President’s annual report: Summer 2013/14

Dear SASES member,

Pliny the elder famously said: “There is always something new out of Africa.”  Your Society tries to live up to this proud tradition, and since my last report a few “news” have been created that will benefit our membership.  I am therefore privileged to report on the society activities as follows.

  • A new three-month SASES/J&J laparoscopic fellowship to Leuven in Belgium has been created.  This will enable the fellow to spend time in the University hospital, with 2000 beds, more than 100 ICU beds and 4 general surgery theatre slates per day.  This is a general laparoscopic fellowship, and according to the principal there, Prof Andre D’Hoore, the candidate should be able to start a fully laparoscopic service after completing the fellowship.  This is an unparalleled opportunity, and I cannot praise the efforts of Bob Baigrie and Masee Naidoo from your Exco, as well as Leanne Cook from Ethicon enough.  The amount of work required to get this off the ground is astounding, and it is purely through their perseverance that we are able to offer this wonderful fellowship to our members.
  • We had inspirational feedback from our 2013 Covidien and Storz fellows.  Emile Coetzee and Heather Bougard spent the European summer in Amsterdam and Straubing, Germany and had a fantastic time, coming back brimming with new skills and enthusiasm.  If you have not yet seen their reports, please read it on our website, .  It certainly makes me wish I could apply!
  • The lucky recipient of the 2014 Covidien/SASES colorectal fellowship who will spend time with Prof Willem Bemelman in Amsterdam is Dr Zaheer Moolla who works in Stanger.  Hugo Stark from George is brushing up on his German to join Marcus Walz on the Storz/SASES fellowship.  Well done to these two members, chosen from a field of strong applicants.  Enjoy the experience!
  • We now have three international fellowships, one purely colorectal to Amsterdam (3 months) and then two more general laparoscopic opportunities to Leuven (3 months) and Straubing (2 months).  This is open to all members, not only registrars and fellows, and I would like to specifically extend an invitation to our more senior members to also apply.  Yes, it means a long time from your current job, but what a sabbatical!  What an opportunity!  What an antidote for a midlife crisis!
  • We are very excited about the formation of a formal Hernia Interest Group.  We had a meeting of interested surgeons at the last congress in East London, and from there it has grown into a full sub-grouping of SASES.  Ravi Oodit (chairman) and Dino Sofianos (vice-chair) have worked very hard to start the Group and maintain momentum.  They have managed to get buy-in from all the big device companies, and this grouping will fill a big void in surgery.  Please join if you have an interest in hernias and defects of the abdominal wall – it is free for members.
  • The formal SASES position statement on Laparoscopic Appendicectomy was published in August.  This important document reflects current best practice, and sets the standard to which surgeons in South Africa should adhere.  We believe that this draws a line in the sand in interactions with Medical Aids, and puts the responsibility and choice where it belongs: with the attending surgeon.  It was initiated after a query by one of our members, Dr Brian Wilson from Newcastle.  We organised a well-attended session on lap appendicectomy at the 2013 congress, and after this the consensus document was thoughtfully and elegantly put together by Dick Brombacher, helped by Eugenio Panieri.  Please use it in your interaction with Funders; it has been endorsed by the majority of HOD’s of the academic institutions and is the definitive guideline.
  • The above-mentioned congress in East London had an excellent academic programme, greatly helped by the attendance of our three visitors, Prof Tim Rockall from the MATTU in Guildford and Dr Ross Carter from Glasgow, joined by Prof Heine van der Walt as our first SASES national visitor.  The report is available on the website:
  • We also awarded our first Legacy/SASES video prize for the best video shown at the congress.  For the 2014 congress, this has grown very substantially, and first prize is now R8000, with a R4000 second and R2000 third prize.  So budding film-makers, start working…
  • SASES has put a lot of time and money into snaring the ISUCRS (International Society of University Colon and Rectal Surgeons) congress for Cape Town from 4-7 September.  We are really looking forward to the combined meeting, which will also include SAGES.  There will be a very strong SASES component to the programme, and I urge you all to register early.  Cape Town is not only the 2014 World Design Capital, but has just been chosen by the New York Times as the number one city to visit in the world.  Absolutely no reason not to come and enjoy.  More info at
  • It has been a busy year for SASES training.  Apart from the usual lap chole and suturing courses, we also presented our first cadaver based course in laparoscopic colorectal surgery.  This was a huge success, and we have again invited Tim Rockall to present it as a pre-congress workshop in September.  Be sure to register early, as this course was quickly oversubscribed last year.   We were also involved with, amongst others, the Albert Luthuli and Medunsa workshops.  Please visit for a schedule of SASES courses this year.
  • Your SASES Webinars have become very popular, and more than 60 people attended the last broadcast on Redo fundoplication.  I am personally very excited about this venture, as it allows live interaction with colleagues for every surgeon in South Africa, no matter how remote.  Our next meeting will be on TEO and laparoscopic colectomy; be sure to join us!
  • Hospital groups are putting more and more pressure on surgeons to use equipment from specific device manufacturers, often with no justification apart from cost.  We are concerned about this, as it is one more attempt to subvert our independence and ability to do what we consider best for our patients.  SASES have therefore commissioned Elsabe Klink, a lawyer very well versed in medical matters, to draft a position statement on the rights of surgeons and their choices regarding the devices they use.  I hope this will be a big stick to carry in our negotiations with the bean counters.
  • Lastly: any Society is only as good as its members and Exco.  I believe our Society is vibrant, and it is a real pleasure to interact with members.  The Exco members spend an enormous amount of time and effort in service of the Society, mostly unsung, and I would like to thank and commend each one of them for making this Society alive, interesting and innovative.

Have a great and trouble-free 2014, and I look forward to seeing you at our courses and events and of course in Cape Town for the congress.  I leave you with another quote from Pliny the Elder, very applicable to South Africa: “The only certainty is that nothing is certain.”


Danie Fölscher