Renowned public health advocate Harry Seftel dies at 94
Clinician and researcher touched the lives of many through his popular health education shows
Renowned professor of medicine Harry Seftel, who was an advocate for healthy lifestyles decades before it was fashionable, has died in Johannesburg aged 94.
Prof 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, Prof 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.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said Seftel’s passing less than a month before his 95th birthday was another instance of loss among a generation that defined the SA of the 20th century.
“Prof Seftel’s life journey includes his university-days friendship with Nelson Mandela.
“Harry Seftel was a national treasure whose love for his work and for the people of SA must be celebrated at this time of mourning and remembrance and must live on in the ethos of all healthcare professionals.”
Ramaphosa said Seftel's life journey was one of continuous curiosity and discovery with the aim of helping individuals and communities to make healthy lifestyle choices and enjoy a healthy life. “He was a relentless achiever who passionately educated generations of medical practitioners and researchers. He will be remembered for sharing his knowledge in the most accessible and entertaining ways which endeared him to his students and millions of people who learnt from him via public platforms,” the president said.
Seftel is survived by his wife, Effie, four children and three grandchildren.
Update: December 3 2023
This story now includes the president’s statement.
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