the causes of invasive infections in infants.
  5. Dr Liesl de Waard is developing a website and app dedicated to C-section teaching.
  6. Dr Meryl Oyomnois investigating the genetic factors that may cause colon cancer.
  7. Dr Tshegofatso Mabelane’s PhD research focuses on understanding the mechanisms of asthma in people with HIV.

The four Sub-specialist Awards promote training, research and development in health faculties in South Africa:

  1. Dr Phelisa Sogayise is sub-specialising in nephrology, a critically scarce skill in South Africa’s public health sector.
  2. Dr Linda Tangayi aims to fill the yawning maternal foetal medicine skills gap with her sub-specialisation.
  3. Dr Akhona Kama will become the first urogynaecologist in the Eastern Cape in 2023.
  4. Dr Hamida van Staaden is sub-specialising in paediatric oncology at Frere Hospital in the Eastern Cape.

The five Distinguished Visitor Awards help specialists to mentor young doctors in under-resourced hospitals and to contribute to their training:

  1. Prof Hoffie Conradie will continue supporting fifth-year medical students at the Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha.
  2. Dr Tom Boyles will supervise young doctors and clinical associates, teaching them the ins and outs of managing difficult HIV patient disease profiles.
  3. Dr Errol Visser aims to upskill emergency responders at Dr Harry Surtie Hospital and its clinic network.
  4. Dr Tebogo Moabelo-Monareng has invited private-sector ophthalmologists to supervise and train medical officers and registrars at Mankweng Hospital.
  5. Dr Jonathan De Pons will set up an eye clinic with outreach services at Dr Harry Surtie Hospital in Upington.

In 2020, the Discovery Foundation awarded 14 Rural Individual Awards, five Rural Institutional Awards, six Academic Fellowship Awards, seven Sub-Specialist Awards and five Distinguished Visitor Awards to the total value of R24.5 million. It was a bittersweet occasion, as the awards ceremony was delayed due to COVID-19.

Discovery Foundation alumni have a far-reaching and profound impact on society

Lewin explains how the Discovery Foundation selects its grant recipients.

“The beneficiaries are largely postgraduates, especially PhD or doctoral support individuals that are able to make the greatest impact in reaching the National Development Plan’s enabling milestone of ensuring that skilled, technical, professional and managerial posts are fulfilled, and which better reflect the country’s racial, gender and disability makeup,” she says.

“When you read about the alumni of the Discovery Foundation, it is humbling to think about just how valuable their contribution to South African society is – and will be – in the future,” she adds.

“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into stark reality the critical shortage of healthcare professionals in the public health sector. One of the most significant insights from this unexpected event was exposing and shining a light on healthcare systems globally. For South Africa, it was an indicator of our healthcare capabilities and an unveiling of what works, and what needs to work better. But it also highlighted the impact of the work that is pushing us towards positive change.

“I am pleased to see the long-term impact of the Discovery Foundation. With nearly 500 alumni to date, the contribution is far-reaching and profound.”

Please find the attached 2020/2021 Discovery Foundation book for more information about each recipient.




Discovery information

About Discovery Ltd

Discovery Limited is a South African-founded financial services organisation that operates in the healthcare, life insurance, short-term insurance, savings and investment, and wellness markets. Since inception in 1992, Discovery has been guided by a clear core purpose – to make people healthier and to enhance and protect their lives. This has manifested in its globally recognised Vitality Shared-value Insurance model, active in over 35 markets with over 20 million members. The model is exported and scaled through the Global Vitality Network, an alliance of some of the largest insurers across key markets, including Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America and South America.

In 2021, Vitality Health International (VHI) introduced shared-value health insurance to employer groups operating in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia, as well as Travel for Treatment service to the rest of Africa.

Discovery trades on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange as DSY. Discovery Group is the holding company of Vitality Group in the USA and of Vitality UK.

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