In September 2012 Dr Bart Willems swam four and a half laps of the Long Street pool in Cape Town entirely under water.
When he surfaced, he’d covered a distance of 114m and broken the South African freediving record. His feat was made extra special by the fact that he’d recovered from tuberculosis (TB) just five years earlier. He’d been infected with the disease in 2007 when he was a medical student completing his community service.
His experience brought home the risk public health professionals work under and inspired him to start TB Proof, an advocacy group, with fellow doctors, one of whom, Dr Dalene von Delft, survived multidrug-resistant TB. The group works to “proof ” healthcare workers against the risk of infection at the work place.
TB Proof also advocates for the development of and access to novel TB treatments and consults with bodies such as the World Health Organisation and Centres for Disease Control about the disease in South Africa. In 2013 TB Proof was awarded the Centre for Global Health and Diplomacy Award for distinguished work in the field of global health diplomacy.
As a public health specialist at the Western Cape Health Department, 35-year-old Willems researches simple and complex solutions for occupational safety in public health centers.
Find Willems on Twitter: @bartwillemsza