Update on the PHASA Special Interest Groups

This article reports on the meetings held by the Special Interest Groups (SIG) during the 2010 conference.


The second Registrar SIG annual meeting was attended by registrars representing the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and University of Cape Town (UCT). 


Achievements to date were discussed, including formalisation of the SIG within PHASA, and improved communication within the group. Furthermore, a suggestion was made to re-brand the SIG as the “PHASA Youth League” to reflect the youthful enthusiasm, energy and dynamism of the group.

Future activities

  • Networking: Update registrar database; Include Occupational Medicine registrars; Use email/social network medium to communicate and share resources; Hold teleconferences; Plan one meeting between conferences possibly for a training course
  • Marketing the profession/career path: Define scope of practice to demonstrate role for PHM specialists; Consider a web page to host CVs for registrars seeking employment
  • Advocacy: Engage with PHASA; Raise pertinent issues, call for statements to be issued where appropriate; Submit articles to the PHASA newsletter.

Election of chair and representatives

Heinrich Volmink from Wits was elected as the chair of the SIG and representatives will be discussed at each university and appointed in January 2011.

Public Health Medicine specialists

The Public Health Medicine Association of South Africa (PHMASA), a special interest group which comprises of Public Health Medicine specialists, was first approved in 2006. The SIG meeting in 2010 opened with a discussion of the history and need of PHMASA. The existence of the Community Health Association of South Africa was noted as predecessor of PHMASA.

The members noted the need for the development of a scope of practice for Public Health Medicine specialists as per requirements of the HPCSA. The members of the groups are expected to develop this in close collaboration with the College of Public Health Medicine of South Africa.

One of the members (Virginia Zweigenthal) updated the group on progress of her research involving (a) an audit of career paths of PHM graduates and (b) a stakeholder survey of expectations of PHM specialists. 

Various suggestions for marketing the discipline were discussed including the establishment of an alumni network, development of documents showing PHM’s contribution to health system strengthening and as agents of change, partnerships with other groups and establishment of a Forum for regular publication on PHM related articles. 

Master of Public Health

The Master of Public Health (MPH) degree is the most widely recognized professional credential for leadership in Public Health both in South Africa and internationally. Due to the multi-disciplinary nature of the field of Public Health, this essentially post-graduate degree converges in the production of graduates for a career in Public Health practice emphasizing competency skills alongside theory and analysis. The faculty, current students and graduates of Schools of Public Health offering this qualification could therefore play a distinct role within the Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA) in their mission of promoting greater equity in health within South Africa.

The formation of an MPH Special Interest Group (SIG) within PHASA represents a laudable response to the above realization. The founding meeting of this group was heldat the 2010 conference, and drew a very impressive interest – an attendance of 24 delegates including faculty and students from no less than 9 Schools of Public Health (6 Schools within South Africa and Schools in Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe), and graduates of MPH programmes in practice.

Discussions of the group included deliberations on an appropriate vision and mission of the SIG vis-à-vis that of PHASA, the membership composition of the group decidedly inclusive of students, faculty and graduates as well as quality assurance bodies as stake holders. There was consensus among delegates that an MPH SIG was needed to advance the following activities:

  • Developing a mailing list for information sharing and communication among members of the SIG.
  • MPH degree advocacy initiatives such as engagement with the Department of Health on the creation of MPH service-learning arrangements analogous to that available in the clinical disciplines and for the medical specialty training in Public Health Medicine wherein MPH trainees could be deployed to districts and sub-districts to support Public Health activities and programmes at these levels.
  • Stimulating the formation of a quality assurance/control machinery within PHASA to strengthen and monitor the quality of MPH training programmes including the development of a core competency framework for MPH training across Schools of Public Health in South Africa. Systems of peer-review could be investigated.
  • Development of a Journal Club as a forum of academic and research interaction for MPH students and faculty across Schools of Public Health in South Africa.
  • Organize periodic symposia and workshops such as on MPH core competencies, research training within MPH programmes etc.
  • Development of a repository of MPH students’ research projects submitted to Schools of Public Health in South Africa.
  • Promotion of MPH programmes including projecting under-subscribed streams of Public Health specializations. This could include using the PHASA website.
  • Development of a clearing-house of Public Health taxonomies and definitions for South Africa.

A working group (members listed below) has been nominated to explore the above ideas and suggest ways of formally constituting the MPH SIG in consultation with the PHASA Executive Committee and the PHASA general assembly. 

Working Group for the MPH SIG (listed alphabetically of surname): Ehimario Igumbor (University of the Western Cape) – Acting Chair, Maggie Mokonto (University of Witwaterstrand), Unathi Ngxamngxa (Walter Sisulu University), Thandi Puoane (University of the Western Cape), Masego Rantao (University of Pretoria), Kirstie Rendall-Mkosi (University of Pretoria)

Key Points:

  • The formation of the MPH SIG within PHASA is a laudable initiative given the significance of the MPH degree programme in South Africa and internationally.
  • A variety of activities are anticipated for the MPH SIG ranging from educational, the development of a community-of-practice, facilitation of quality assurance initiatives within MPH training programmes, advocacy  and the strategic chartering of the future of the MPH degree programme in South Africa.
  • All stakeholders including MPH students, faculty, graduates and employers are invited to contribute to this formation.

For further information about activities of the group, contact Dr. Igumbor on 0219593520 or eigumbor@uwc.ac.za

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