Spearheading a move to become an internationally recognised global surgery research hub, the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) launched the Global Surgery Fellowship programme in 2020. Funded through the South African Medical Research Council Mid-career scientist grant for R6 million, it was awarded to Associate Professor Salome Maswime, Head of the Global Surgery Division at the FHS Department of Surgery. The programme welcomed its first cohort of postgraduate research fellows in July 2020.
The programme offers a unique opportunity to do an MSc or PhD in Global Surgery, as well as non-degree related research. As a response to a gap that Maswime recognised in surgical health systems research, the programme supports five part-time fellows including Masters and PhD students, a full-time biomedical scientist, a lecturer and a senior secretary.
“Global surgery provides an opportunity for research across large populations with different health systems. This will lead to better access and improve the quality of surgical care for underserved and vulnerable populations,” said Maswime, a 2020 World Economic Forum Young Scientist.
The fellowship has also created an opportunity for new partnerships with other institutions such as Harvard and Oxford universities, with a wide reach of students from other parts of South Africa including Limpopo, Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal, as well as Tanzania.
Maswime said: “We learnt how to work with a group of research fellows in different parts of the world. We supervised students in Tanzania, the United Kingdom and Durban through regular research meetings and a virtual journal club, which created a strong sense of community amongst our part-time students.”
The online virtual monthly journal club is attended by surgeons and students from various countries and institutions, who constitute just some of the members of the diverse group brought together by the division; including healthcare workers from nurses to paramedics, doctors, and allied services. Led by Dr Christella Alphonsus, a PhD candidate and a Global Surgery research fellow, the journal club covers a wide array of topics such as politics, religion, gun violence and surgery to support the growing global surgery research community.
The programme also partnered with the student-led UCT Surgical Society to host a webinar series on Global Surgery. Co-ordinated by Regan Boden, the series has brought together experts from various disciplines in health; from public health to gynaecology, from anaesthesia to cardiology – all to discuss topics that impact access to quality healthcare in South Africa and the continent at large.
The fellowship programme offers funding, supervision, mentorship and research training to help students achieve their research aspirations. Amy Paterson, part of the class of 2020, is completing her MSc in Global Surgery. She spent her student years at UCT serving the community health-focused Shawco clinics. Paterson has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and been for a DPhil in Surgical Sciences at Oxford University. She described her experience with the programme: “The scholarship has created an incredible and inspiring academic community for me and given me the opportunity to work alongside a lot of the people I look up to in the world of Global Surgery. My Rhodes fellowship and future as a DPhil student at Oxford is very much a result of the support and input of Prof Maswime and that community.”
Paterson's accolade speaks to what Maswime describes as the division’s long-term vision: “To become an internationally recognised global surgery research hub, and our having our first cohort of students brings us closer to realising our dream.”
The director of Research is Professor Bruce Biccard, and through his leadership a Global Surgery research framework has been developed, which clearly defines what global surgery research is. Maswime explained that: “Global surgery has often been referred to as the stepchild of global health, and this type of research is often neglected despite the unmet need for surgery. Housing this research in the Global Surgery Division aligns with all the international efforts to achieve universal surgical coverage. We are well positioned because we work with experts from the departments of surgery, anaesthesia, obstetrics and gynaecology, public health, primary healthcare, family medicine, and the Graduate School of Business.”
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