Healthcare industry mourns passing of inspirational leader

Johannesburg –  “It is with deep sadness that we announce the untimely passing of Professor Jan Valentyn van der Merwe, Non-Executive Chairman of Universal Healthcare,” said Dr Johan Pretorius, Chief Executive Officer of Universal Healthcare, today.

Prof Van der Merwe passed away on Friday, 25 September, at the age of 71.

“The loss of Prof Jan, as he was affectionately known, will be deeply felt, not only at Universal Healthcare but throughout the South African healthcare sector. He was an inspirational leader and industry stalwart who served the South African healthcare profession for more than 46 years,” he added.

“Prof Jan will be remembered for the indelible mark he made on the medical and greater healthcare fields — both nationally and globally — and for the proud legacy he leaves. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Esté, and the Van der Merwe family. We wish them strength in their time of bereavement.”

“We were fortunate and privileged to work with Prof van der Merwe, who was in a league his own. His wisdom and formidable knowledge have been invaluable to Universal Healthcare and the sector as a whole. He will be sorely missed,” concluded Dr Pretorius.

Details of a memorial service will be communicated in due course



Brief biography: Prof Jan Valentyn van der Merwe

Prof Jan van der Merwe was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his considerable contribution to medicine at the Healthcare Funders’ inaugural Titanium Awards recently.

Prof Jan’s illustrious career began after he completed a research fellowship at Duke University in the USA, and returned to South Africa as Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Pretoria University. In this role, Prof Jan pioneered the establishment of an assisted reproduction unit in South Africa, one of only five such units in the world at the time, which was ultimately responsible for the first successful IVF procedure in South Africa.

During his subsequent appointment as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Pretoria, Prof Jan played a leading role within the Coordinating Committee of Deans of Medical Faculties of South Africa, of which he was the Chairman from 1989 to 1994.

His involvement and leadership were particularly significant during the period of change within the healthcare industry during SA’s transition to democracy, and subsequently. Prof Jan was appointed by the then-Minister of Health, Dr N Zuma, as a member of the Implementation Support Group for Academic Hospitals of the National Department of Health and also as a consultant for the Directorate of Health for three years.

Prof Jan was also the Vice-President of the South African Medical and Dental Council (SAMDC, now the Health Professions Council of SA) and played a major role in the support and growth of teaching and training facilities for health science professionals in SA. He assisted a number of medical faculties in the country to develop strategic plans and implementation processes during the early years of political transition.

For a significant portion of his career, Prof Jan was involved in a number of statutory councils, including the National Population and Medicine Control Councils, the Council for Academic Hospitals, the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) and the SAMDC.  Being on the executive committees of all these bodies, he played a vital role in the development of numerous policies related to both the private and public health sector.  Many of these policies are still in use today.

As the founder of the Board of Health Executives (BHE) in the late 1990s, Prof Jan spearheaded the development of the BHE Scientific Medicine Formulary, a first-of-its-kind document. The scientific formulary represented a major advancement in how medicine was prescribed. Because of its independence, it was held in high esteem by the medical fraternity.

Following on the development of the medicine formulary, Prof Jan conceptualised a number of disease management programmes for such chronic diseases as asthma and diabetes. At the time, this work was both novel and groundbreaking in South Africa within the managed care environment.

Subsequently, as Medical Advisor of the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS), Prof Jan played a strong leadership role in the implementation of a policy for prescribed minimum benefits (PMBs), which was far-reaching and benefited a multitude of medical scheme members who might not otherwise have been able to afford or access care for life-threatening or chronic medical conditions.

In 2009, Prof Jan was a joint founder member of Universal Healthcare, together with the Chief Executive Officer, Dr Johan Pretorius and Chief Financial Officer, Catharina Sevillano-Barredo. Under Prof Jan’s chairmanship, Universal grew its client base from five medical scheme clients to 13, and increased the combined total number of lives under its administration and managed care combinned from 85,000 to some two million.

Prof Jan’s involvement at Universal Healthcare has resulted in several innovations, the most significant being the impact of basing healthcare funding decisions on scientific evidence and international best practice, with a caring approach.

Prof Jan spent a lifetime developing individuals and communities, and his leadership in the development of public and private healthcare has left a meaningful and lasting contribution on the South African healthcare landscape.