South Africa has the highest rate of HIV infection and the highest number of AIDS-related deaths in the world, according to UNAIDS. Young women and expecting mothers are one of the most-affected groups, and research has shown that HIV/AIDS can significantly increase the chances of both maternal deaths and still births. One Massachusetts General Hospital Discovery Foundation Fellow has witnessed the disease’s impact first-hand and is determined to help and give back to her community.
Salome Maswime, PhD, MBCHB, is an obstetrician-gynecologist (OBGYN) from South Africa who always had a passion for research, but it was one unforgettable experience early on that shaped her career and motivated her to pursue her passion of reducing maternal mortality and still births.
After finishing her internship, Maswime was assigned to work in a community in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal South Africa. Things were going smoothly until her team experienced two still birth deliveries that ended in maternal deaths that crushed her spirits.
“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.”Salome Maswime, PhD, MBCHB
The experience motivated her to pursue a PhD studying caesarian section-related hemorrhages and health inequities, because many maternal deaths in developing countries are due to a lack of health services and resources. Maswime wanted to learn more about what she could do as a clinician, but also wanted to continue learning as a researcher.
She soon realized she didn’t have to choose between being a researcher or a clinician: she could be both as a clinician-scientist.
Her goal was to develop a maternal health research unit back in South Africa, and the Discovery Foundation Fellowship at Mass General seemed to be the perfect opportunity to get her one step closer.
Maswime began her fellowship with Mass General’s Center for Global Health in June of 2018. During her time, she has been working with a team of researchers to investigate the cause of the higher rate of still births among women with HIV.
“Tackling this problem through Mass General, with all the expertise that is here, it’s really combining the best technology and some of the best minds in the world to say ‘How do we solve this problem?’”Salome Maswime, PhD, MBCHB
Her research has focused on the microscopic study of the tissues of the placenta to gain a deeper understanding of the connection between mother and child as well as evaluating the outcomes of different antiretroviral treatment regimens.
With an interdisciplinary team of Mass General scientists alongside her, including Jessica Haberer, MD, MS, Lisa Bebell, MD, Drucilla Roberts, MD, and Ilona Goldfarb, MD, Maswime has not only been able to conduct valuable research, but has also developed the skills she was looking for to return home to South Africa and fully revamp the Wits Obstetrics and Gynaecology Clinical Research Division she started three years ago.
The Discovery Foundation Fellowship has been propelling, Maswime says, and she hopes to maintain contact with the Mass General colleagues she has met throughout her time as well as continue to work with organizations like the World Health Organization and UNICEF to do work at the policy level.
“It’s been transformative. It puts you in the right space at the right time, meeting the right people to move to your next level. What I’ve learned this year takes me back home with the capacity to make the contribution I’ve wanted to make in Africa.”Salome Maswime, PhD, MBCHB
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