Health

South Africa: Pioneering Global Surgery Work Scores UCT Professor Distinguished Award


Salome Maswime, professor and the head of Global Surgery at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is celebrating a series of milestones. In a remarkable week, she received the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Clinician-Scientist Award at the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)-South 32 awards ceremony and was also officially inducted as a full professor during her recent inaugural lecture.

After qualifying as a medical doctor at 24 and getting married soon after, Maswime attempted a stint at being a stay-at-home wife. This was short-lived when her husband convinced her to pursue her PhD. Years later, Maswime is a clinician scientist, academic, and advocate for women’s health rights – world-renowned for leading research on obstetric surgery and stillbirths.

“Thank you for recognising the work that we are doing in global surgery and equity. Thank you for also recognising and creating this award for clinician scientists,” Maswime said in her acceptance speech. The awards were conferred during a gala ceremony held simultaneously in Cape Town and Johannesburg on the evening of 14 July.

“Despite the advances in medical science, billions of people in the world do not have access to surgical care.”

Maswime said her award is a significant recognition of research that aims to interrogate access to surgical care to improve the safety and quality of this type of medical care in Africa, especially for pregnant women. “The biggest challenge for our generation is not going to be discovering new diseases or new treatment – granted there is a very special place for that – it is rather to improve access to healthcare. Despite the advances in medical science, billions of people in the world do not have access to surgical care.”

Popularly known as South Africa’s “Science Oscars”, the NSTF awards are the largest and most prestigious science, engineering, technology (SET), and innovation awards in the country. They showcase the research and development capacity of the country through recognising outstanding contributions to SET outcomes carried out by esteemed researchers.

Recognising research rigour

Global Surgery is a new field in medicine and focuses on access to surgery and improving quality of care and outcomes. This is particularly important in under-resourced communities where surgical morbidity and mortality rates are typically high, access to surgical care is lacking, complications occur frequently, patients face delays in receiving necessary care; and there are stark differences in the quality of care provided. Further exacerbated by the chasmic disparities between surgical outcomes across varying geographic settings.

Based in the Faculty of Health Sciences, Maswime is the education director for the Global Surgery academic programme at UCT, the chairperson of the Health Systems Trust Board, a global council member of LifeBox, the vice-president of the Women in Global Health South Africa, and the founder and president of the South African Clinician Scientists Society. She also chairs UCT’s steering committee for the University of the Future Project.

Two days before receiving her NSTF award, she delivered her professorial inaugural lecture on caesarean section-related complications and strengthening global surgical systems.

UCT vice-chancellor interim, Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy, described the NSTF-South32 awards as a “cardinal recognition” of the dedication, perseverance and tremendous effort of the work South African researchers carry out towards addressing society’s challenges.

“Scientific research is a lengthy, rigorous endeavour.”

“Scientific research is at times an arduous endeavour. Nevertheless, it has the potential to have a profound impact on individuals, to empower and build communities, and offer a deeper understanding of the world’s challenges, in this way helping us pioneer innovative ideas and solutions,” he said.