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App revolutionises patient record keeping

Dr Robin Dyers

Dr Robin Dyers, a registrar in Public Health at Stellenbosch University, coordinated a multi-disciplinary team that developed a software application called the Electronic Continuity of Care Record (eCCR).

This new app, designed to prevent red tape and simplify patient record keeping, won the category for Collaboratively Reimagining Healthcare at the Inclusive Healthcare Innovation Summit, which is an initiative of the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business.

Unique business model offers affordable IVF

Dr Thabo Matsaseng

Using a novel model, Dr Thabo Matsaseng, a fertility expert with the Department Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), is able to offer in vitro fertilisation (IVF) services at a fraction of the price charged by private clinics.

IVF treatment is not covered by medical aid and has until recently been a treatment only the wealthy could afford. But using this simple model, the fertility unit at Tygerberg Hospital is able to charge between R6 000 and R7 000 for a cycle of IVF treatment, compared to the average R25 000 to R35 000 charged in the private sector. Only two other university hospitals in the country offer partially subsidised IVF treatment, however these prices are almost on par with that of private clinics.

 

Unique business model offers affordable IVF

Dr Thabo Matsaseng

Using a novel model, Dr Thabo Matsaseng, a fertility expert with the Department Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), is able to offer in vitro fertilisation (IVF) services at a fraction of the price charged by private clinics.

IVF treatment is not covered by medical aid and has until recently been a treatment only the wealthy could afford. But using this simple model, the fertility unit at Tygerberg Hospital is able to charge between R6 000 and R7 000 for a cycle of IVF treatment, compared to the average R25 000 to R35 000 charged in the private sector. Only two other university hospitals in the country offer partially subsidised IVF treatment, however these prices are almost on par with that of private clinics.

“It appears as a paradox that in a developing country, where there are so many children without parents, that you want to offer cheap IVF,” says Matsaseng, who recently became the head of Reproductive Medicine Unit, taking over from Prof Thinus Kruger, who retired at the end of 2013. According to him the incidence of infertility in developing countries is almost double (30%) that of affluent countries (15%).  This high rate is mostly due to tubal damage caused by untreated sexually transmitted infections and/or poorly managed septic miscarriages, he says.

“The impact of infertility among this group of women can be catastrophic – the majority of them are either isolated or they are alienated from society and they suffer a lot of emotional, physical and sexual abuse,” says Matsaseng. Some cultures see it as a big problem when a couple can’t conceive and men will try to prove their manhood through infidelity, putting both of them at risk of sexually transmitted infections including HIV.

“It is paramount to establish at least some sort of system that is not too expensive so that people are able to access treatment and to try and minimise the stigma around infertility, and hopefully also reduce HIV infections in the process,” says Matsaseng.

In 2008 he left his private obs-gynae practice in KwaZulu-Natal to sub-specialise in fertility at the FMHS. “In my practice I saw many women struggling to conceive, I witnessed their battles and desperation, and it frustrated me that I couldn’t do anything except to refer them with a hope that they will get necessary assistance,” admits Matsaseng. He knew many of them would not be able to afford IVF and came to Stellenbosch to figure out a way to help these women.

He started by taking a critical look at the process of IVF treatment to see where they could reduce costs. First they cut down on human resources and shared more responsibilities among themselves to save money that would have gone towards staff salaries. Instead of having an IVF co-ordinator to book and confirm appointments, they communicate with patients using SMS, in that way limiting their administrative costs. And through a public-private interaction with the Aevitas Clinic in Pinelands they save on the price of consumables and certain laboratory services.

He also made some changes to the treatment process itself. Generally a patient would receive a large amount of hormone therapy (medication) to produce as many eggs as possible, but in their model they use less hormone therapy (medication) to produce less, but still a sufficient amount of eggs.  When harvesting the eggs he uses local anaesthesia and conscious sedation, instead of the general practice of placing the patient under anaesthesia that requires theatre time and an anaesthetist.

At almost a quarter of the price of private IVF their success rate is fairly acceptable – they have a 25% to 30% success rate compared to the 35% to 40% achieved by their private colleagues.

The low-cost IVF programme at Tygerberg Hospital has been running for more than four years, and they service between 100 and 120 patients per annum.

But even at that low cost it is still not accessible to everyone, says Matsaseng who is always looking for ways to save costs and perfecting a workable IVF business model that can be rolled out to the rest of the underserved communities in the country.

By: Wilma Stassen

 

App revolutionises patient record keeping


Dr Robin Dyers

Dr Robin Dyers, a registrar in Public Health at Stellenbosch University, coordinated a multi-disciplinary team that developed a software application called the Electronic Continuity of Care Record (eCCR).

This new app, designed to prevent red tape and simplify patient record keeping, won the category for Collaboratively Reimagining Healthcare at the Inclusive Healthcare Innovation Summit, which is an initiative of the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business.

The eCCR was developed by the Western Cape Department of Health and is a ground breaking and easy-to-use app which provides an abstract of the patient’s stay in hospital, as well as a description of the journey to achieving a desired health outcome.

"The eCCR not only adds value to patients by improving their chances of achieving desired health outcomes, but also adds value to the critical support services within the Department of Health. It provides information that will inform the allocation of resources without placing additional information collection burden on frontline healthcare personnel," said Dyers, who is also with the Health Impact Assessment Unit of the Western Cape Department of Health.

Medical records are an integral element of sound professional practice, and one of the most vital documents is the Continuity of Care Record, which tracks a patient’s progress through the system an allows for seamless transfer to other healthcare providers.

But poor record keeping is rife in South Africa and can be a major frustration for those working in public healthcare. Another headache for the healthcare professional is missing or inaccurate International Classification of Disease (ICD) codes, which are required when discharging patients from public hospitals in the Western Cape.

A big part of the value of the eCCR database for clinicians is that it can be used to audit the quality of care, and draw up disease profiles. The programme is also very intuitive and requires only a 20-minute orientation for those who will be using it in the field.

The eCCR is currently being tested at the Groote Schuur Hospital and initial results are encouraging: primary discharge ICD code coverage went up from 10% to 100% in a sample of 40 records.

Since the eCCR software is generic and scalable, it could easily be implemented at other healthcare facilities that have access to computers and printers.


Edited version of an article by Gus Silber, courtesy of Health Innovator's Review, Inclusive Healthcare Innovation, Bertha Centre for Social Innovation, UCT Graduate School of Business

 

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Innovative IT system solves campus computer woes

At the launch of the BYOD were, from left, Mr Helmi Dreijer, Sr Director IT (SU), Prof Marietjie de Villiers, Vice Dean: Education, Mr Eben Mouton, Director: Business Management and Mr David Wiles, Manager: Gerga

Student intake at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences has increased considerably over the last five years, and with more than 70 percent of exams being completed electronically, the faculty’s computer users area, known as GERGA, have been under considerable pressure.

Until now, large groups of students had to be divided into smaller groups in order to write exams on the 148 workstations available at GERGA. This resulted in the facility being closed for the entire day to other students needing to use the area for general work.

“We considered expanding GERGA’s capacity by adding additional computers, but it wouldn’t be very cost effective as many of the computers will stand idle and unused for more than 60 percent of the time. The additional infrastructure, such as furniture, power, networking and air-conditioning, et cetera, required for these extra computers effectively quadruples the cost of the physical computer,” says GERGA manager, David Wiles.

Hackers find solutions for health issues

Participants discussing problems and outcomes of their proposals at South Africa's first Health Hackathon, hosted by UCT Graduate school of Business.

Dr Robin Dyers, a registrar in Community Health at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University, led his team of “hackers” to win second place in South Africa’s first Health Hackathon, hosted by the Bertha Centre at UCT Graduate School of Business.

The team, consisting of a programme developer, a technologist, a researcher and a clinician, “hacked” the problem of long waiting times for elective surgery in the Western Cape by designing a web-based patient prioritisation application, that also earned them the awards for “Best Health System Strengthening Innovation” and “Most Scalable Innovation”.

Although originally hacking referred to breaching network security to access protected information, nowadays hackathons are being held to find digital solutions to everyday problems using computer technology.


 

 

Innovative IT system solves campus computer woes

At the launch of th BYOD were, from left, Mr Helmi Dreijer, Sr Director IT (SU), Prof Marietjie de Villiers, Vice Dean: Education,
Mr Eben Mouton, Director: Business Management and Mr David Wiles, Manager: Gerga

Student intake at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences has increased considerably over the last five years, and with more than 70 percent of exams being completed electronically, the faculty’s computer users area, known as GERGA, have been under considerable pressure.

Until now, large groups of students had to be divided into smaller groups in order to write exams on the 148 workstations available at GERGA. This resulted in the facility being closed for the entire day to other students needing to use the area for general work.

“We considered expanding GERGA’s capacity by adding additional computers, but it wouldn’t be very cost effective as many of the computers will stand idle and unused for more than 60 percent of the time. The additional infrastructure, such as furniture, power, networking and air-conditioning, et cetera, required for these extra computers effectively quadruples the cost of the physical computer,” says GERGA manager, David Wiles.

In 2012 GERGA personnel started looking for creative solutions to the capacity issue, and a new technology, through which students could complete exams using their own portable devices, was identified. It was discovered that more than half of all the students at the Tygerberg campus had their own devices, such as laptops and tablets.

Security and compatibility concerns around this system, called Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, were addressed by hardware (Pivot3 vSTAC) and software (Enterasays) installations allowing for Virtual Desktop Integration (VDI), where a desktop operating system is hosted within a virtual machine on a central server.

In June 2013, work started on converting the fifth-floor exam room into a WiFi hotspot capable of delivering 300+ virtual desktops to the Tygerberg students during exams, and at the same time there were extensive renovations done to the outdated GERGA network.

The system was first put to the test when the first-year students arrived for registration this year. All the new students had to use a virtual desktop that had been already set up on the GERGA computers, and used the environment to e-register, set their passwords and complete their orientation tasks.

“The exercise was very successful and proved a very helpful ‘baptism of fire’ for the GERGA personnel,” says Wiles.

The BYOD system was officially launched on March 6, and has received overwhelming positive feedback from users.

The BYOD system has the following capabilities:
•    Delivers 700 virtual Windows desktops to Windows, Apple, Android and Linux devices.
•    Restricts access exclusively to students writing exams.
•    There is no copy-paste facility between the VDI desktop and the student device.
•    Students cannot access external hard drives and USB flash disks or printers connected to their devices.
•    Offers full endpoint security at the wireless points that block any software that can be used to attack or compromise the university network security.

According to Wiles there are already plans to replace all the old GERGA computers with “thin clients” (terminals only) running VDI, which will result in considerable power and cost saving for the faculty.

The system also allows for:
•    Personnel to run VDI on their old computers which will allow up-to-date software to be run easily.
•    Customised desktops for unique training or exam environments to be created and delivered to individual groups.
•    The provision of an “ad hoc” wireless network for visitors. Special desktops can also be delivered to personnel and will remain the same even if they change devices.
•    The high-speed wireless network is capable of delivering class notes and learning materials directly to student devices, resulting in a reduction of printing out of notes.

By David Wiles

 

Hackers find solutions for health issues

Participants discussing problems and outcomes of their proposals at South Africa's First Health Hackathon, hosted by UCT Graduate school of Buisness.

Dr Robin Dyers, a registrar in Community Health at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University, led his team of “hackers” to win second place in South Africa’s first Health Hackathon, hosted by the Bertha Centre at UCT Graduate School of Business.

The team, consisting of a programme developer, a technologist, a researcher and a clinician, “hacked” the problem of long waiting times for elective surgery in the Western Cape by designing a web-based patient prioritisation application, that also earned them the awards for “Best Health System Strengthening Innovation” and “Most Scalable Innovation”.

Although originally hacking referred to breaching network security to access protected information, nowadays hackathons are being held to find digital solutions to everyday problems using computer technology.

Each team taking part in the hackathon had 25 hours in which to solve its health problem and develop a working prototype, which had to be presented to judges the following day.

According to Dyers there were solutions for all types of health and health-system problems, including waiting times, patient satisfaction and diabetes monitoring. The organisers awarded each of the teams prizes based on particular qualities of the solutions and presentations, but only three teams, of which Dyers’ was one, went through to the final round which was held at the Inclusive Healthcare Innovation Summit in Cape Town.

A team that developed an Emergency Centre Tracker to assist emergency centre staff with triaging took first place, with Dyers’ team in second place, and in third place was a team that developed solutions for healthcare staff evaluation via cellphone and innovating ways of managing elective surgery waiting lists.

“The Hackathon proved a challenging and stimulating example of how, in a relatively short period of time, by applying varied skills and intense concentration, health care problems, which, in the normal course, would take many months, even years, to work through, might effectively and expeditiously, be addressed and solved,” says Dyers.
 

By Wilma Stassen

 

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New Driving Simulator

The USeBenzA Assessment Centre at the Division of Occupational Therapy recently launched their newly acquired driving simulator.

“The Faculty’s vision is to enhance health in South Africa and beyond,” said Prof Nico Gey van Pittius, Deputy Dean: Research at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the launch. “Our aim is to address the country’s quadruple burden of disease [HIV and TB, mother and child mortality, non-communicable disease, and injury] which includes trauma from road accidents.”

The driving simulator is used to assess fitness to drive in drivers in the learning or rehabilitation phases without exposing them to the real traffic dangers of the road.

The driving simulator is also a useful research tool and can determine the impact that factors such as age, trauma, neurological disease, fatigue, et cetera, might have on driving performance. In medical research it can be used to monitor driver behaviour and to determine the effects of medication on driving performance.

Prof Lana van Niekerk, head of the Division of Occupational Therapy, also highlighted the research potential of the driving simulator, not only within the field of occupational therapy, but across the spectrum of medical disciplines.

Video

 

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New centre focuses on health systems research

Profs Usuf Chikte (Head: FMHS Department of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences); Nico Gey van Pittius (FMHS Deputy Dean: Resarch); Lilian Dudley (CHSSR), Nulda Beyers (DTTC), Richard Lilford (Chair in Publich Health, University of Warwick) and Jimmy Volmink (FMHS Dean) were present at the launch.


The Centre for Health Systems and Services Research and Development (CHSSRD) was established at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) in March this year.

The aim of the centre is to provide a shared service and academic platform for health systems and services research and development within the FMHS and other faculties at Stellenbosch University.

The centre is headed by Prof Lilian Dudley, and although it is based within the Division of Community Health, is a multidisciplinary entity that includes epidemiologists, public health specialists, social scientists and health economists with varied backgrounds including medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, psychology, economics and social anthropology. Within the faculty the CHSSRD is partnering with the Unit for Research on Health and Society, the Unit for Infection Prevention and Control, the Centre for Evidence Based Health Care and the Desmond Tutu TB Centre. Partnerships with other faculties include the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, the Faculty of Social Sciences the Business School and School of Public Leadership.

The need for health systems and services research (HSSR) arose from health systems failing to address the health needs of populations, which is often caused by a lack of evidence or health information that can inform priority setting, resource allocation and decision making in the health sector.

“The greatest weakness in the South African health system is in the implementation of policy and delivery of health care,” says Dudley. Therefore the CHSSRD has been positioned to focus more extensively on health service research that aim to ‘produce reliable and valid research data on which to base effective, cost effective, efficient and acceptable health services’ (Bowling 1997).

There are very few academic centres undertaking HSSR or training health systems research in South Africa and Africa.

The location of the centre within the FMHS also enables it to engage with the practise of clinical medicine from community and primary care to tertiary hospitals, and it is uniquely positioned to focus on health services research due to its relationships with other disciplines within the Department of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences, and its well-established relationship with provincial and local government health services and the National Department of Health. The centre is also well located to contribute to health systems strengthening through the appropriate training of health professionals.

By Wilma Stassen

 

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Stellenbosch researcher heads multi-national study

Prof Hans Strijdom

Prof Hans Strijdom with the Division of Medical Physiology was appointed the project coordinator of a three-year, multi-national study looking at the role of HIV-infection and antiretroviral treatment as possible cardiovascular risk factors. This is one of only 20 proposals to receive funding through the ERAfrica programme from a total of 124 applications, and one of only two involving researchers from Stellenbosch University.

ERAfrica was established by the European Commission and several African partner countries aiming to create long-term research collaboration between European Union member states and associated countries in Africa.

 

Collaborative workshop in Cytology

The workshop presenters in the front row, left-to-right, are Nick Dudding, Colleen Wright,  Andrew Field and Allan Wilson

A four-day workshop on Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy (FNAB) and Gynaecological Cytology was recently hosted at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS).

More than 70 pathologists and cytotechnologists from all over South Africa and southern Africa attended the workshop.

This event was a collaboration between Prof Andrew Field from the Notre Dame University in Australia, Prof Colleen Wright from the FMHS’ Division of Anatomical Pathology, and National Health Laboratory Services , Port Elizabeth. Two expert cytotechnologists from the United Kingdom, Allan Wilson, the Chairman of the British Association for Cytopathology and Nick Dudding, Chair of the the International Academy of Cytology Cytotechnologists Committee, provided interactive seminars and updates on Gynaecological cytology.

 

 

Stellenbosch researcher heads multi-national study

Prof Hans Strijdom

Prof Hans Strijdom with the Division of Medical Physiology was appointed the project coordinator of a three-year, multi-national study looking at the role of HIV-infection and antiretroviral treatment as possible cardiovascular risk factors. This is one of only 20 proposals to receive funding through the ERAfrica programme from a total of 124 applications, and one of only two involving researchers from Stellenbosch University.

ERAfrica was established by the European Commission and several African partner countries aiming to create long-term research collaboration between European Union member states and associated countries in Africa.

Strijdom and his research partners from Austria, Belgium, Kenya and Ivory Coast will receive an R8-million grant for their study proposal entitled “Vascular endothelial dysfunction: The putative interface of emerging cardiovascular risk factors affecting populations living with and without HIV in sub-Saharan Africa”.

The main purpose of the study is to establish whether a relationship exists between HIV-infection and antiretroviral treatment and injury to the cells that form the inner lining the body’s blood vessels (endothelial cells). Injury to endothelial cells is often regarded as one of the first steps towards developing cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes. This study will be the first of its kind to address these questions in populations of three different African countries.

According to Prof Strijdom, this study involving five research teams and institutions from Africa and Europe, is a first for the Division of Medical Physiology, and will definitely enhance the division’s reputation as a leading research centre. Furthermore, the objectives of the study align very well with the faculty’s vision of contributing to health in South Africa and Africa.

The study will consist of both basic scientific research that will be conducted in the laboratories of the Cardiovascular Research Group (of which Strijdom is the head) located in the Division of Medical Physiology, and epidemiological studies conducted at various health care facilities in Cape Town, Kenya and Ivory Coast.

Prof Gerhard Walzl from the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics will be the co-investigator of the human studies in South Africa. The study will commence in June 2014.

By Wilma Stassen

 

Collaborative workshop in Cytology

The workshop presenters in the front row, left-to-right, are
Nick Dudding, Colleen Wright, Andrew Field and Allan Wilson

A four-day workshop on Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy (FNAB) and Gynaecological Cytology was recently hosted at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS).

More than 70 pathologists and cytotechnologists from all over South Africa and southern Africa attended the workshop.

This event was a collaboration between Prof Andrew Field from the Notre Dame University in Australia, Prof Colleen Wright from the FMHS’ Division of Anatomical Pathology, and National Health Laboratory Services , Port Elizabeth. Two expert cytotechnologists from the United Kingdom, Allan Wilson, the Chairman of the British Association for Cytopathology and Nick Dudding, Chair of the the International Academy of Cytology Cytotechnologists Committee, provided interactive seminars and updates on Gynaecological cytology.  

Prof Field is also the Vice President of the International Academy of Cytology (IAC), a member of the IAC Task Force on Cytology Teaching in Developing Countries, and the appointed co-chair of the IAC Education and QA Committee with the specific directive to establish IAC Tutorials in developing countries. Prof Wright is also a member of the IAC Education and QA Committee and the IAC Task Force on Cytology Teaching in Developing Countries.

According to Prof Wright, this international workshop was held here at the FMHS to help address the shortage of pathology and laboratory skills on the African continent.

Cytology, particularly FNAB provides a means to triage patients, allowing the diagnosis of those with infectious diseases such as TB to be managed without surgical intervention and without admission to hospital. Sputum screening can identify patients with lung carcinoma and facilitate their transfer to centres for management or palliation, if available.

“There are many centres of excellence in South Africa and in Africa where cytology is practiced at a very high level,” says Wright. “With the assistance of the IAP these centres need to extend their expertise to those who are still in the learning curve.”
For the past eight years Stellenbosch University has been offering a distance-learning Master’s degree in Cytopathology, allowing access to these specialist skills to pathologists anywhere in Africa.

“Funding has been a problem, but Stellenbosch University, under the guidance of Prof Johann Schneider has recently obtained bursaries to assist these students,” says Wright.

By Wilma Stassen
 

 

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Mediclinic donates generously


 
Prof Jimmy Volmink, (left) dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, receives a cheque of R1 155 000 from Koert Pretorius, (right) CEO of Mediclinic Southern Africa. Mediclinic is donating a total of R2.3 million to the faculty over a two-year period (2014 to 2016). The money will go towards the Division of Clinical Pharmacology, the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law, as well as the training of sub-specialists (registrars). “South African doctors are well qualified, but there are a critical shortage of doctors and specialists in the country,” said Sakkie Du Plessis, National Network Marketing Manager for Mediclinic. Prof Volmink thanked Mediclinic for its long-term partnership with the faculty, and said that partnerships are important to realising universal access and high-quality health care.

Visiting Delegations

Pepfar
University of Oslo
Karolinska Institutet

Visiting Academics

Prof Lars Bode
Prof Richard Lilford

 

Prof Lars Bode of University of California

Prof Lars Bode delivered a guest lecture, "Every baby needs a sugar mama", on the advantages of human milk for babies, during March. He is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics Division of Neonatology and Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, University of California.

His research program focuses on elucidating functions and biosynthesis of human milk oligosaccharides. These complex glycans are highly abundant in human breast milk, but not in infant formula. The Bode lab uses in vitro and in vivo models to study how human milk oligosaccharides affect and benefit the breast-fed infant.

On the photo are Ms Yvette van Niekerk, Lecturer at Human Nutrition with Prof Lars Bode.

Richard Lilford, University of Warwick

Prof Richard Lilford (left), Chair in Publich Health, University of Warwick, visited the FMHS in March 2014 as guest of the Centre for Evidence Based Health Care. He gave a special guest lecture on 'Evaluation of effectiveness and cost effectiveness of interventions to improve the safety and effectiveness of health services'.

He also attended the launch of the new Centre for Health Systems and Services Research and Development (CHSSRD), where he delivered the key note address.

With him on the photo are: Profs Jimmy Volmink (FMHS Dean), Usuf Chikte (Head: FMHS Department of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences);  Taryn Young (Director: CHSSRD) and Dr Rhoderick Machekano (Head of the Biostatistics Unit).

 

Pepfar

A distinct highlight for SURMEPI and the faculty was the recent high level site visit by the PEPFAR  (HRSA) funders, the MEPI Co-ordinating Centre, and a visiting PI. This took place from 18-20 March and included a site visit to Worcester and Robertson to the Ukwanda Rural Clinical School, as well as to the De Villiers Primary School in Robertson where our AHEC project was highlighted. During their feedback at the end of the visit the panel expressed their views of being very impressed with the aims that SURMEPI has achieved, the efficient way that the project is managed, and the contribution that SURMEPI is making to medical education in Africa.

Seen on the photo are: Front (fltr) Drs Elsie Kiguli-Malwadde, MEPI Director; Mary Fanning, Tech. Advisor for Medical and Nursing Education: OGAC; Prof Marietjie de Villiers, Deputy Dean: Education (FHMS), and Dr Rehmeth Fakroodien, Health Systems Strengthening MEPI. At the back are: Prof  Jean Nachega, Director: Centre for Infectious Diseases (FMHS); Dr Henry Sondheimer, Senior Director - AAMC; Prof Alfred Mteta, Dean of Tanzania University; Dr Rafi Morales, HRSA - Director; and Dr John Oguntomilade, HRSA Program Officer.

University of Oslo

The management of the FMHS and a delegation from the medical faculty of the University of Oslo discussed collaboration and cooperation between the two institutions as well as shared areas of interest during a two-day visit in March. Picture here (from left to right) are Mr Eben Mouton, Director: Business Management (FMHS), Dr Therese Fish, Deputy Dean: Community Service and Interaction (FMHS), Profs Nico Gey van Pittius, Deputy Dean: Research (FMHS), Kristin Heggen, Deputy Dean: Education (Olso), Frode Vartdal, Dean (Oslo), Jimmy Volmink, Dean (FMHS) and Ingrid Os, Deputy Dean: Education (Oslo).

Karolinska Institutet

In March the FMHS hosted a delegation from the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Sweden. During the visit colleagues from KI and the FMHS participated in a research symposium where top researchers from both institutions shared highlights of their work in fields including as tuberculosis, HIV/Aids, global health and neurosciences. Pictured here during the lunch break at the symposium are from left to right Profs Usuf Chikte, Head: Department of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences (FMHS), Anders Gustafson, Dean of Doctoral Education (KI), Nico Gey van Pittius, Deputy Dean: Research (FMHS), Jan-Olov Höög, Dean of Higher Education (KI), Jimmy Volmink, Dean (FMHS), Paul van Helden, Head: Department of Biomedical Sciences (FMHS), Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, Dean of Research (KI), Eileen Hoal, Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics (FMHS), Lucie Laflamme, Chair of the Department of Publich Health Sciences (KI) and Charles Wiysonge, Deputy Director of the Centre for Evidence-based Health Care (FMHS).

 

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OESO Permanent Scientific Committee

Prof Vikash Sewram, who joined the Faculty late last year as Director of the African Cancer Institute, was invited to become a member of the World Organization for Specialized Studies on Diseases of the Esophagus (OESO) Permanent Committee in the Oncology section.

 

WHO African Task force

Prof Charles Wiysonge, Deputy Director of the Centre for Evidence-based Health Care, was appointed by the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa as a member of the WHO African Task Force on Immunisation (TFI).  The TFI advises WHO on overall policies and strategies, ranging from vaccine and technology research and development, to delivery of immunisation services and linkages between immunisation and other health interventions in Africa.

NIH Fogarty International Center funds FMHS projects

Dr Mareli Claassens received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for an HIV Research Traning Planning Grant and Dr Rhoderick Machekano received funding for a Biostatistics Capacity Planning Proposal from the same institution.
Dr Mareli Claassens
Dr Rhoderick Machekano

Fellowships and Scholarships

Congratulations to the following staff members who received Medical Research Council scholarships.

MRC Clinician Research Programme:
Dr Adrie Bekker – Paediatrics and Child Health
Dr Angela Dramowski – Paediatrics and Child Health
Dr Alex Doruyter – Nuclear Medicine, Medical Imaging and Clinical Oncology
Dr Stephanus (Fanie) Malherbe – Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, Biomedical Sciences
Dr Elizabeth (Liz) Walters – Paediatrics and Child Health

MRC National Health Scholars Programme (Masters scholarships):
Ms Jesmine Arries – Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, Biomedical Sciences
Ms Lauren Philips – Human Nutrition, Interdisciplinary Health Sciences

MRC National Health Scholars Programme (PhD scholarships):
Ms Gouwa Dawood – Speech-Language and Hearing Therapy, Interdisciplinary Health Sciences
Dr Amy Slogrove – Paediatrics and Child Health

National Research Fund Research Career Advancement Fellowship awards
Five young researchers from the Faculty have each been awarded one of the first NRF Career Advancement Fellowships. Congratulations to:
Dr Graeme Jacobs (Virology)
Dr Marlo Moller (Molecular Biology and Human Genetics)
Dr Elizma Streicher (Molecular Biology and Human Genetics)
Dr Monique Williams (Molecular Biology and Human Genetics) and
Dr Ingrid Webster (Medical Physiology)

 

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Poor treatment regimens increase prevalance of XDR-TB

Scientists are calling for the immediate revision of the treatment regimen for multi- and extensively (MDR and XDR) drug-resistant TB in South Africa after a recent study showed that the current treatment regimen is ineffective and contributes to the development of XDR-TB instead of preventing it.

This study debunks the common belief that the widespread occurrence of XDR-TB in the country is a result of MDR-patients defaulting on their treatment, and shifts the blame to the standard treatment regimen being ineffective and potentially promoting the amplification of resistance.

New registry highlights shortcomings in renal therapy

Professor Razeen Davids, head of the Division of Nephrology at Stellenbosch University, recently released the first report of the new South African Renal Registry.  The registry was established by Professor Davids and Dr Julian Jacobs on behalf of the South African Renal Society. This report is the first official report since 1994 which describes the provision of dialysis and transplantation for patients with end-stage kidney disease in South Africa.

 

 

Poor treatment regimens increase prevalance of XDR-TB

Scientists are calling for the immediate revision of the treatment regimen for multi- and extensively (MDR and XDR) drug-resistant TB in South Africa after a recent study showed that the current treatment regimen is ineffective and contributes to the development of XDR-TB instead of preventing it.

This study debunks the common belief that the widespread occurrence of XDR-TB in the country is a result of MDR-patients defaulting on their treatment, and shifts the blame to the standard treatment regimen being ineffective and potentially promoting the amplification of resistance.

"This study, for the first time, clearly reveals the flaws of drug regimens in use in South Africa and suggests that poor treatment rather than patient non-adherence represents the major driver of the emergence of XDR-TB," reads a statement by one of the lead researchers, Dr Borna Muller, an epidemiologist at Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (SU FMHS).

MDR-TB is resistant to the most effective anti-TB drugs, while XDR-TB shows additional resistance to alternative drugs leaving few effective treatment options and resulting in very poor patient outcomes.

Ten percent of all TB cases in South Africa are believed to be MDR-TB, and 10 percent of that are XDR-TB. The highest rates of MDR and XDR-TB were recorded in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, with treatment success rates below 50% for MDR-TB and considerably poorer outcomes for XDR-TB.

The study, led by researchers from SU FMHS and published in the journal PLOS One, analysed the specific genetic strains of MDR-TB responsible for the majority of XDR-TB cases in South Africa. The most prominent strain showed particular high resistance to two first line drugs (ethambutol and pyrazinamide) and one second line drug (ethionamide) suggesting that the current drug regimen for MDR-TB is ineffective to kill and prevent transmission of these strains.

"These regimens were ineffective as they did not take into account that a significant proportion of MDR-TB strains are resistant to two or three of the drugs included in the five drug standardised MDR-TB treatment regimen," says Rob Warren, professor in molecular biology and human genetics at the FMHS.

"These strains have been 'bred' inadvertently over the last decades through the use of only limitedly effective standardised treatment regimens and the absence of regular drug resistance testing," reads Muller's statement.

For example, they found that the most prominent XDR-TB strain detected in the Eastern Cape affected more than 40% of all MDR-TB cases and was simultaneously resistant to at least nine anti-TB drugs.

"These strains are readily transmitted, quickly acquire additional resistance and may eventually become untreatable. There is a considerable risk that subsequently such untreatable strains also spread in the community."

The research team from Stellenbosch University, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and the University of Basel in Switzerland, the Aurum Institute, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the National Health Laboratory Services, analysed 4 667 TB, MDR and XDR sputum samples collected from the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal to determine the most predominant strains.

"XDR-TB in KwaZulu-Natal was primarily driven by strains belonging to the KZN/LAM4/F15 lineage while in the Eastern Cape the XDR-TB epidemic was restricted to the Atypical Beijing lineage," says Warren. "This clearly demonstrates that these XDR-TB strains have emerged independently in the two different provinces. A similar situation was observed in the Western Cape where XDR-TB was associated with the Typical Beijing lineage. However, in that province XDR-TB strains from the Atypical Beijing lineage were also highly prevalent suggesting migration of XDR-TB cases between provinces".

Based on these findings, the researchers call for an immediate strengthening of the standard treatment for MDR-TB in South Africa.

By: Wilma Stassen

 

New registry highlights shortcomings in renal therapy

Professor Razeen Davids, head of the Division of Nephrology at Stellenbosch University, recently released the first report of the new South African Renal Registry.

The registry was established by Professor Davids and Dr Julian Jacobs on behalf of the South African Renal Society. This report is the first official report since 1994 which describes the provision of dialysis and transplantation for patients with end-stage kidney disease in South Africa.

“The registry is quite a milestone for us in the South African Renal Society because we have been without official data on transplantation and dialysis in the country for about 20 years,” says Davids, who serves on the Society’s executive committee and chairs the Registry together with Jacobs.

“The aim of this registry, and in fact all disease registries, is to study the course of the disease, and variations in treatments and outcomes. In our case we are especially interested in disparities in the delivery of care. You can also use a registry to assess the effectiveness of treatments, change behaviour of caregivers, and so on, but ultimately we want to improve the quality and quantity of renal replacement therapy available in South Africa,” says Davids.

The new report describes the situation of dialysis and transplantation, also referred to as renal replacement therapy, in South Africa as at the end of 2012.

Although the establishment of the registry is a great achievement, the report paints a bleak picture of the provision of renal replacement in South Africa. There are 191 treatment units listed for the country’s population of 52.3 million, of which most are in the private sector. In 2012 there were around 8 559 patients receiving renal replacement therapy, which translates to a treatment rate of 164 per million population (pmp)  – this is on par with some of the poorer countries in the world and well below the rates reported by countries with similar incomes per capita.  There are also striking disparities between the private and public sectors, as well as between provinces. The Western Cape (285 pmp) and Gauteng (241 pmp) have the highest treatment rates, while Limpopo (39 pmp) and Mpumalanga (42 pmp) have the lowest.

“We are very far from where we need to be, and even though we have competing priorities such as HIV /AIDS, crime, etc., we need to allocate more resources to treating our patients with end-stage kidney disease,” says Davids.

By: Wilma Stassen

 

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Global partnership on Medical Education:

Faculty selected as an
International Collaborating Centre

Prof Taryn Young, Director, CEBHC
Prof Ben van Heerden, Director: CHPE

The Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) was selected as an International Collaborating Centre (BICC) for the Best Evidence Medical Education (BEME) Collaboration.The application was led by the Centres for Evidence Based Healthcare (CEBHC) and Health Professions Education (CHPE).

“The CHPE and the CEBHC have extensive experience in both generation of evidence as well as promoting the use of best evidence in medical education and health care. Considering the growth in the number of systematic reviews, we are looking forward to take stock of findings from existing systematic reviews and to use this to inform both the conduct of new systematic reviews as well as the evidence base to inform medical education strategies,” said Prof Taryn Young, director of the CEBHC.

Prof Ben van Heerden, director of the CHPE said: “Ideally the practice of any discipline should be based on solid evidence. This also applies to the field of Health Professions Education. The CHPE is very active in a range of research activities aimed at providing evidence for the faculty’s teaching and learning innovations, including the implementation of the Rural Clinical School. We, therefore, welcome the opportunity to become involved in the evaluation of evidence in our discipline on a global scale. We are very excited about the synergy that will be provided by the collaboration with the CEBHC and about the powerful nature of such collaboration, which combines expertise in the fields of evidence based healthcare and health professions education.”

BEME is an international group of individuals, universities and professional organisations committed to the development of evidence informed education in the health professions through: the dissemination of information which allows teachers and stakeholders in the health professions to make decisions on the basis of the best evidence available; the production of systematic reviews which present the best available evidence and meet the needs of the user; and the creation of a culture of best evidence education amongst individuals, institutions and national bodies.

The FMHS is one of only thirteen institutions internationally to be invited to join this select group.

The work of the BICC fits into the scope of the faculty’s strategic vision, and draws on its experience and expertise in health professions education, editorial functions, and promotion of the use and conduct of systematic reviews. The coordination of the BICC will be done jointly by the CEBHC and CHPE.

The FMHS’ contribution to the BEME Collaboration will include:
-    Contribution to the identification and conceptualisation of relevant topics for new systematic reviews
-    Promoting the use of systematic reviews to inform medical and health professions education
-    Contributing to the editorial role and function of BEME review groups
-    Providing mentorship and support for conducting new BEME reviews
-    Seeking funds to support the functions of the BICC and for conducting new systematic reviews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Academy honours FMHS professor

Prof Gerhard Theron, Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology received the Albert Strating Prize for Preventative Medicine from the Academy of Science and Art. He received this award for his huge contribution to preventative medicine on many fields, and in particular to preventative mother morbidity.  His work is recognised both locally and internationally. Click here to read more about other SU candidates who received awards from the Academy.

Pediatrician receives national recognition

Prof Simon Schaaf, was awarded the acclaimed National Order of Mapungubwe (silver) by president Jacob Zuma in April 2014. This Order recognises South Africans who have accomplished excellence and exceptional achievement to the benefit of South Africa and beyond. It acknowledges Schaaf’s excellent contribution in the field of medical sciences, Dr Cassius Lubisi, Chancellor of the National Orders and Director-General in the Presidency said in a statement. Click here to read full article.

Ophthalmology staff excel at national congress

At the 44th National Congress of the Ophthalmological Society of South Africa, held 13-16 March 2014, research papers were delivered by five researchers from the Division of Ophthalmology. Dr Nicola Freeman, senior consultant and pediatric ophthalmologist delivered a paper on Retinopathy of Prematurity and received a prize for the best paper by a South African consultant ophthalmologist.  Dr Julia Jansen van Rensburg won the prize for the best paper by a registrar with the title: "Paediatric eye trauma treated at Tygerberg Academic Hospital: a two year review".  She was awarded an international travel grant to an ophthalmological congress of her choice.

Dr Nicola Freeman

Dr Julia Jansen van Rensburg

 

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Student attends Al Gore Conference

Marguerite Foot, a fifth year medical student was selected to represented Tygerberg Campus at an international conference on the climate crisis presented by former U.S. Vice-president Al Gore. On this occasion, 700 green-related leaders from 62 different countries got together in Sandton Convention Centre to put their heads together. Mr Al Gore discussed his life's passion and research of the renowned documentary; An Inconvenient Truth, in depth and leaders in the field also shared their opinions.

Service and leadership awarded

Ishara Ramkissoon, Deputy Chairperson of the TSR 2014 and MB,ChB V student has been invited to join the South Africa-Washington International Program (SAWIP) for service leadership.

SAWIP, South Africa-Washington International Program is a six month leadership development experience both in South Africa and Washington D.C. Fifteen high potential South African citizens from the Western Cape are recruited based on academic success, leadership potential and a passion for community service.

Taking top honours in Cape Argus

Dr Marianne Unger (right on the photo) and teammate, Anelma Jansen van Rensburg, boasting the floating trophy and their gold medals which they won after finishing first in the Ladies Tandem Category in the 2014 Cape Argus Momentum Pick n Pay Cycling tour.  They completed the race with a time of 3h:25min. Dr Unger is part of the Physiotherapy division.

 

Student attends Al Gore Conference 

Marguerite Foot, a fifth year medical student was selected to represented Tygerberg Campus at an international conference on the climate crisis presented by former U.S. Vice-president Al Gore. On this occasion, 700 green-related leaders from 62 different countries got together in Sandton Convention Centre to put their heads together. Mr Al Gore discussed his life's passion and research of the renowned documentary; An Inconvenient Truth, in depth and leaders in the field also shared their opinions.

Marguerite, who is also the Tygerberg Student Council member of Green Initiatives and Community Engagement was the only medical student nationwide selected for this prestigious event. "This excellent opportunity equipped me with the necessary skills and knowledge to enstill the seriousness of our Climate Reality further on campus, and in my own road of life."

The Convention also required that eachmember works on 10 Green deeds this year, about which Marguerite is very excited. The Faculty's Green committee has full confidence that she will successfully complete her TSR Green Portfolio.

 

Service and leadership awarded

Ishara Ramkissoon, Deputy Chairperson of the TSR 2014 and MB,ChB V student has been invited to join the South Africa-Washington International Program (SAWIP) for service leadership.

SAWIP, South Africa-Washington International Program is a six month leadership development experience both in South Africa and Washington D.C. Fifteen high potential South African citizens from the Western Cape are recruited based on academic success, leadership potential and a passion for community service.

Committed to student success and servant leadership, Ishara has served as for two consecutive terms on the Tygerberg Student Council for leadership and student development. In 2009, Ishara attended the inauguration of President Barack Obama as a South African Student Ambassador.  Ishara's passion lies in public health care and eradicating diseases in order to uplift South Africa. She would like to pursue a Masters in Public Health in the near future. 

Ishara is also the first medical student to be part of SAWIP and the first from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. She hopes to inspire many more students from the faculty to apply for SAWIP and enrich their academic career.

 

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Greening up the Tygerberg Hospital School Playground

In January, volunteers from the Tygerberg campus embarked on their first sustainability initiative for 2014 when it brought colour, joy and a more sustainable environment to the children of the local hospital school through their Tygerberg Hospital School Playground Project.

“As part of my Tygerberg Student Council Community Interaction Initiative for 2014, 100 first-year students accompanied Muhammed Sheik (Osler House Committee Community Interaction) and me. We gathered in the garden and on the playground of the Tygerberg Hospital School to clear the grounds, re-paint the jungle gyms, and engage in constructive play with the children,” says Marguerite Foot, Community Interaction member of the Tygerberg Student Council.

From the goodness of the earthworm

The Tygerberg Campus worm farm delivered a noteworthy 160 kg vermi compost during the recent worm harvest. The farm produces about 10 - 20 liters vermi tea on a weekly basis and compost is harvested twice a year during autumn and spring. The Tygerberg Green Committee established this farm about two and a half year ago to address food waste from the Fedics cafeteria. About eight to fifteen kilograms of waste food is fed daily to the worms, who are kept in 16 containers in an area specially constructed behind the TSS.  The vermi compost and tea are both highly concentrated products and are used to fertilize the campus gardens.  On the photo are profs Bob Mash, (left) and Wolfgang Preiser assisting with the recent harvest.

Ramping up recycling efforts

Stellenbosch University's three-bin system has been implemented on the Tygerberg Campus. The project is part of the Green Committee's project plan to create a greener campus and is managed through Facility Management's sustainabilty initiative.  

Click here to watch the video compiled by TSR member, Marguerite Foot.

 

Greening up the Tygerberg Hospital School Playground

In January, volunteers from the Tygerberg campus embarked on their first sustainability initiative for 2014 when it brought colour, joy and a more sustainable environment to the children of the local hospital school through their Tygerberg Hospital School Playground Project.

“As part of my Tygerberg Student Council Community Interaction Initiative for 2014, 100 first-year students accompanied Muhammed Sheik (Osler House Committee Community Interaction) and me. We gathered in the garden and on the playground of the Tygerberg Hospital School to clear the grounds, re-paint the jungle gyms, and engage in constructive play with the children,” says Marguerite Foot, Community Interaction member of the Tygerberg Student Council, Medicine and Health Sciences Faculty at Stellenbosch University.

Specifically for children who go to hospital, the Tygerberg Hospital School provides curriculum-based teaching to learners from Grade R to Grade 12. There are also a group of autism learners who attend the school on an out-patient basis.

On 10 March, 41 volunteers returned to the school’s playground to plant plants to the value of R2 000, which was sponsored by Cape Garden Centre. Not only do these plants provide a feast for the eye, they are also water wise, which means that they use water sparingly, contributing to a more sustainable environment.

“After a full day of medical studies, we worked together to give back to our direct community. With motivation and limited resources we managed to deal with the stubborn, dry ground, which was our biggest struggle. We focused on the large patch of ground in front of the school, creating a pathway with the different succulents at our disposal. Apart from selecting water-wise plants for an environment-friendly garden, we also kept the children’s safety in mind, ensuring that the plants don’t have thorns or sharp leaves and are not harmful if accidentally consumed,” says Marguerite.

And with the school being at the campus’ doorstep, several students have already visited its grounds to look at the garden. The school has also committed to water and maintain the volunteers’ hard work so far.

In April, the students returned to the school – this time to paint the dried-up fountains, fill them with ground and plant more succulents. A vegetable garden is also planned on a patch of soft ground they have identified. An old truck tyre was filled with ground and turned into a second vegetable garden, which will become the responsibility of the Grade R class. Furthermore, work on a second patch of hard ground was done to plant more succulents.
The students used vermi compost from the campus worm farm.
The playgroud features were painted in bright colours.
Volunteers hard at work to bring colour, joy and a more sustainable environment to the children of the Tygerberg Hospital School.

 

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PROFILE

Travel, TB and children:

a life in medicine

Prof Ben Marais

For Prof Ben Marais, a Tygerberg alumnus who today holds a top position at the University of Sydney in Australia, his medical training was not just a way to live out his passion and heal sick children. It also took him all over the world and offered him enough experiences for two lifetimes.

In 1988 Ben, who hails from Upington in the Northern Cape, started his medical studies at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), and seven years later left with a BMedSc, MB,ChB and his future wife. During his practical year in George, Ben married Karen Friemelt, a physiotherapy student who also completed her studies at the Tygerberg Campus.

Then the adventure started. In 1996 they went to the Isle of Wight in England where Ben, an aspiring paediatrician, was first exposed to the field of paediatrics.

“The Isle of Wight feels like another planet when you come from a place like Upington. You are surrounded by water and every trip starts with a boat ride. As a child Queen Victoria often holidayed at the Isle of Wight,” says Ben.

After a year-and-a-half in England, Ben and Karen first toured through Europe before setting off to their next destination, Canada. “I worked as a general practitioner in the far-flung northern parts of Saskatchewan with several other South African doctors. It was an amazing experience to live and work in temperatures as low as -40˚C. While we were there we also had the opportunity to explore the Rocky Mountains and the west coast of America,” says Ben.

 

Travel, TB and children:

a life in medicine

 

For Prof Ben Marais, a Tygerberg alumnus who today holds a top position at the University of Sydney in Australia, his medical training was not just a way to live out his passion and heal sick children. It also took him all over the world and offered him enough experiences for two lifetimes.

In 1988 Ben, who hails from Upington in the Northern Cape, started his medical studies at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), and seven years later left with a BMedSc, MB,ChB and his future wife. During his practical year in George, Ben married Karen Friemelt, a physiotherapy student who also completed her studies at the Tygerberg Campus.

Then the adventure started. In 1996 they went to the Isle of Wight in England where Ben, an aspiring paediatrician, was first exposed to the field of paediatrics.

“The Isle of Wight feels like another planet when you come from a place like Upington. You are surrounded by water and every trip starts with a boat ride. As a child Queen Victoria often holidayed at the Isle of Wight,” says Ben.

After a year-and-a-half in England, Ben and Karen first toured through Europe before setting off to their next destination, Canada. “I worked as a general practitioner in the far-flung northern parts of Saskatchewan with several other South African doctors. It was an amazing experience to live and work in temperatures as low as -40˚C. While we were there we also had the opportunity to explore the Rocky Mountains and the west coast of America,” says Ben.

In July 1998 Ben returned to the Tygerberg Campus to specialise as a paediatrician. During his last two years as a registrar, another opportunity to travel came along, and as part of an exchange programme with the universities of Utrecht and Amsterdam, they lived in Holland for six months.

“As a registrar I saw tuberculosis in children every day, and I realised that in this field we had the best clinical skills in the world,” he says. His PhD studies, led by Professor Nulda Beyers, aimed to determine the amount of children developing tuberculosis and the spectrum of disease with which they present, and to investigate better diagnostic techniques.  “Children give wonderful insight into the tuberculosis epidemic because they represent uncontrolled transmission in the community. When adults get sick you don’t know if it is from a TB-germ that they inhaled recently, or maybe years ago. But with children you know that it is something that they acquired recently,” explains Ben.

After completing his PhD he became involved with the Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health, and for his first research project did a survey of all the rural hospitals in the Western Cape to determine the features of a well-functioning rural hospital, versus those that struggle. He also took over the reins of Ukwanda temporarily to help with planning for the rural clinical school. 

His passion for paediatrics led him back to the Tygerberg Children’s Hospital where he joined the Paediatrics Department to work in infectious diseases. In 2008, with the help of a NIH-grant, he went to Colorado in the USA for six months to receive training in HIV care, TB research and general infectious diseases at the Denver Children’s Hospital. During his time at the faculty he was also involved in the development of the South to South Project that provided training in paediatric HIV care to doctors from all over Africa.

In 2011, Ben and his family – that has grown to four with the addition of two boys – moved to Sydney, Australia. He joined the University of Sydney where he helped develop a new multidisciplinary infectious disease initiative called the Marie Bashir Institute for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Bio Security.

“A unique opportunity of a place like the University of Sydney is that it is a very big university that offers both veterinary- and medical science, and is also very strong in biological- and basic sciences.” The multidisciplinary contact is valuable as many diseases in south-east Asia (just north of Australia) originate in animals.

His research at the University of Sydney focuses on TB as part of an Australian centre of excellence in tuberculosis. Although there aren’t many TB cases in Australia, TB, especially drug-resistant strains, is a very big problem in south-east Asia.

“They don’t have as much HIV as South Africa, but there is an unregulated market for medicine and poor regulations around the use of drugs. There is a big problem with drug resistance in TB and other infections,” he says. One of his current projects includes the identification of specific genetic strains of TB in Australian patients (mostly immigrants) to determine whether some strains are more infectious than others.

At the same time he is working with colleagues at the FHMS that is doing world-leading work in the different genetic strains of TB. He also hopes to promote more collaboration between Stellenbosch University and the University of Sydney. The dean, Prof Jimmy Volmink, is planning a visit to the University of Sydney later this year to, among others, investigate their medical education model, which is a four-year postgraduate course.

Ben is full of praise for the medical profession and all the opportunities it has offered him. “The advantage of working in paediatrics is that you want to believe that you make a difference – there is nothing as satisfying as seeing a sick child get better,” he professes. His work in research is also very stimulating: “There is a lot of variation – at times you have clinical contact with patients and their parents, alternating with the conceptualisation of new projects and the writing up of results for publication… and then there is also the opportunity to travel.”

By Wilma Stassen

 

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The dagga debate  

  
Pharmacologist and toxicologist, Dr Gerbus Muller, believes that the medical use of dagga should be regulated.

A proposed bill legalising the use of cannabis - or dagga as it is commonly known – has recently been submitted to parliament. If passed, the bill would allow anyone to use, grow and even sell dagga for any “medical condition” they see fit. Wilma Stassen spoke to an expert about whether or not that would be a good idea.

Traditional medicine is big business in South Africa. Dr Gerbus Muller, clinical pharmacologist and toxicologist, and a former lecturer at the FMHS, estimates that around half of all the medicine used in the country are traditional, or alternative medicines. One of those is dagga (in its raw plant form) which is often, albeit illegally, used by traditional practitioners to medicate patients.

Dagga has been proven to have some medicinal qualities and medical marijuana is used commercially in countries like the United States (US) and Britain to treat certain ailments.

But to make dagga freely available to use unregulated in its raw form (as suggested in the proposed bill), could have “catastrophic” consequences, says Muller.

Integrated approach to TB

Prof Samantha Sampson holds the SARChI Chair in Mycobactomics,  within the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Biomedical Tuberculosis Research.

As a TB researcher, I vacillate between awed admiration for and incredible frustration with the bacteria that causes TB, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. While there is a battery of effective anti-TB drugs available, drug-resistant strains of M. tuberculosis are becoming increasingly common, with the incidence in South Africa reaching alarming proportions.  There are estimated to be over 13,000 cases each year of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB), resistant to at least 2 important front-line TB drugs.  

In the current worst-case scenario, strains could be resistant to up to 10 different anti-TB drugs, making it enormously challenging to treat patients infected with these strains, and treatment failure is common. Some researchers have suggested the term totally drug resistant (TDR) to describe such strains. However, this label is controversial, with organisations such as the World Health Organisation discouraging its use, partly to avoid these patients being viewed as lost causes. Worryingly, work by researchers at Stellenbosch University and elsewhere has demonstrated extensive transmission of drug-resistant M. tuberculosis strains, suggesting programmatic failings.

            

 

The dagga debate

Pharmacologist and toxicologist, Dr Gerbus Muller, believes that the medical use of dagga should be regulated.

A proposed bill legalising the use of cannabis - or dagga as it is commonly known – has recently been submitted to parliament. If passed, the bill would allow anyone to use, grow and even sell dagga for any “medical condition” they see fit. Wilma Stassen spoke to an expert about whether or not that would be a good idea.

Traditional medicine is big business in South Africa. Dr Gerbus Muller, clinical pharmacologist and toxicologist, and a former lecturer at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, estimates that around half of all the medicine used in the country are traditional, or alternative medicines. One of those is dagga (in its raw plant form) which is often, albeit illegally, used by traditional practitioners to medicate patients.

Dagga has been proven to have some medicinal qualities and medical marijuana is used commercially in countries like the United States (US) and Britain to treat certain ailments.

But to make dagga freely available to use unregulated in its raw form (as suggested in the proposed bill), could have “catastrophic” consequences, says Muller.

“You wouldn’t give a patient a poppy plant [which is used to produce morphine] to smoke in order to treat his or her pain, so why would you do it for dagga?” says Muller, explaining that all medication derived from plants are first extracted and then processed in order to administer in predetermined doses.

The cannabis plant has more than 100 active ingredients of which only one, 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short, is used in the production of medical marijuana. THC has a potent effect on the central nervous system and is also the chemical that causes euphoria, which is responsible for it being abused as a recreational drug.

“People tend to think that natural substances have no side effects and are safe - but there is nothing further from the truth,” says Muller. “All medicines, be it alternative medicines or herbs, have side effects.”

Common side effects of cannabis are heart arrhythmia (fast pounding heart), a drop in blood pressure, blood-shot eyes, loss of motivation, anxiety and drunkenness, among others.

There is also a common misconception that dagga is not addictive, says Muller. Although regular dagga users don’t suffer convulsions and other life-threatening withdrawal symptoms that some other drug users (particularly those using opioids such as heroin) get when quitting the substance, people become psychologically dependent on it, which makes it very hard to give up.

Despite the side effects, Muller believes that there could be a place for dagga in medicine, as long as it is regulated and controlled and not made available regardless, as suggested in the proposed bill.

Medical marijuana (extracted and slightly modified THC available in pill or liquid form) has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy and also to stimulate appetite in patients with HIV. It is also commonly used to treat Tourette’s Syndrome, loss of appetite in cancer patients, spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis, post-operative nausea and vomiting, and the skin condition pruritis, although it doesn’t have FDA approval for the treatment of these conditions.

Muller notes that there are also other medicines that work just as well or better for the treatment of these conditions.  
According to Muller, there have also been a few documented cases suggesting that dagga may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. He stresses that there have only been a handful of anecdotal cases documented around the world, which does not serve as evidence that it could be used as a treatment for cancer.

“However, there are enough cases to suggest that it might be useful to further explore its potential cancer-killing effects,” says Muller.


 

       
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Integrated approach to TB research: key to success

Prof Samantha Sampson holds the SARChI Chair in Mycobactomics,  within the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Biomedical Tuberculosis Research.

As a TB researcher, I vacillate between awed admiration for and incredible frustration with the bacteria that causes TB, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. While there is a battery of effective anti-TB drugs available, drug-resistant strains of M. tuberculosis are becoming increasingly common, with the incidence in South Africa reaching alarming proportions.  There are estimated to be over 13,000 cases each year of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB), resistant to at least 2 important front-line TB drugs.  In the current worst-case scenario, strains could be resistant to up to 10 different anti-TB drugs, making it enormously challenging to treat patients infected with these strains, and treatment failure is common. Some researchers have suggested the term totally drug resistant (TDR) to describe such strains. However, this label is controversial, with organisations such as the World Health Organisation discouraging its use, partly to avoid these patients being viewed as lost causes. Worryingly, work by researchers at Stellenbosch University and elsewhere has demonstrated extensive transmission of drug-resistant M. tuberculosis strains, suggesting programmatic failings.

Following decades of intensive TB research, there is fresh hope– several new and re-purposed drugs are currently undergoing clinical trials, many right here in South Africa, with promising results.  However, there are still many challenges to be addressed. One major obstacle is the accessibility of these new drugs. Promising candidates are often prohibitively expensive, or not yet approved for widespread use. There are important lessons to heed from the HIV field, specifically in the area of treatment activism. It is encouraging that activist organisations such as TB Proof and the Treatment Action Campaign are making inroads into calling for universal access to new and effective TB interventions.  However, as scientists and citizens, we too have a responsibility to ask the difficult questions and advocate for improved TB treatments for all.

The enormous complexity of TB demands creative and integrated approaches. If we consider the deadly synergy with HIV, it is evident that we cannot view the TB epidemic in isolation. There is an increasing push to integrate TB and HIV care, to treat the patient, rather than treat two separate diseases. The benefits of such an approach have been demonstrated by a Médecins Sans Frontières-supported study in the Ubuntu Clinic in Khayelitsha, a densely populated urban area on the outskirts of Cape Town. Recently, the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) published results from the so-called SAPiT trial, demonstrating the value in co-ordinating anti-retroviral and anti-TB treatment, particularly in MDR-TB patients. This latter study highlights the importance of considering the impact of anti-retroviral therapy on new TB drugs and vice versa.

The examples above emphasise the world-leading TB research that is being conducted in South Africa, much of it fitting the “bench to bedside” approach. To achieve TB control, it is critical that basic research synergises closely with practices in the healthcare facilities.  There are few places in the world where there are such rich opportunities to do exactly this type of cross-cutting TB research as South Africa. Within my own institution, Stellenbosch University, I work within a team of world-leading scientists undertaking research on a wide range of TB-related questions, spanning disciplines including host genetics, immunology, bacteriology and clinical testing of new drugs and diagnostics. This microcosm of TB research affords many opportunities for multi-disciplinary national and international collaborations, a cornerstone of successful TB research.

The ability to do world-leading TB research here in South Africa requires sustained government support, and there are encouraging signs in this regard. A recent join MRC-NIH funding call has generated significant interest, and the outcomes of these awards will be keenly followed. At Stellenbosch University, within the Department of Biomedical Sciences, we are privileged to have been awarded 3 SARChI (South African Research Chairs Initiative) Research Chairs focusing on different aspects of TB research. This represents a significant investment by the Department for Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation. These research chairs focus on host immunology, bacterial biology and animal TB. They are providing new impetus to an already outstanding TB research environment, with the hope that new knowledge generated will ultimately aid efforts to combat TB.

As a researcher just starting my independent career, I am thrilled to have been given this opportunity to hold one of these chairs. While I have benefited from the experience of working in world-leading TB laboratories in the USA and UK, I am excited and humbled by the opportunity return to South Africa after 12 years to do TB research. It is both a privilege and a responsibility to do this type of research in South Africa; TB is not an abstract or academic concept here -  while there are significant challenges, we are spurred on by the stark reality of the human suffering caused by this disease.  

Author: Professor Samantha Sampson

 

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SUSS: New platform for student development in surgery

At the official launch were Elene Stais, Reza Roos, Sam Surdut, Jeremy Swanepoel, Ludo van Hillegondsberg.

The Stellenbosch University Surgical Society (SUSS) was launched in February this year at the Tygerberg campus.

This society, established and driven by medical students, aims to stimulate interest in the field of surgery and to improve surgical skills among the students.

The society was the brain child of Dr Nabeela Adam, a then final year student who has since graduated, who passed the idea of the project on to younger students (Eleni Stais, Jeremi Swanepoel and Ludo van Hillegondsberg) when she left campus. The trio joined forces with two other students, Samuel Surdut and Reza Roos, and with a sponsorship from Sanlam, got the society off the ground.

Q: New student research society enriches campus

Koot Kotze, Prof Jimmy Volmink Dean FMHS, Drs Llewelyn Rapuling, Jonas Bovijn, Profs Wim de Villiers, Dean, FHS UCT, Nico Gey van Pittius, Deputy Dean, Research and Alicia Roos.

The Tygerberg Undergraduate Research Society, “Q”, was officially launched on March 18, 2014. The event was well attended by students and staff, and even had Profs Jimmy Volmink and Wim de Villiers (respective deans of SUFMHS and UCT Faculty of Health Sciences) sharing their own research experiences and some words of encouragement.

Billed as the first ever undergraduate research society at the Tygerberg campus, Q has high hopes for the future.  “We endeavour to improve the research experience of undergraduate students at the faculty,” says Dr Jonas Bovijn on the Society’s official website.  Bovijn, currently an intern at Tygerberg Hospital and also the recipient of the 2013 Stellenbosch University Chancellor’s Medal, started putting the society together in 2012.

 

SUSS: New platform for student development in surgery

At the official launch were Elene Stais, Reza Roos, Sam Surdut, Jeremy Swanepoel and Ludo van Hillegondsberg.

The Stellenbosch University Surgical Society (SUSS) was launched in February this year at the Tygerberg campus.

This society, established and driven by medical students, aims to stimulate interest in the field of surgery and to improve surgical skills among the students.

The society was the brain child of Dr Nabeela Adam, a then final year student who has since graduated, who passed the idea of the project on to younger students (Eleni Stais, Jeremi Swanepoel and Ludo van Hillegondsberg) when she left campus. The trio joined forces with two other students, Samuel Surdut and Reza Roos, and with a sponsorship from Sanlam, got the society off the ground.

The official launch took place on 18 February with a talk by Prof James Loock, head of the Division of Otorhinolaryngology, entitled: “What makes a good surgeon?”, that drew a lot of interest from students.

The society’s vision is to create a platform where leading professionals can share their knowledge and experience with students through talks on cutting-edge and insightful surgical topics. Prof Andre van der Merwe, from the Urology Division, presented the first surgical talk on 19 March, entitled “Renal transplants and other laparoscopic procedures in developing countries”.

The society is also planning to host workshops where students can improve their surgical skills and learn more about specific surgical procedures. They plan to have anatomical workshops where a surgeon will demonstrate a procedure on a wet specimen, and a skills workshop, where basic surgical techniques will be taught and practised.

The society will also represent Stellenbosch University on the Southern African Student Surgical Society (SASSS) and the International Association of Student Surgical Societies (IASSS).

Author: Ludo van Hillegondsberg

 

Q: New student research society enriches campus

Koot Kotze, Prof Jimmy Volmink Dean FMHS, Dr Llewelyn Rapuling, Dr Jonas Bovijn, Prof Wim de Villiers, Dean, FHS UCT,
Prof Nico Gey van Pittius, Vice Dean, Research and Alicia Roos.

The Tygerberg Undergraduate Research Society, “Q”, was officially launched on March 18, 2014. The event was well attended by students and staff, and even had Profs Jimmy Volmink and Wim de Villiers (respective deans of SUFMHS and UCT Faculty of Health Sciences) sharing their own research experiences and some words of encouragement.

Billed as the first ever undergraduate research society at the Tygerberg campus, Q has high hopes for the future.  “We endeavour to improve the research experience of undergraduate students at [this faculty],” says Dr Jonas Bovijn on the Society’s official website.  Bovijn, currently an intern at Tygerberg Hospital and also the recipient of the 2013 Stellenbosch University Chancellor’s Medal, started putting the society together in 2012.

Support from faculty has been forthcoming.  In the past months, Q has amassed a database of staff members who have expressed willingness to guide students through their first enterprise, from research question to publication. The Q committee and its website also provide useful resources and advice for students taking their first steps into the unknown, yet exciting waters of research.

Prof Nico Gey van Pittius, Deputy Dean for Research at SUFMHS, also spoke at the event: “We want to promote, develop and reward undergraduate student research with the overall goal of not only enhancing their undergraduate education, but also increasing the retention of medical and health scientists for our country. By integrating undergraduates more fully into the research life of the university we aim to prepare students for academic and research careers, thereby supporting and increasing the medical research capacity of South Africa and the African continent as a whole.”

Professor Wim de Villiers spoke about a life in research, and the challenges facing the clinician-scientist and stressed the importance of working in a multidisciplinary research team.  He also wet the research appetites of those in attendance by sharing the 10 mysteries facing researchers in his field of interest: inflammatory bowel disease.

The dean also expressed his support for the undergraduate research society. “Undergraduate research benefits students in many ways,” said Volmink.  “It stimulates critical thinking, enables early development of skills needed to conduct and communicate scientific research, increases the likelihood of postgraduate studies being undertaken and enhances future career prospects. It also benefits the university through encouraging the generation of new perspectives and questions that challenge conventional thinking.”

“Thank you for your contribution to the enrichment of our campus. Please be assured of the continuing support of the Faculty for your initiative. May Q continue to grow from strength to strength in the years ahead.”

For more information on Q –The Tygerberg Undergraduate Research Society, please visit their website: www.sun.ac.za/q
Or contact them via email: qtygerberg@gmail.com

Author: Koot Kotze

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SUSS: New platform for student development in surgery

At the official launch were Elene Stais, Reza Roos, Sam Surdut, Jeremy Swanepoel, Ludo van Hillegondsberg.

The Stellenbosch University Surgical Society (SUSS) was launched in February this year at the Tygerberg campus.

This society, established and driven by medical students, aims to stimulate interest in the field of surgery and to improve surgical skills among the students.

The society was the brain child of Dr Nabeela Adam, a then final year student who has since graduated, who passed the idea of the project on to younger students (Eleni Stais, Jeremi Swanepoel and Ludo van Hillegondsberg) when she left campus. The trio joined forces with two other students, Samuel Surdut and Reza Roos, and with a sponsorship from Sanlam, got the society off the ground.

 

Q: New student research society enriches campus

Koot Kotze, Prof Jimmy Volmink Dean FMHS, Dr Llewelyn Rapuling, Dr Jonas Bovijn, Prof Wim de Villiers, Dean, FHS UCT, Prof Nico Gey van Pittius, Vice Dean, Research and Alicia Roos.

The Tygerberg Undergraduate Research Society, “Q”, was officially launched on March 18, 2014. The event was well attended by students and staff, and even had Profs Jimmy Volmink and Wim de Villiers (respective deans of SUFMHS and UCT Faculty of Health Sciences) sharing their own research experiences and some words of encouragement.

Billed as the first ever undergraduate research society at the Tygerberg campus, Q has high hopes for the future.  “We endeavour to improve the research experience of undergraduate students at [this faculty],” says Dr Jonas Bovijn on the Society’s official website.  Bovijn, currently an intern at Tygerberg Hospital and also the recipient of the 2013 Stellenbosch University Chancellor’s Medal, started putting the society together in 2012.

Support from faculty has been forthcoming.  In the past months, Q has amassed a database of staff members who have expressed willingness to guide students through their first enterprise, from research question to publication. The Q committee and its website also provide useful resources and advice for students taking their first steps into the unknown, yet exciting waters of research.

Prof Nico Gey van Pittius, Deputy Dean for Research at SUFMHS, also spoke at the event: “We want to promote, develop and reward undergraduate student research with the overall goal of not only enhancing their undergraduate education, but also increasing the retention of medical and health scientists for our country. By integrating undergraduates more fully into the research life of the university we aim to prepare students for academic and research careers, thereby supporting and increasing the medical research capacity of South Africa and the African continent as a whole.”

Professor Wim de Villiers spoke about a life in research, and the challenges facing the clinician-scientist and stressed the importance of working in a multidisciplinary research team.  He also wet the research appetites of those in attendance by sharing the 10 mysteries facing researchers in his field of interest: inflammatory bowel disease.

The dean also expressed his support for the undergraduate research society. “Undergraduate research benefits students in many ways,” said Volmink.  “It stimulates critical thinking, enables early development of skills needed to conduct and communicate scientific research, increases the likelihood of postgraduate studies being undertaken and enhances future career prospects. It also benefits the university through encouraging the generation of new perspectives and questions that challenge conventional thinking.”

“Thank you for your contribution to the enrichment of our campus. Please be assured of the continuing support of the Faculty for your initiative. May Q continue to grow from strength to strength in the years ahead.”

For more information on Q –The Tygerberg Undergraduate Research Society, please visit their website: www.sun.ac.za/q
Or contact them via email: qtygerberg@gmail.com

 

 

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FMHS Highlights of the 2014 April Graduation

 The Stellenbosch University’s graduation week of April 2014 was yet again packed with achievements by students of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

At the doctoral graduation ceremonies which were held on Thursday in the Endler Hall for the first time this year, the FMHS presented no less than 21 of the 123 graduates, who obtained their doctorates at the two separate sessions.  Of these, five were in Psychiatry, four in Molecular Biology, three in Human Genetics and in Medical Physiology, two in Human Nutrition and one each in Medical Biochemistry, Family Medicine, Chemical Pathology and Internal Medicine.

The degree, DSc, was awarded to Prof Andre Coetzee, Head of the Department of Anaesthesiology, making him the fifth person in the faculty to achieve this milestone. What makes the event even more special is that his daughter, Carien, received her PhD on the same day from the Faculty of Agriculture in oenology research on Sauvignon Blanc wine.  Click to read the article on Prof Coetzee’s achievement

At the Friday’s graduation ceremony, shared with Education, Law and Military, the 209 students of the FMHS received qualifications, including 109 postgraduate diplomas and 86 Masters degrees.

During this ceremony, the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), honoris causa, was awarded to Dr Edwin Hertzog as a visionary South African physician and businessman for his invaluable and sustained contribution to ensuring high-quality private healthcare in South Africa and abroad, and as an extraordinary leader and benefactor for his support to the University. Dr Hertzog is a long standing friend of the Faculty, where he had a significant interest in Ukwanda, as well as of the University, as alumnus and member of the SU Board from 1998 – 2004, where he also served as chairperson. Click here to watch video

Living up to the faculty's ethos of excellence, Deputy Dean, Research, Prof Nico Gey van Pittius, received an MBA at the Tuesday ceremony - his seventh degree.  He completed his PhD in 2002, after which he became a post-doctoral fellow in the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics.  He was part of the division’s research team whose work has led to the establishment of the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical Tuberculosis Research at SU.  His other degrees include BSc, Honns BSc, MSc (PU), PhD (Stell), LLB (UNISA), LLM (Stell), M.ASSAf, M.Akad.SA.

Prof Andre Coetzee and his daughter, Carien

Prof Nico Gey van Pittius received his seventh degree

MB,ChB students at the Oath taking ceremony with Prof Jimmy Volmink, Dean at the left, Prof Marietjie de Villiers, Deputy Dean: Education behind him and on the right at the back, Prof Ben van Heerden, programme director: MB,ChB.

Biomedical Science and Molecular Biology had a total of 8 PhD students, they are fltr drs Anzaan Dippenaar, Jomien Mouton, Stefanie Malan-Muller, Luba Macingwana, Muneeb Salie, Carin de Villier, Paula Hedley and Nikki le Roex.

PhD graduandi with Prof Soraya Seedat, Head of Psychiatry and Prof Cudore Snell, University of North Carolina, were from left drs Luba Macingwana, Alitha Pithey, Stefanie Malan-Muller and Akin Ojagbemi.

 

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Cardiologist tackles Cape Epic for a good cause

Dr Hellmuth Weich and Mannie Heymans
Crossing the finish line, exhausted but ecstatic!

A Tygerberg heart specialist teamed up with a pro-cyclist to tackle the ABSA Cape Epic to raise funds for SUNheart – a non-profit organisation helping disadvantaged South Africans gain access to advanced cardiac medical care and developing a training centre of excellence in cardiology.

With the help of a Mediclinic sponsorship, Dr Hellmuth Weich, a pioneering cardiologist practising at Tygerberg Hospital and Mediclinic Panorama, and Mannie Heymans, a champion cyclist, took on the gruelling 800km mountain bike race.

“The Epic is the most suitable name for any sporting event I can think of: the people abroad are fighting to enter, because it is by far the most important shift-race on the international mountain bike calendar. The organizing is something all South Africans can be proud of and to participate is something that has been on my bucket list for some time. To be able to do this with a legend like Mannie (even though he decided to do it on a snow bike which kept him back a lot) just made it so much more special. We were, due to mechanical difficulties, not really able to be competitive, but could promote SUNheart effectively and collect some funds,” Weich said after the race.

Weich has two passions: cycling and caring for patients with heart problems. He immediately saw participating in the Epic as an opportunity to combine these and thereby raising funds for and improving awareness of patients with heart disease during the race.

“We identified a large gap between our vision of high-level care, research and training in cardiac diseases and our facilities and budget constraints. The cardiac unit has a long history of not waiting for things to come our way, but rather actively pursuing our goals despite very limited resources. Over the years, we have generated funds outside our budget to finance two new cardiac catheterisation theatres, numerous heart ultra-sound machines and even training posts for doctors,” says Weich.

Besides sponsoring the SUNheart team by providing the race entry and cycling gear for the duo, Mediclinic has provided the medical support for the Cape Epic since its inception 11 years ago.

“We believe in a progressive approach to delivering cost-effective healthcare to a broader cross-section of South Africans. We are also constantly investigating how we can expand our support for training by partnering with government to train doctors, and contribute to various academic institutions to this effect,” says Dr Biren Valodia, Chief Marketing Officer, Mediclinic Southern Africa.

“SUNheart’s objectives align well with those of Mediclinic. We also have a long association with Dr Weich and fully support the ground-breaking work he does in his field. We are proud to be partnering with his team during the Epic,” Dr Valodia explains.

For more information about SUNheart, visit www.sun.ac.za/sunheart.

Photos: Sportograf