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Mash honoured for contribution to Family Medicine
Author: Sue Segar
Published: 13/09/2019

​He came to South Africa for two years – and never left. Now Professor Bob Mash, the Executive Head: Department of Family and Emergency Medicine and Head: Division of Family Medicine and Primary Care, has been awarded one of the country's most esteemed medical awards – a SAMA Award for his many years of dedication to family medicine.

Mash, who was selected as the winner in the Extra-Ordinary Service to Medicine Award category for 2019, received the award at a ceremony on 9 August at the Durban International Convention Centre. He said he was honoured to be among the group of award-winning doctors “who are doing many good things."

“The ceremony was great – and we had Caster Semenya as the guest speaker which was very interesting."

The SAMA Doctors' Awards ceremony, which is considered one of the most prestigious events among medical professionals in South Africa, recognizes the outstanding achievements of public and private sector doctors in their respective fields. It is given to those who have "pursued with a single-minded purpose, a chosen area of interest in medicine and made a substantial contribution in the research, promotion and advancement of that field." Publication of work in internationally accepted medical journals is also a prerequisite.

Besides being professor of family medicine and primary care at SU, Mash is also the current President of the SA Academy of Family Physicians.

Born in London, Mash trained as a GP in Edinburgh, Scotland before moving to South Africa with his wife in 1991, to work for an NGO that was working with community health workers in townships which included Crossroads, KTC and Khayelitsha.

“They'd been looking for a doctor and nobody had applied so I said I would come for two years. I ended up working with community health workers for three or four years."

When Tygerberg Hospital was persuaded to provide the Community Health Services Organisation with six specialist posts, Mash applied for Khayelitsha and thus became the first family physician to be appointed in Khayelitsha in 1997. From “tough" beginnings – "it was hard to get family medicine recognized properly" –Mash became increasingly involved in developing family medicine. He developed new family medicine training programmes for both under- and post-graduate students.

“I've focused on family medicine consistently since the mid-1990s when it was unknown. I don't think Stellenbosch University even had training in family medicine at that point. I was one of the first family physicians appointed. Family medicine has a vital contribution to make in strengthening primary health care and district health services in SA and other regional countries.

"It's important, particularly in the African context, because, we are training doctors specifically to be good generalists and bringing expertise closer to communities. In many SA communities, you only have access to a team consisting of community health workers and nurses. A family physician brings in extra expertise for quality primary health care."

Mash edited the textbooks, A Handbook of Family Medicine, the SA Family Practice Manual and the SA Clinical Nurse Practitioner's Manual, all of which have become the standard texts for family medicine programmes throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

More recently he has focused on primary care research and has become the editor-in-chief of the African Primary Health Care and Family Medicine journal. He has published more than 160 original research and scientific articles and has recently co-edited books for the World Organisation of Family Doctors on Primary Care Research Methods and International Perspectives on Primary Care Research.

His research interests have focused on the contribution of family medicine to African health systems and the development of the discipline.

He is a founding member of the Chronic Disease Initiative for Africa and has focused on research to improve patient education and counselling for non-communicable diseases. Currently he is busy implementing Group Empowerment and Training (GREAT) for diabetes nationally and scaling up training for primary care providers in Brief Behaviour Change Counselling.

In sub-Saharan Africa he has helped to develop the Primary Care and Family Medicine network (Primafamed), a network of departments of family medicine and primary care across 25 African countries.

Caption: Profs Mergan Naidoo and Bob Mash, with SAMA Chair, Dr Angelique Coetzee.