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Fellowship a boon for patient-centred rehab in poor communities
Author: Sue Segar
Published: 30/10/2018

Dr Martin Heine, a joint post-doctoral research fellow in the Institute of Sports and Exercise Medicine (ISEM) and the Division of Physiotherapy, has become the first person from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) to be awarded the prestigious AXA post-doctoral fellowship.

The award is for his work on patient-centred rehabilitation programmes for people with chronic diseases living in low-resourced settings.

The core of his fellowship revolves around a randomised clinical trial in about 300 patients with non-communicable disease to test the feasibility of a patient-centred rehabilitation intervention designed specifically for a low-resourced setting.

Heine, who moved to South Africa from the Netherlands about two years ago, will conduct his research at a rehabilitation centre in the underserved area of Bishop Lavis, outside Cape Town.

Explaining the purpose of his research, he said: “Africa is seeing a shift, from a strong prevalence of communicable diseases – like HIV/AIDS and TB – towards non-communicable diseases, including illnesses like diabetes, stroke and cardiac conditions.

“While over the past decades, there has been a tremendous – and remarkably successful – drive to reduce the burden of communicable diseases we are now faced with the increasing challenge of dealing with the increase in non-communicable diseases, particularly in complex urban settings.

“In many Western countries, rehabilitation programmes are increasingly disease-specific and specialised (e.g. cardiac rehabilitation) but in Africa, a lot of people present themselves with more than one medical condition. We believe that, for the proper management of our more complex patients, we must take a holistic, patient-centred view into our programme."

Heine said the rapid increase in non-communicable diseases and the lack of management of these illnesses, is expected to hamper poverty reduction initiatives in developing countries. “While the benefits of rehabilitation are well established in high-income settings, there is insufficient evidence on how and to what benefit patient-centred rehabilitation can be offered and studied in low-resource settings."

AXA is a global insurer with a philanthropical arm which funds a number of fellowships each year within specific themes (

Heine said he felt very privileged to have been awarded the fellowship. “I have been tasked to instigate a new research thrust specifically around the management of chronic disease in low-resourced settings. Hence, I'm honoured for AXA to acknowledge our work, to acknowledge the fact that this is a priority for future clinical research, and their belief in me as one of the future leaders in this field."

He continued: “The research I'm doing now has significant direct and tangible benefits to the patient and community which is making my work much more rewarding. I hope that through my work I might be able to contribute to the good health, well-being, and equity of underserved communities."