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HST Blog

Oct 05
A Day in the Life of HST’s Senior Researcher, Michael Burnett

​by Siyabonga Gema, HST Communications Officer

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Health Systems Trust's Senior Researcher, Michael Burnett holds a Master's Degree in Psychology and has more than 15 years' experience working within the South African public health and social care settings across all three levels of government (National, Provincial and District levels) focusing on public health programmes, initiatives, and research. He has extensive experience in operational and financial management of projects. Over the course of his eight years at HST, he has contributed to a variety of projects and is also a published author in various prestigious journals. Michael had a brief chat with the Communications team where he shared some interesting facts about himself and his career.

How would you describe the public health landscape and how do you propose the gaps can be closed?

The South African public health landscape is extremely complicated. While our system appears fragile at times, there is an underlying strength and resilience which stems from the resilience of our people. The National Health Insurance (NHI) will be one component needed to address the current gaps we have in the public health landscape. Just as crucial is the economic growth and development of South Africa in general in order to assist with the funding of the NHI.

What do you think are your most significant research accomplishments?

I am particularly proud of the work we did on two major projects: TREATS, and GP Contracting, and the subsequent publications in order to share our results with the broader scientific community. These are:

  • Klinkenberg E, Floyd S, Shanaube K, Mureithi L, Gachie T, de Haas P, Kosloff B, Dodd PJ, Ruperez M, Wapamesa C, Burnett JM, Kalisvaart N, Kasese N (2023) Tuberculosis prevalence after 4 years of population-wide systematic TB symptom screening and universal testing and treatment for HIV in the HPTN 071 (PopART) community-randomised trial in Zambia and South Africa: A cross-sectional survey (TREATS). PLOS Medicine 20(9): e1004278.
  • Mureithi, L., Burnett, JM., Bertscher, A., & English, R (2018). Emergence of three general practitioners contracting-in models in South Africa: a qualitative multi-case study. International Journal for Equity in Health, 17(107).

What gives you fulfilment in your role at HST?

While I enjoy most of the work we do, there are three elements that gives me a lot of fulfilment: (1) helping to guide less experienced researchers and watching them develop new skills and confidence,  (2) publication of articles in order to share findings, and (3) attending conference to learn and share ideas with peers in the field.

What does innovation in research mean to you?

Pushing the boundaries in terms of the research approaches and methods that we utilise.

When/how did the research bug bite?

In my third year (2004) at Stellenbosch University I had a research course as part of my undergraduate studies in Psychology. I enjoyed the course so much, that when it came time to choose my Master's Degree, I switched from Clinical Psychology to Research Psychology.

Why HST?

My very first job was as a Research Assistant at the MRC Depression and Anxiety Unit at Tygerberg Hospital. One of the main sources we would use as part of our literature reviews for projects was the District Health Barometer and the South African Health Review. As a young researcher I was extremely impressed with the publications and the organisation that published it (HST) and I knew I wanted to someday work for HST. At my second job I attended a CDC Funding Training and at the training I got to interact with staff from HST. These interactions were so positive that it further cemented my desire to work for HST. In 2014 I finally got the opportunity to work for HST, and here I still am, almost a decade later.

How do you spend your time away from work?

While spending time with family is very important to me, I also enjoy reading (particularly historical fiction) and travelling. I also belong to a Lego club and we do Lego exhibitions quarterly. Here are two of my recent displays that I designed and built myself.

 WhatsApp Image 2023-10-02 at 12.00.07 PM (1).jpeg   WhatsApp Image 2023-10-02 at 11.57.01 AM (1).jpeg

Any future aspirations?

The future is unpredictable and while it is important to plan ahead, we also sometimes have to take life one day at a time and enjoy the here and now. I would like to one day go back to University and complete my PhD.


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