Prof Jannie Hugo, head of the University of Pretoria’s Department of Family Medicine, was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the South African Medical Association (SAMA) for outstanding, pioneering contributions to the primary healthcare system.
The award is presented to an individual who has dedicated their life to the single-minded pursuit of medicine as a career and served it with distinction. Prof Hugo might say he’s “just doing his job” but there’s no doubt about the care and commitment he’s shown to marginalised groups in South Africa.
“My job is in primary care, and research and education within the primary healthcare system – what are the issues in primary healthcare, and what needs to happen to address these issues,” Prof Hugo explains.
Family physician Dr Lindiwe Shange, a senior lecturer in the department, nominated Prof Hugo for the award. “He plays a strong advocacy role and fights for the human rights of the most vulnerable, who are often regarded by others as second-class citizens, such as drug users and homeless people infected with HIV,” says Dr Shange.
From the beginning of his career, Prof Hugo has worked in community clinics across the country and experienced first-hand what happens in rural areas and to marginalised groups. He recognises the need to bridge the gaps within the primary healthcare system.
One of the ways this is being done is through community-based research. Prof Hugo has led innovated research methods and created inclusive integrated learning environments, bringing medical students, district doctors, clinical associates and registrars together to achieve optimum results for underserved communities. “He was instrumental in the establishment of UP’s Community Orientated Primary Care (COPC) Research Unit which encourages community-based research,” says Dr Shange.
COPC and Ward-Based Outreach Teams (WBOT) were developed to establish healthier homes and better networks for patients between the clinics and their homes. Under Prof Hugo’s leadership, these programmes introduced technology – specifically mobile technology – to enable data collection and improve patient diagnostics and treatment. “Mobile technology has made it possible to take healthcare into people’s homes and improve their lives,” he says.
Prof Hugo is also actively involved in primary healthcare in the City of Tshwane. Under his leadership, the Community Oriented Substance Project (COSUP) was established in partnership with the City of Tshwane, the Gauteng Department of Health and the Department of Family Medicine. The project helps those with substance-abuse issues. “In 2014, I became fully aware of what happens on our streets with substance use and I had to get involved with that because that’s my job,” Prof Hugo explains. “I also saw how badly the criminal justice system is mixed up in this, and how patients are regarded as criminals.”
It was during this time that he introduced a new concept to the healthcare system – managing people at home and ensuring that the necessary support structures were in place. COSUP focuses on evidence-based solutions to the effects of substance abuse by restoring functionality and improving health.
“He has always emphasised the importance of the community healthcare worker,” Dr Shange says, reflecting on the lessons Prof Hugo has taught her. After years of advocacy by Prof Hugo, the wages of community healthcare workers were finally budgeted into the National Health Plan. Dr Shange now works at Kalafong Provincial Tertiary Hospital and is focused on the homeless.
Continuing to work at a sub-district level, Prof Hugo wants to establish multidisciplinary teams, and better integrate people, processes and IT so that vulnerable families can have an effective, clear treatment pathway.