General Thoracic Surgery is a diagnostic and therapeutic medico-surgical specialist discipline concerned with acquired and congenital non-cardiac diseases of the chest. This includes conditions of the lungs, pleural spaces, oesophagus and upper gastro-intestinal tract, mediastinum, airways, diaphragm, pericardium and chest wall. The South African population of approximately 49 million (2010) suffers from a high burden of thoracic diseases, especially inflammatory pleuro-pulmonary disease, HIV / TB, lung (approximately 1000/100000 population) and oesophageal cancers.
Thoracic Surgery started in South Africa in the 1940s in two centres, namely Cape Town and Durban. In both centres it was practiced in state and private hospitals before the advent of university departments of Cardiothoracic surgery. The surgery initially focused on TB and penetrating trauma. The first Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery in South Africa was established in 1955 at the Groote Schuur Hospital of the University of Cape Town under Profs Walter Phillips, Chris Barnard and Rodney Hewitson.
Training in Cardiothoracic Surgery is offered at the Universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch, KwaZulu-Natal, Witwatersrand, Pretoria, Medunsa, and Free State. Qualifications can be obtained either as an M.Med Degree from the specific university attended or by passing the examinations to attain Fellowship of The College of Cardiothoracic Surgeons of SA.
The South African Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons was formally established in 1992 with acceptance of its constitution. It is an official group of the South African Medical Association (SAMA), an Association incorporated under Section 21, Reg. No. 05/00136/08. The aim of the Society is to represent the interests of Cardiothoracic Surgeons in South Africa, to promote the practice of cardiothoracic surgery and in so doing to develop good relationships with other societies and disciplines in South Africa and abroad.
The first society was established in 1954 as The Society of Thoracic Surgeons of South Africa, under the presidency of Prof Walter Phillips. This society represented the interests of the field of General Thoracic Surgery prior to the initiation of Cardiac Surgery in South Africa. The initial enthusiasm and support waned over time and it was not until 1992 that the new society with its new constitution was promulgated under the driving force of Profs Ulrich von Oppell, John Odell and other colleagues. The first president was Prof Rob Kinsley.