Monday, 15 April, 2024
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'National treasure' Harry Seftel dies

Well-known South African medical expert Professor Harry Seftel – whom President Cyril Ramaphosa described as a "national treasure" – died last week at the age of 94.

In a statement, Ramaphosa said he was saddened by the death of the veteran clinician, researcher and academic, reports News24.

“Professor Seftel’s passing at the end of an extended life … is another instance of loss among a generation that defined the South Africa of the 20th century," the President said, adding that his life journey included his friendship with Nelson Mandela when they were at university.

“Harry Seftel’s journey was one of continuous curiosity and discovery. with the aim of assisting individuals and entire communities to make healthy lifestyle choices and enjoy a healthy life.”

Ramaphosa said Johannesburg-born Seftel was a relentless achiever who passionately educated generations of medical practitioners and researchers and would always be remembered for sharing knowledge in the most accessible and entertaining ways, “endearing him to his students and millions of people who learned from him via public platforms”.

“He was a national treasure whose love for his work and for the people of South Africa must be celebrated at this time of mourning and remembrance. and live on in the ethos of all healthcare professionals.”

Writing in Business Day Hilary Joffe, described Seftel as an advocate for healthy lifestyles decades before it was fashionable.

She writes:

Seftel was a teacher, clinician, researcher and broadcaster who taught generations of doctors, nurses and other health practitioners at the University of Witwatersrand medical school as well as hosting popular health education shows on Radio 702 and the SABC.

As professor of medicine and chief clinician at Hillbrow Hospital and head of the diabetes clinic at the Hillbrow and Johannesburg hospitals, Seftel did pioneering work on chronic lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and cancer and brought an early focus on public health to the teaching and practise of medicine.

“His immense contribution to the teaching of generations of medical students and registrars in internal medicine is immeasurable, particularly given his unique ability to communicate with and excite the students about the art of medicine,” the dean of Wits University’s faculty of health sciences, Professor Shabir Madhi, said on Sunday. “He was also a great communicator to the public on health matters.”

Seftel also worked with the then Chamber of Mines on eradicating heat stroke in deep-level mining, as well as working on infectious disease control in hospitals.

He also served as chair of the SA Council against Smoking, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of SA and president of the Hypertension Society of SA.

Seftel is survived by his wife, Effie, four children and three grandchildren.


News24 article – Professor Harry Seftel, well-known medical expert and 'national treasure', dies (Open access)

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