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The African experience of Doctors without Borders at Wits

- Deborah Minors

Wits hosted the MSF Scientific Day Southern Africa 2016 in association with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Doctor Without Borders Southern Africa.

In Rustenburg, South Africa, 25% of women have been raped in their lifetime.

In Lesotho, despite demand for contraceptive implants, access to family planning is limited because the Roman Catholic Church funds the health facilities and forbids contraception.  

In Mozambique, 58% of sex workers are HIV+ and most of them are 27-years-old.

In Liberia, 34% of Ebola survivors suffered depression and Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder.

These and other findings were revealed in presentations made at the MSF Scientific Day Southern Africa 2016 hosted at the School of Public Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits on 9 June 2016.

Prof. Laetitia Rispel, Head of the School of Public Health, said the choice of venue was appropriate as the School is a “lived space” for gatherings that enhance Wits as an enabling environment for research and teaching excellence.

“In light of our national and global responsibility to serve and elevate public health academic endeavours, the Wits School of Public Health congratulates MSF on its inaugural operational research symposium,” she said.

“This symposium aims to improve the quality of medical care, share knowledge and influence practice, with a particular focus on the medical humanitarian field. The topics were aligned to both the research and teaching endeavours of the School.”

Professor Martin Veller, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences delivered the introductory address. Professor Ashraf Coovadia, Principal Specialist in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University chaired the panel in session 1, entitled Reaching 90-90-90: What does MSF have to say?  

90-90-90 is a UNAIDS objective that, by 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their status, 90% of those diagnosed will receive sustained anti-retroviral treatment (ART), and 90% of those will have viral suppression.

Abstracts presented within this theme explored early access to ART in Swaziland; the role of community ART groups in Mozambique; implementing viral load monitoring in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe; and the impact of treatment-resistant TB in South Africa.

Session 2, entitled Confronting women’s health challenges featured abstracts on HIV testing strategies for sex workers in Mozambique; treatment services for survivors of sexual violence and rape in Rustenburg;  the impact of mothers self-screening for malnutrition in Niger; and addressing maternal mortality through family planning in Lesotho.

The third session focused on providing healthcare to migrants and refugees (specifically in Europe), while session four abstracts focussed on new strains, drugs, and apps in infectious diseases, and included a case study of a new strain of meningitis in Nigeria.

MSF Scientific Days aim to connect audiences across countries, organisations, specialties, and disciplines and to promote dialogue around the evidence underpinning medical humanitarian operations. This engagement helps guide MSF operations, influence policy, and ultimately improve the quality of care for patients.