He has received a number of accolades within and outside the medical fraternity, including the Oxford Nuffield Medical Fellowship, the National Research Foundation (NRF) President’s award, the NRF A-Rating, the national Order of Maphungubwe in Silver and others..and yet remains grounded and even more determined to make a major difference in the health sciences.
Newly-appointed Dean of the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences Prof. Bongani Mayosi was recently in the UK, where he was also a distinguished speaker at a lecture event hosted by the UCT Trust UK.
Thapelo Moloantoa sat down with Mayosi and had a chat with him about a number of topics ranging from his specialisations, the 1000 Phd Leadership Programme to South Africa’s mooted National Health Insurance (NHI).
Kindly provide us with a brief description of your area of specialisation in the Cardio-Vascular field.
I first trained as a General Practitioner before taking up training as a specialist Cardiologist.
After training as a Cardiologist I then took up two specialisations. The first is in the genectics of heart disease. So my work has been in discovering genetic causes of heart disease. The second area of specialisation is in reducing the burden of poverty-related heart disease. Examples of these types of diseases are Tuberculosis of the heart, and secondly rheumatic heart disease, and thirdly Cardiomyopathy and Myocarditis.
As I often say, poverty also breaks one’s heart. people often associate heart disease with wealth. It is true that people with wealth are vulnerable to certain forms of heart disease. This is also the case with people living in poverty-stricken conditions.
We have conducted research into the causes and prevention of these sorts of heart disease, For instance when one considers rheumatic heart valve disease, one discovers that it is a form of heart disease that actually results from an infection. It results from a sore throat in childhood that is not treated properly. We have been working to demonstrate that treating this sore throat from the start with penicillin can go a long way in not only reducing but eliminating rheumatic heart valve disease. We work on programmes to increase the availability and use of penicillin in various countries to treat sore throats in children, with a view to consigning rheumatic heart valve disease and rheumatic fever to the dustbin of history.
Please give us an outline of the ‘1000 Phds Leadership Programme’ that you have championed since 2007.
One of the key limitations to development in the African and South African contect is the lack of highly qualified professors and researchers who can teach in medical schools, who can conduct research to solve some of our problems. Of course, we are aware of the fact that medical training is professional training which results in the production of a specialist. But to be an academic, you also need academic training – this is something that was neglected in the South African system.
It became clear that the capacity of the South African system to produce knowledge was declining rapidly in the 2000s. The government made a request to us to form a panel who task it was to examine this issue closely. It became clear then that one of the reasons that caused a decline in South Africa’s competitiveness in medical research was that we were not training professors in the health sciences, as in the case in politics or economics. If you are going to produce a high calibre professor in politics and / or economics then they probably have to train up to Phd level.This also applies to medicine.
So, it was then agreed that we needed to invest in the training of large numbers of scholars in the health sciences. The specific programme which has been supported by the national health department is called the National Health Scholars Programme which seeks to produce 1000 Phd-level graduates in all the disciplines of the health sciences by 2022. The Department of Health has in fact put aside funding for this, and the Minister of Heath has also convened a group of companies who have contributed funds into what is called the Public Health Fund, which is geared towards assisting with the programme.
We have in the past two years recruited over 70 scholars into the programme. as part of the beginning of this journey towards realising the objective of training a 1000 Phds. It is going to require other partners to help with this, and a part of my visit here is to meet and talk to potential funders and supporters for this programme. This includes colleagues from the university of Oxford and others.
In my new position as Dean, I intend to work together with my colleagues in the Faculty of Health Sciences towards delivering on the ideals of this particular programme. I am heavily invested towards ensuring that we achieve the goal of training 1000 Phds in my lifetime. They will form what I call ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of The Nation)’, the leadership and the innovative edge in health sciences that will raise standards for the next 100 years.
This I believe will ensure that we produce in our lifetime our own Nobel Prize winners, our own future Chris Barnards and other innovators in health sciences. So that is something that I am very committed to that will require resources from all of society.
Views on the National Health Insurance (NHI)
The principles of the NHI is widely supported – which is the principle of ensuring that there is universal access to a certain minimum standard of high quality health care to all South Africans. I think that is a great aspiration for us all. It is in line with the sustainable development goals, and one of those goals is to achieve universal access to high quality health care for the majority of the population. So we are excited about the idea of the NHI.
What we need to work on as a society is a funding model for this, using the principle that it is from each according to their means, and to each according to their needs.