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Change the world

19/12/2021

Former Vice-Chancellor Professor Derrick Swartz gives his insights on bringing the dream of the new Medical School to fruition. Prof Swartz was among the guests at the launch on November 30, 2021.

We are living at a time when humans have pushed the earth’s biophysical, ecological and life-giving support systems towards a critical inflexion or tipping point. The quality of human health and welfare is deeply ensnared in the confluence of climate change, ecological stress, biodiversity loss, and a growing “metabolic rift” between our way of life and the ability of the earth to sustain its growth.

Within the context of these deep structural pressures, and also intimately intertwined with its dynamics, the world is currently also experiencing a raging global health pandemic and deepening crisis of social inequality.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left a trail of destruction across the globe – more than 4.5 million deaths so far, with livelihoods destroyed and major disruptions in virtually every aspect of human life. But the burden of its costs is disproportionately carried by the poor and the world is already too connected for anyone to be safe if others are not safe.

We do not know what a post-COVID 19 world will look like, but it is likely that future historians will look back at the sad, but humbling irony of this period – when a microscopic virus, barely 50-140nm in diameter, not only brought the entire human planet to a standstill, but also forcing us to ask hard questions about a new future.

Social inequality is one of humanity’s most remarkable and enduring legacies, but the late President Nelson Mandela once said that “poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it can be removed by the actions of human beings”.

The launching of South Africa’s 10th Medical School at Nelson Mandela University comes at a time when humanity requires fresh thinking, new ideas and radical innovations to decisively break from the deadening hand of our collective past. We place ourselves at the service of radical change as it is our sincere belief that such transformation can only be achieved in the context of a sustainable, inclusive and equal society.

Internationally, the ideal of inclusive and equitable health for all is enshrined in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2015) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Government policy in South Africa is firmly committed to the ideal of creating an inclusive public healthcare system and the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme and the District Development Model (DDM) are a key part of this. We are firmly committed to enabling the realisation of these two cornerstones of a democratic healthcare system through our programmes.

We pledge ourselves at the service of this mission. Our goal is to provide quality medical and healthcare training that speaks to multiple challenges if we are to see an inclusive, equitable and participatory universal healthcare system.

Pedagogically, our approach is the training of future doctors as part of collaborative teams with other healthcare professionals and drawing on trans-disciplinary insights. Key to this is the use of indigenous knowledge systems working with frontier modern science to promote a holistic philosophy of health care and well-being. We see our diversity as a key source of strength to medical practice.

Beyond training of medical and healthcare workers, our university will also deploy its full range of research and innovation capabilities in the search for new diagnostic, therapeutic and vaccine technologies. These will be directed toward the fight against COVID-19 and future pandemics; legacy communicable diseases such as TB and HIV/AIDS, and climate-related health risks of the future.

The use of big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), machine and deep learning tools, together with Mandela University’s longstanding capabilities in mobile, remote sensing and robotic technologies, will be crucial assets. Similarly, we hope to deploy these towards effective interventions in response to future climate-driven health threats.

With a strong focus on primary healthcare, our focus will be on strengthening the core pillars of community health. The medical school has a strong public health education component, working with local actors to build solidarity, partnerships and co-creation of solutions that places agency within the hands of communities.

As we stand at this crossroads, Nelson Mandela University pledges to harness all its knowledge and expertise to the historic task of creating an inclusive and sustainable tomorrow for all.

We do not have a clear map of the road ahead but, as we step into this future, we will draw inspiration from other words from Madiba: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it”.

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057
debbie.derry@mandela.ac.za