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THIS WEEK the Health Sciences Faculty at the University of Cape Town celebrated its 100th year.
In 1912 when it started as the first medical school in sub-Saharan Africa, with permission granted by authorities in England, doubts were expressed about the possibility of running a medical school of any quality on the tip of Africa.
Initially students could study in Cape Town only for the first few years and were required to travel to England to complete their clinical work before qualifying.
From small beginnings with two students, the school in 2012 has 4 000 under-graduate and post-graduate students. It is arguably the best in Africa and among the top 200 in the world, and competition for a place as a student is tough.
The school has gained international recognition with achievements including the first heart transplant operation, the first ECG machine in Africa, breakthrough base research that led to the first frog pregnancy test, and the development of the CT scanner.
The faculty boasts 12 A-rated scientists, considered to be the best in their field by their peers, while two Nobel prize winners were once members of faculty.
In reflecting on its past, the school has expressed regret over the impact of segregation of students in the apartheid years and the fact that not enough black people have qualified.
But it is worth remembering that despite apartheid, this faculty did boast black graduates and its members did speak out about the treatment of those detained under repressive laws, particularly Steve Biko.
And behind the stories of heart transplants and Nobel prize winners are also stories of triumph and tireless service to the community. Staff and students do extraordinary work which is replicated across the world, making a significant impact in the lives of the poor.
The UCT medical faculty’s record of service, to the people of the city, of South Africa and of the world, is something of which Cape Town can be very proud.