Salome Maswime, PhD, MBCHB, has her sights set on becoming a global leader in health care. And through the support of the Discovery Foundation MGH Fellowship Award, the obstetrician/gynecologist at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in South Africa – the third largest teaching hospital in the world – is well on her way to achieving that goal.

The fellowship – aimed at boosting South Africa as a leading hub for internationally-recognized clinical research and science – brought Maswime to the MGH for one year to research the causes of stillbirths in HIV-positive women. Africa accounts for 200,000 maternal deaths per year, two thirds of all maternal deaths worldwide.

“In South Africa, we are trying to give the best care we can give in a setting that doesn’t always allow us to,” says Maswime. An early experience of having two pregnant women die during her time in a rural South African hospital shaped her passion to reduce maternal mortality and improve the quality of service to birthing mothers. “What stood out to me most is none of us had access to the resources needed to save them. I felt helpless. We can’t have women dying just because nobody knows what to do, it’s an injustice.”

Since she’s been at the MGH, Maswime’s research has expanded to focus on maternal mental health after a stillbirth. “In South Africa, the focus is on saving the lives of the mother and the baby, and we worry about the mind later,” she says. “Naturally people want to save lives, but we need to also realize what happens afterward, the intense pain of losing an unborn child. I hope to use my experience here to advance research further and help others in my country.”

Maswime’s maternal and women’s health efforts have been recognized globally. She recently received the Young Achiever Award from Africa Business News in partnership with Forbes Africa and CNBC Africa, and was honored with the Young Achiever and Trailblazer Award from the president of South Africa in 2017.

Though she has always enjoyed the thrill of clinical work, Maswime’s passion for research grew in 2014 while she was earning her PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand. “I developed not only love for research and science, but of having a global perspective for what I am doing,” she says. “Research allows us to focus on these vast inequities.”

Out of that dual passion for clinical work and research, in 2018 Maswime also launched the South African Clinician Scientists Society. What started as roundtable meetings with a few like-minded people has grown – within one year – to a group of more than 100 clinician-scientists hoping to discover and develop the next South African and global leaders.

“We hope to be the next generation of clinician-scientists and drive health forward in South Africa,” says Maswime. “What affects South Africa affects all of Africa. It is not just about us, it is about the entire continent.” 

Read more articles from the 12/14/18 Hotline issue.