SA boosts health research capacity

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cape Town – Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has described the launch of a government initiative to boost human resources development in health research and innovation as “a dream come true” as the country strives to improve the overall quality of health.

Called the National Health PhD Scholars Programme, the project has a seed funding of R15 million, of which R5 million was from government and R10 million from the private sector.

The programme wants to deliver 1 000 PhDs in all health professional fields over the next 10 years.

Dr Motsoaledi named and introduced the first 13 recipients of the scholarship at a news conference in Cape Town.

For the duration of their full-time studies, each one of the 13 recipients will be paid the after-tax salary they are currently receiving from the Department of Health. They are also expected to return to their institutions after gaining their doctorates.

Although the 13 will study in South Africa, with one of them due to also do some research in Scandinavia, no restrictions have been placed on where they or future recipients should study.

In South Africa, like in the rest of the world, the health research workforce was ageing, and also declining numerically.

This limits the capacity to increase the numbers of healthcare professionals required in the country. It also causes an inability to cope with increasing demands imposed on the health service by “the colliding epidemics of infectious diseases like TB and HIV/Aids, acceptably high rates of maternal, infant and child mortality, violence and injuries and non-communicable diseases”.

Motsoaledi said: “The new health research leadership produced under this scheme will also address the dire need for academic healthcare professionals to train and inspire the next generation of healthcare professionals in existing and new universities.”

In 2011, Motsoaledi appointed the National Health Research Committee which, in collaboration with the national Department of Health, convened a health research summit that made seven vital recommendations.

Among them were that South Africa increase funding to the two percent target of the national health budget, train a new generation of health researchers, especially black people and women, and fund priority research projects designed to increase the life span of citizens. 

The summit also reached a national consensus on the major health research priorities, which were increasing life expectancy; decreasing child and maternal mortality rates; combating HIV and Aids and sexually transmitted infections; reducing the burden of disease from tuberculosis, and enhancing health systems effectiveness.

Motsoaledi said that in 2010, he was inspired on a visit to Brazil by the sight of 800 doctoral students working under one roof. South Africa did not have a similar programme. All of this changed with today’s announcement.

“Today I can say that my dream is coming true. Today, we are taking such a huge step in that direction (the Brazilian one). This will ensure that we don’t lag behind other countries in research and innovation. I’m very happy,” Dr Motsoaledi said.

The government intervention would address the critical shortage of academic healthcare professionals by introducing fully-funded doctoral scholarships.

Dr Motsoaledi told the 13 recipients: “Our expectation is that you will become a new generation of health researchers, who will contribute immensely towards increasing the production of properly trained healthcare workers in the large numbers that the country requires.” –