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Wits honours former head of UCT

- By Wits University

Professor Stuart Saunders  being hooded by Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, President of Convocation“I am not sorry that more and more young people whose main goal is future financial success seek careers in other faculties because the care of the sick and the advancement of human health should be at the centre of what you do and not how much money you can make out of it. The idealism which lies at the heart of the healing professions is crucial.”

These words were aptly delivered to graduands from the Faculty of Health Sciences on 11 December 2014 by Professor Stuart Saunders. 

Saunders was the guest speaker at the Faculty’s afternoon graduation ceremony where he was also awarded an honorary degree by the University. The Doctor of Medicine degree was conferred upon Saunders for his sterling contributions, both to the medical field as well as the higher education sector.

The former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT), who has served in positions of national significance delivered an address which spoke about what is means to work with people when they are most vulnerable. He spoke about ethics, compassion, and inequality in medicine.

In an effort to conscientise the graduands to do more for the poor, Saunders said diseases are given prominence and funding support depending on who is affected.

 “It will come as no surprise to you to know that most of the advances in treatment have come in the case of hepatitis C because that it the more common hepatitis virus causing problems in North American and Europe as opposed to B which is rife in  Africa and Asia.

It is true that we now have a vaccine for hepatitis B which is helping to eliminate the disease and with it many cases of primary liver cancer but the disparity in recent advances in treatment is striking.”

West Africa is being ravaged by Ebola and has killed over 5000 people thus far.

"The nature of the (ebola) virus has been known for forty years and yet there have been few attempts to develop a vaccine or any therapeutic drugs. The reason for this is clear. It is a disease which has affected poor Africans in poorly developed countries and not in North America or Europe."

Living in an age of accelerated technological development has its benefits and downside opined the co-founder of the Liver Research Centre at UCT.

Saunders narrated the story of Arnold Relman, a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, and a renowned nephrologist who fell down the stairs at the age of 90 and spent some time in hospital. Relman wrote on his experiences and was appalled by the fact that the doctors were more concerned with looking at their computers than relating to the patient.

“Patients are human beings. They are anxious, frightened and vulnerable and you must make emotional and physical contact with them,” he cautioned.

“Being human and having humane values are still central to the practice of all health professionals.” To read his speech, click here.

About Saunders:

Stuart Saunders has been a major influence and participant in higher education for half a century in ensuring that the spirit and values of a liberal education survived in South Africa before 1994, and since 1994, in finding and channelling international resources to promote and enable research at South African Universities.

Saunders has been honoured by a number of universities. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from six institutions: the Universities of Aberdeen, Sheffield, Rhodes, Cape Town, Princeton and Toronto. He is a Fellow of the College of Physicians of South Africa, the Royal Society of South Africa and of the Royal College of Physicians London. He is an honorary fellow of the College of Medicine.

He is a trustee of several foundations and trusts, including, the Claude Leon Foundation; the Fox Foundation; the Webb Trust; and the UCT Trust in the United Kingdom. For more on his achievements, click here.