How one doctor’s devotion to women’s health won her an opportunity of a lifetime


Dr Salome Maswime’s commitment to maternal and foetal medicine has just won her a Discovery Foundation MGH Fellowship Award, which means she’s off to Boston in the US to find answers to improving women’s health.

Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, the teaching hospital for the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School, is the third largest hospital in the world. It registers over 600 000 in- and out-patient cases and delivers 20 000 babies a year. One of the people working tirelessly to ensure safe deliveries there is Dr Salome Maswime, a Specialist Obstetrician and Gynaecologist.

In 2017, Dr Maswime received the Trailblazer and Young Achiever Award from the President – and it was a sign of great things to come. She was recently awarded the Discovery Foundation MGH Fellowship Award, which enables an aspiring leader in clinical and academic medicine to collaborate on cutting-edge clinical research at the Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States.

This young clinician scientist will spend a year abroad searching for answers about the causes of stillbirths in HIV positive mothers.

Many HIV-positive mothers experience the pain of stillbirths

According to UNIAIDS, South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world, with 19% of all the people in the world with HIV living here. As a country, we have made strides to reduce new infections, especially in the transfer of HIV from mother to baby during pregnancy and birth. With the biggest government-funded programme in the world, at least 95% of pregnant women access treatment or prophylaxis to prevent their babies from being infected.

Despite this, there is a high rate of stillbirths among these women. Dr Maswime’s mission is to drastically reduce the number of women who leave the hospital broken-hearted for this reason.

"No mother should lose her baby at birth"

“I believe no baby should lose their mother at birth, and no mother should lose her baby. There are many stillbirths, especially among mothers with HIV, and we don’t always know why,” says Dr Maswime, herself a mother of two.

"A lot is known about the effects of HIV on an infant and how to prevent transmission, but there is little evidence about the effect of HIV on the placenta and, in turn, the foetus. I hope that understanding more about the tissue that connects mother and baby can help improve the management of HIV-positive women to reduce adverse outcomes," says Dr Maswime.

Developing the next generation of leaders in SA medicine

The Discovery Foundation MGH Fellowship Award was introduced in 2013 in partnership with the prestigious Boston-based clinical service and biomedical research facility. Receiving the Discovery Foundation grant to hone her research and leadership skills is something Dr Maswime, who has always wanted to pursue an academic career, does not take lightly. "It's a big thing, because it's an opportunity that goes to one person in the country a year."

The award, valued at R2.1 million, aims to develop the next generation of leaders in academic and clinical medicine in South Africa. It does so by enabling a talented specialist clinician to experience the specialist clinical service and research environment at MGH over a one-year period.

Massachusetts General Hospital manages up to 3 700 deliveries in a year, many of them with complications or needing obstetric intervention. Along with the exposure Dr Maswime will get in study design, data analysis, manuscript preparation, presenting findings at research meetings and rich clinical experience, she will return to South Africa rich in expertise that could well shed light to help lower foetal death rates – one of South Africa’s key health goals.

Science is central to the future of medicine

This research is crucial because maternal and foetal medicine are fields that our country does not have a lot of expertise in, says Professor Martin Veller from the University of the Witwatersrand. "Dr Maswime is absolutely dedicated to high-quality clinical medicine, but she is also a brilliant scientist. And science is central to the future of medicine," he adds, in commending her achievement.

The outcomes of Dr Maswime's research can ultimately further South African public health and help mothers around the world.

Read more about Dr Salome Maswime and what she’s up to abroad here.

Investing in South African healthcare by rewarding excellence

The Discovery Foundation is an independent trust that addresses the critical shortage of healthcare resources in South Africa by training medical specialists for rural areas and subspecialists in fields of greatest need, as well as by developing academic medicine.

Over the past 12 years, the Foundation has invested over R210 million in grants to individuals and healthcare organisations. These grants include bursaries, research fellowships and support for teaching and research institutions.

Through its considered interventions, the Foundation is bringing quality infrastructure and services within the reach of many communities who have previously not had access. The Discovery Foundation has also committed to disburse another R300 million towards the training and support of 600 recipients by 2026.

Funding education at Harvard Medical School's teaching hospital

The Discovery Foundation MGH Fellowship Award was introduced in 2013 in partnership with the prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Based in Boston in the United States, MGH is a clinical service and biomedical research facility, as well as the Harvard Medical School’s largest teaching hospital.

The award aims to develop the next generation of leaders in academic and clinical medicine in South Africa. It does so by enabling a talented specialist clinician and aspiring leader to experience the specialist clinical service and research environment at MGH, and to conduct cutting-edge clinical research in collaboration with colleagues at the hospital, over a one-year period. The award is valued at R2.1 million.

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