‘I want to mentor young people at home and around the world’

Posted on November 14, 2018

UP’s Dr Flavia Senkubuge was recently appointed President of the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa. Tukkievaria asked her about her exciting new position and how she plans to take the health sciences profession forward.

What does your role as President of the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA) entail?

As President, I will lead a 64-year-old organisation that is one of the most prestigious bodies of medicine in South Africa and one of the apex bodies of medicine in Africa. The CMSA is the custodian of the quality of medical care in South Africa and is unique because it embraces 28 constituent Colleges, representing all the disciplines of medicine and dentistry. I will work closely with a wonderful team of the best and most respected colleagues in specialist medicine in our country, region and the world. My role is to provide leadership, ensure that we maintain excellence in specialist medical education, and ensure that we collaborate regionally and globally, all while being innovative and creating value across the medical profession, health system and society.

Tell us about your background, expertise and the work you do.

I grew up in the town of Lady Frere in the former Transkei. With the advent of democracy, we moved to Queenstown in the Eastern Cape, where I went to the prestigious Queenstown Girls’ High School. I was awarded the highest honour in the province by being selected as the Eastern Cape matric learner of the year in 1996.

I completed my medical degree in 2004 at the University of Pretoria (UP) and went on to do my internship at Dr George Mukhari Hospital in Ga-Rankuwa. I finished as the 2005 intern of the year. After my community service, I went back to UP and specialised in Public Health Medicine, and was awarded the Fellowship of Public Health Medicine in 2009 and Master of Medicine in Community Health in 2010.

My work is rooted in the philosophy of ubuntu (“I am because we are”) and as such, I work in Africa, and globally, in my areas of interests, which include global health diplomacy, tobacco control, health policy and management, leadership, universal health coverage, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and the social determinants of health.

I’m a specialist in public health medicine and was the chair of the health policy and management division. I am also the current acting chair of the School of Health Systems and Public Health.

I am the Vice-President of the African Federation of Public Health Associations, which advocates and promotes public health in Africa; the secretary of the WHO/Afro region African Advisory Council on Research and Development; and the executive director of non-profit organisation Public Health Africa.

I am the board chair of the Health Systems Trust, a non-profit that’s been at the forefront of the local health system for more than 20 years, the board chair of the BETA project, tasked with building effective tobacco control advocates in Africa to respond to the Sustainable Developmental Agenda, and a member of the National Department of Health’s Tobacco Task team, tasked with advising the department on tobacco control policy.

In 2015, I was selected as Young Physician Leader by the prestigious InterAcademy Medical Panel, and selected again in 2016. I was also a 2018 finalist for the Women of Stature Award in the category Women in Healthcare.

What are the challenges facing the health sciences profession in South Africa?

There are several challenges, but the most urgent would be the burden of disease in the face of inequity and lack of human resources; advancement in health technology and innovation; influencing and significantly contributing to South African health policy agenda and shaping the debate; and friendly environments for health professionals that enhance wellbeing.

How can the CMSA tackle these challenges and what is your vision for it?

My vision for the CMSA is titled CMSA Agenda 2022: Educate, Innovate, Impact. I am calling for a dynamic organisation that harnesses the excellence of all its members and stakeholders. With others, I plan together to lead a CMSA that is responsive and creates value for its profession, health system and society.

We will ensure that our environment is kind, friendly and conducive to excellence. We also plan to continue our work in providing the health system with specialists or diplomates examined according to the best standards so that this cadre of professionals will be better able to respond to our burden of disease and complex health system challenges.

To ensure that we’re at the cutting edge of advancements in innovation and technology, we will collaborate with colleagues around the world, while also ensuring that we respond to our needs in South Africa. We have a well-respected, credible brand and we aim to be part of the national discourse, and advance the health agenda.

What are your biggest concerns about health issues in Africa?

We’re dealing with complex health systems issues in Africa that demand an out-of-the-box problem-solving approach. As Africans, we need to be the custodians of our own narrative, and produce home-grown evidence to solve our health challenges and drive our policy agenda while working with others.

Health isn’t isolated from our development agenda; in fact, I’d argue that health is key to achieving the African developmental agenda, and therefore the African Agenda 2063. My concern is that we’re still working in silos – we have to come together as Africans and learn from one another.

For instance, we need to see more activity and dynamism from grass-roots organisations such as the African Federation of Public Health Associations; the African Federation of Emergency Medicine, which brings together people working in emergency medicine in Africa; the African Medical Association, which acts as a collective voice for physicians in Africa; and many others.

What is your role in tobacco control and your view on smoking?

I work regionally and internationally to advance the tobacco control agenda, which advocates for the implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a groundbreaking public health policy. I believe in a tobacco-free world because smoking is one of the major preventable risk factors, and I’ve seen first hand from my patients the benefits of quitting tobacco use. My PhD focus is on smoking-related health risk knowledge and understanding the reactions of South African adults to cigarette warning labels.

I was the first black woman and youngest president of the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health 2018, one of the largest policy conferences. I’m proud of the work achieved at the conference, particularly putting the youth and women agenda front and centre of the tobacco control discourse, and working closely with Action on Smoking and Health to sign the Cape Town declaration on human rights and a tobacco-free world. This was a historic declaration that reaffirmed the link between tobacco and human rights.

My current projects include working with the Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa – we’ve just finalised the African research strategy for tobacco control, which seeks to guide the research that’s needed to drive the tobacco control policy agenda in Africa.

What are your future plans?

As the executive director of Public Health Africa, I plan to work on this initiative to ensure that it grows into an organisation that contributes significantly to the health system in Africa.

I also plan to mentor more young people around the world and particularly at home to ensure that I groom the next generation of health leaders.

And finally to take a little break at the sea, unwind and recharge my batteries!

Copyright © University of Pretoria 2024. All rights reserved.

FAQ's Email Us Virtual Campus Share Cookie Preferences