Meet Salome Maswime, the trailblazing woman appointed as UCT’s new head of Global Surgery

Associate Professor Salome Maswime wants to improve universal access to surgical care for patients.
Associate Professor Salome Maswime wants to improve universal access to surgical care for patients.
Je'nine May

The birth of her baby is a moment no mother will ever forget, and Associate Professor Salome Maswime is there in spirit on every occasion. The ever present reality of maternal mortality is, however, a tragedy that spurred Maswime to have a closer look at the problem and learn how to do more about it.   

Recently appointed as the University of Cape Town’s new head of Global Surgery, Maswime’s mission is to improve healthcare, equity, good quality care and universal surgical access. For Maswime, this is particularly relevant in low-resource settings, especially in South Africa, because of factors such as:

  • High surgical morbidity and mortality rates
  • Delays in patients receiving care
  • An unmet need for access to surgical care
  • High rates of complications
  • Differences in the standards of care

“We’ve got such a high burden of disease, and unless we start looking at the why and the how to improve it, we will continue practising medicine the way we have been taught.

“But if clinicians and public health specialists start talking to each other, we will find solutions together that are going to improve outcomes. Global surgery is about doing that,” Maswime said.

Global surgery “encompasses multiple aspects that surround the treatment of surgical disease and its equitable provision across health systems globally”, an article in BMJ Journals notes, further mentioning it as a long, neglected topic within global and public health sectors.

A 2016 UCT research paper indicated that while surgery is emerging as a priority in global health, information around the burden of surgical diseases or the available surgical resources is unfortunately very limited. 

‘I realised how health systems affect surgical outcomes’

Maswime graduated as a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist from the University of Witwatersrand in 2013, and completed her PhD investigating Caesarean-related morbidity and mortality.

“I did a study across 15 hospitals and that is when I really realised how health systems affect surgical outcomes,” she says.

A declining quality of health care in South Africa has caused the public to lose trust in its healthcare system, a journal article by the University of KwaZulu-Natal researchers Winnie Maphumulo and Busisiwe Bhengu revealed last year. But Maswime, who is also a recipient of the prestigious Discovery Foundation Massachusetts General Hospital Fellowship Award and President of the South African Clinician Scientists’ Society, has an exciting vision for her department.

This ambitious medical professional wants to venture into developing global surgery at UCT into a world-renowned centre for excellence, and contribute to changing the way that surgical practice is taught. Maswime, who dreams of becoming an A-rated scientist along the way, also sees a gap in training and developing people who are equipped to take this forward across the continent, and wants to change the face of medicine by achieving this. 

Constantly reimagining new ways of delivering patient-centred healthcare, such as the integration of mental health and maternal services, Maswime is unafraid of stepping up to challenges. 

Describing herself as creative and hardworking, her relentless commitment to her patients’ cause means she does not conform to the textbook version of practising medicine, and she encourages other young people to do the same.

“Find yourself and do what you believe in and what you are meant to do,” she says.

Image: Supplied/Je’nine May, UCT Communication and Marketing Department

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