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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Prof Bongani Mayosi’s death highlights mental health issues among doctors

There are only 175 active cardiologists in South Africa, signalling a drastic shortage in the country.

The reported suicide of Dr Bongani Mayosi, one of South Africa’s top cardiologists, has prompted the South African Medical Association (Sama) to set up a support structure to address the underlying problems of a heavy workload and long hours that lead to doctors suffering from stress and depression.

Paying tribute to the 51-year-old University of Cape Town (UCT) dean of health sciences and cardiology professor who reportedly committed suicide on Friday, Sama chairperson Mzukisi Grootboom said the health fraternity was “shocked to hear that Dr Mayosi had suffered from chronic depression in the two years before his death.

“Colleagues face serious difficulties in the workplace and, as they are treating patients, they often forget about their health, which is the reason Sama has set up a structure to deal with doctors’ mental health problems,” said Grootboom.

“It is sad that we in the medical profession cannot look after our own,” he added.

He said mental health problems “have become prevalent in the profession and it is important to establish the root causes”.

While managing university departments was clearly challenging, “the passing of a highly respected medical expert and researcher like Mayosi is a great loss to South Africa. Because he suffered from chronic depression for the past two years, we want to find out what kind of support he got from UCT. Without knowing the exact details, it is concerning to lose a young, talented doctor.”

He added: “Sama sends condolences to the Mayosi family during this time of sadness.”

Mayosi, who was seen as one of the world’s top cardiology researchers for his discovery of the genetic mutation that causes heart failure, was awarded the country’s highest honour – the Order of Mapungubwe – in 2009.

According to last year’s figures, there is a drastic shortage of cardiologists in South Africa. There were 175 active and registered in the country, of which only 35 were in public health service or working in training centres.

Cardiovascular disease, which includes ischaemic heart disease, stroke, hypertension, heart failure and diabetes complications, is one of the major epidemics facing the country.

– brians@citizen.co.za

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