Head Psychiatrist at UKZN Elected President of Influential Society

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UKZN’s Head Psychiatrist Professor Bonga Chiliza has been elected President of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP).

SASOP – the only professional body in South Africa that represents the interests and protects the rights of psychiatrists in the country – is actively involved in de-stigmatising mental illness both locally and internationally, and in the fight against discrimination against mental illness sufferers.

The Society is managed by a team of elected volunteers, all psychiatrists with elections for positions on the body taking place biennially.

Addressing SASOP members after the election of the new board at the 19th SASOP National Congress, Chiliza said the strategy for his term of office would be based around three pillars: (1) strengthening public sector psychiatry; (2) strengthening public private partnerships, and (3) growing the organisation by focusing on young psychiatrists, registrars and medical officers.

‘We need to push harder for Psychiatry to be fully recognised as a major discipline in undergraduate Medical education. We also need to renew our transformation efforts in the leadership of SASOP and in Psychiatry in general,’ said Chiliza.

‘We will ensure that the leadership of SASOP continues to transform itself until it is aligned with the demographics of our country and is able to fully engage with issues that plague us such as racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. We will thus embark on a strategic drive towards succession planning for all key positions of leadership in Psychiatry.’

The recipient of the prestigious Hamilton Naki Research Fellowship and the CINP Rafaelsen Young Investigators Award, Chiliza was previously an Associate Professor at Stellenbosch University and a senior Specialist Psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town.

His research interests include schizophrenia, consultation-liaison psychiatry, health services and medical education. He has authored more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and served on several NGO boards, including the SA YMCA, Life Choices and Harambee.

‘I think the time is right for SASOP to have renewed and strengthened public sector psychiatry leadership in the light of recent events including the Life Esidimeni tragedy, alleged human rights abuses at Tower Hospital in the Eastern Cape, and the untimely death of Professor Bongani Mayosi, a giant in the medical fraternity and a mentor to many of us, following his battle with depression. These events have highlighted the neglect of mental healthcare in South Africa and the need for SASOP to take a leadership role in mental healthcare,’ added Chiliza.

Words: Lihle Sosibo