Honorary doctorate for Dr Mitch Besser

14 December 2023

Dear colleagues and students

During the December graduation ceremonies, the University of Cape Town (UCT) will acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of our new graduates. Hundreds of students across our faculties will be rewarded for their dedication and hard work.

It is during this time that our university also pays tribute to extraordinary individuals who have played a pivotal role in the development of society at large.

It therefore gives me pleasure to announce that UCT will, as part of its tradition, confer the university’s highest honour, Doctor of Science in Medicine (honoris causa), on obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Mitch Besser on Thursday, 14 December at 14:00.

Dr Besser was born on 9 June 1954 in Los Angeles, California in the United States of America. He is a graduate of Harvard Medical School. His professional career has been dedicated to the public health needs of women. In 1999, Dr Besser joined UCT’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, assisting with the development of services to meet the needs of pregnant women living with HIV and to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their children.

He recognised the need for an education and psychosocial support programme that would contribute to Prevention of Mother to Child Transmissions services achieving the best medical and social outcomes. Hoping to fill this void, he created Mothers2Mothers (M2M), through which mothers living with HIV are employed to work in health centres, educating and supporting pregnant women and new mothers with HIV; reducing the workload of doctors and nurses; and increasing the effectiveness of interventions that reduce the number of babies born with HIV and keep mothers healthy and alive to raise their children.

M2M is a partner in the United Nations’ Global Plan towards the Elimination of New HIV Infections among children. Through M2M, so far 14.5 million individuals have been reached with life-changing health services and education since 2001. Furthermore, 2.1 million women and children, who may otherwise have been at increased risk of maternal and child mortality, were kept alive since 2001. The M2M programme helped 4.4 million adults in staying HIV-negative over the past seven years alone. Through the programme, 1.2 million people living with HIV have accessed life-saving antiretroviral treatment since 2008.

Dr Besser had a huge impact in elevating the esteem of UCT through his charitable and public health service on prevention of mother to child HIV transmission, which commenced while he was still affiliated with the university. His work has epitomised the values of service, integrity, respect, fairness, courage and responsibility – which have been at the core of every professional endeavour he has undertaken – and these are values that are also central to UCT.

Among the many accolades he has received, Dr Besser was awarded the Global Health Council’s Best Practice Award, the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, and the Presidential Citizens Award of the United States Government. He is also an Ashoka and Schwab Fellow. He has presented at TED Talks, appeared on BBC’s Forum and has given a Friday Evening Discourse at the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

UCT is privileged and honoured to have worked with an obstetrician and gynaecologist of his calibre and stature. A person who has expanded the frontiers of knowledge in a manner that makes real, tangible and impactful changes in people's lives. We congratulate Dr Besser on this well-deserved accolade.


Emer Prof Daya Reddy
Vice-Chancellor interim

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