The tortoise and the hare

Together they make a formidable team.

‘€œThey’€™re damn good doctors,’€ says HIV Clinician’€™s Society President Dr Francois Venter, adding that both specialists could make a fortune working in private practice, but are committed to working in the state sector.

Dr Gio Perez, manager at GF Jooste Hospital, where Meintjes and Rebe work, is accustomed to having staff complain about their salaries.

‘€œWhen I started working here, I found out by accident that both Kevin and Graeme were hopelessly underpaid. In fact they were the lowest and second lowest paid doctors, two levels below what they should get paid and they never brought it to anyone’€™s attention,’€ smiles Perez.

Jooste is Cape Town’€™s busiest hospital in terms of patient numbers serving a 1,5-million strong community from Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Mitchells Plain and Manenberg.

‘€œThey are inappropriately humble,’€ says Perez, shaking his head, but quickly adds that they don’€™t mind harassing him if they need something for their patients.

Perez adds that it is ‘€œabnormal’€ to find specialists at the hospital on a weekend, unless there is an emergency. ‘€œBut it’€™s not uncommon to find Graeme here because he has come to check up on a patient he is worried about.’€

Both Rebe and Meintjes speak enthusiastically about their work in the hospital, but they are not keen to talk about themselves.

With his short cropped hair, khaki cargo pants and a Harvard sweater, Rebe could easily still pass for a student. But once the outgoing walks through the pink door of the ARV clinic’€™s room G90 he turns into the ultimate professional ‘€“ a compassionate physician.

Rebe oversees the 500 patients at the clinic, while Meintjes’€™ main area of responsibility is  patients in the wards and research projects.

Rebe says he was interested in HIV while still a student, running clinics for HIV positive gay men at Somerset Hospital. ‘€œI was a bit of activist in the gay community and I knew there was a need there.’€

Asked why he had opted to work in the state sector, Rebe pauses for a moment: ‘€œI am working here because there is a need here. There is such a need here and it is one of the most under-resourced hospitals.

‘€œI don’€™t know why (underfunding) has happened, but I guess it’€™s because it’€™s still a forgotten community,’€ he adds.

Rebe describes his colleague as ‘€œvery much an academic’€.

‘€œWe were at UCT together, but we I don’€™t think we even talked to each other. Graeme has an incredibly professional persona and he’€™s an absolute perfectionist.

‘€œI guess we’€™re lucky because when we step out of the hospital we’€™re friends. I think we come with different, but complementary viewpoints and skills. Graeme will always be the hands-on researcher and I will be on the ground, managing clinics and staff.’€

Tall and slender and dressed in chinos and a light blue shirt, Meintjes talks enthusiastically about his work at the hospital and the complexities of dealing with the Aids epidemic.

‘€œAntiretroviral treatment has dramatically changed the face of Aids. Before ARVs we would diagnose and treat the opportunistic infection, but it was disillusioning to help the patient get over one only for the person to return with another.

‘€œARVs really give hope in a desperate situation,’€ he adds, running his hand over his shaved head.

Meintjes looks baffled when asked why he wasn’€™t in private practice. ‘€œI’€™m not someone who would want to go into private practice,’€ he smiles.

‘€œThe most need is in the public sector and I find it intellectually challenging to be in research,’€ says Meintjes.

Treatment Action Campaign leader Zackie Achmat is one of Meintjes’€™ patients. ‘€œHe is brilliant, one of the best,’€ comments Achmat.

Meintjes laughs when referring to Rebe’€™s more hyped persona. ‘€œI always say to him, we are not running a sprint, but a marathon. You need to pace yourself.’€ ‘€“ Health-e News Service.

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  • Health-e News

    Health-e News is South Africa's dedicated health news service and home to OurHealth citizen journalism. Follow us on Twitter @HealtheNews

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