Marietjie de Villiers, professor in Family Medicine and Primary Care at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), Stellenbosch University (SU), has recently been elected as President of the African Forum for Research and Education in Health (AFREhealth), an Africa-wide network of health professions training institutions, researchers and academics.
The AFREhealth initiative – launched in August 2016 – is an inter-professional health professions forum which was built out of the networks built up by the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the Nursing Education Partnership Initiative (NEPI).
MEPI and NEPI, which were set up by the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), jointly provided funding for 13 medical and 22 nursing schools in Africa to improve education in the health professions.
AFREhealth aims to build on the achievements of MEPI and NEPI by improving healthcare in Africa through research, education and capacity building.
De Villiers, former Vice Dean: Learning and Teaching in the FMHS and Principal Investigator for SU MEPI, said she was honoured by her election for a two-year term.
She said that “there are many organisations in Africa but not all of us know each other and every country is different. The NEPI and MEPI history means that we have built up a strong network in multiple countries which is hugely beneficial for what we want to do."
Asked what it will entail being president, she said: “Like anyone that leads an organisation, I will be responsible for the governance, operations and management of the network, as well as for strategic communications.
“In the next two years, we will develop special interest groups for inter-professional training, student exchanges, research, and health professions education, amongst others."
De Villiers said that AFREhealth's diversity is a big attraction for people representing all the professions in health care. “It enables them to come together and provides a platform for true inter-professional work and opens up opportunities for collaborations that were not available before. It really is a case of finding our strength in our differences – and I believe we will go from strength to strength."
Asked what she hopes to achieve, she said: “At the end of my two-year term I would like the organisation to be well established in terms of governance and organisation, and I would love to see strong, vibrant communities of practice up and running. I would like us to be well on our way to providing capacity development and to building health professions education in Africa so that we can make a difference to the health of the continent."
Caption 1: AFREhealth PI Council at the 2018 Symposium, awarding Dr Eric Goosby (left), previous PEPFAR ambassador, with a lifetime membership. Previous president Prof Peter Donkor from Ghana (second from the right) and Prof Abigail Kazembe from Malawi new Vice-President on Dr Goosbys's left.
Caption 2: Prof Marietjie de Villiers during her acceptance speech as new AFREhealth President, at AFREhealth conference in Durban on 8 August 2018.