Intervention where it matters

Investing in the Future Education Award
Discovery Foundation

The Discovery Foundation is investing more than R100-million over a 10-year period to address the severe shortage of skilled medical professionals in South Africa and expects at least 300 medical specialists to qualify as a result. Since its establishment in 2006, the foundation has donated more than R62-million in awards to 146 recipients, including several organisations working in public healthcare. In 2011 alone it gave R22-million to 29 recipients.

The foundation specifically targets women and previously disadvantaged people, particularly those who live in rural areas. It is all about extending Discovery’s philosophy of “making people healthier”. “Our research showed us that not enough people were being trained to fill the gaps, even though the government had started to address the issue,” said Andronica Masemola, a senior specialist at the foundation.

In its first five years, the foundation contributed to academic and clinical research and sub-specialist training in healthcare focus areas such as tuberculosis, HIV/Aids, neuropsychiatry, kidney disease, pneumonia, paediatrics and cervical cancer. Masemola said the foundation believed in the “multiplier effect”, citing the Centre for Rural Health as one of its success stories. In 2008, the centre received R1-million for the University of the Witwatersrand’s “rural health in education” project.

Students from rural backgrounds were selected in consultation with universities, districts and local communities to study medicine. Once trained, they would return to their home districts to work on a year-by-year basis in exchange for their study loans. Fifty-seven students are now benefiting from the programme, studying medicine, occupational therapy and nursing.

The foundation maintains a close relationship with its benificiaries and encourages them to learn from each other. Every year it hosts the Discovery Foundation Alumni Conference, which brings recipients together to share experiences, inspiration and challenges. “In this way the foundation hopes to strengthen the academic medicine knowledge base in South Africa,” said Masemola.

Monitoring and evaluation are also important and trustees meet regularly to review the foundation’s ­progress. Recipients are expected to submit written reports at various stages of their studies. Masemola said the foundation had extensive contact with universities, health science faculties and the medical fraternity to review the relevance of awards, obtain feedback and encourage more applications.

The statistics are impressive. To date the Discovery Foundation has helped to fill 12% of the sub-specialist positions in South African hospitals. But there was still a long way to go, said Masemola, because medical education was a long and expensive process.

The judges praised the comprehensiveness of the programme and its constant evaluation. They said the foundation was making an ­invaluable contribution to nation-building by addressing the shortage of medical professionals.

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