1. We're champion inventors. It was a South African who invented the computed axial tomography scan (that's a CAT scan to you and me). The late nuclear physicist Allan Cormack, who shared the 1979 Nobel Prize for the invention, was born in Johannesburg, and educated at Rondebosch Boys' High and the University of Cape Town.
2. We're champion surgeons. In just over a week, on December 3, it's the 40th anniversary of the first heart transplant. Thanks to the late Dr Chris Barnard for putting SA on the world's medical map.
3. We've got (almost) the best water. SA's tap water (for those who're able to access it) is a miracle: it's rated as the third best in the world. There are in fact only 12 countries in the world in which the tap water is rated safe to drink.
4. We're heroes in pain relief. Pretoria-born and Boksberg-raised Gervan Lubbe is the inventor of the Action Potential Stimulation (APS) device, an invention which electronically stimulates the body's nerve impulses to relieve chronic pain, saving sufferers (and their medical aids) thousands of rands in anti-inflammatory and pain-relief drugs.
5. Chris Hani hospital in Soweto is the biggest hospital in the world.
All this means little, though, in the face of the news that we've also won in the HIV/Aids race – in the sense that we've utterly messed up.
Yesterday a UNAIDS report stated that South Africa – with our proud history of medical firsts, our relative wealth (compared to other developing nations), our sophistication and our extensive ability to leverage both our own resources and the goodwill of the world – has officially become the country with the highest prevalence of HIV in the world.
Thousands of people will be losing their homes, their parents, their lives. The cost – financial, emotional, logistical and psychological – is inestimable. This statistic will hit tourism. It will hit the cost of employment. It might cripple medical and other insurance funds. It's bogging down the state medical system.
Our Health Minister, and our President, should be profoundly ashamed. They've been stubborn, politically self-serving and defensive – they've been stupid – in their public position on HIV/Aids.
(Heather Parker, Health24, November 2007)