Quality advisor keen to further COHSASA’s mission

COHSASA appoints new Board Member

Dr Abigail van der Linde Nicole Spieker, PhD

Dr Abigail van der Linde joined COHSASA Quality Adviser Team on December 1, 2015. She brings with her a solid commitment and dedication to ensuring that all people – regardless of age, race, income and health status – have the best possible healthcare available.

She is not naïve: she knows resources are limited but she believes that systemic improvement in healthcare facilities has the potential to positively impact the lives of others and she wants to be part of that.

“That is why I have joined COHSASA. I believe the company’s mission, vision and values align directly with my own. Nobody should be excluded from receiving safe and quality healthcare, particularly in South Africa. ”

Dr van der Linde, who grew up in Kimberly, has always wanted to be a doctor.  Her childish games usually involved a make-believe stethoscope and sutures in her teddy bear. Her parents are immensely proud of her achievement (she says she has “surprised” them) and they recall that from a very early age she had medicine in mind.

When Nelson Mandela visited Abigail’s school in her Grade 7 year, the pupils formed a guard of honour to greet him. He noticed her and asked her what her name was.


“Oh,” said Mr Mandela, “and what do you want to be when you are grown up?”

“A doctor.”

“Good. Then I had better not get sick until you can heal me!”

Although she was an average pupil in primary school, she blossomed at high school and after earning a couple of distinctions in her Matric year, Abigail received a bursary to study for an MBChB at Stellenbosch University.

She completed this in 2009, followed by a two-year internship at the Kimberley Hospital Complex in the Northern Cape and a year of community service in a primary health care setting in a Department of Defence facility.

She returned to the Kimberley Hospital Complex and worked as Medical Officer in critical care and family medicine, finally making her way to anaesthetics.  Along the way, from 2011 to 2013, she collected a couple of diplomas: Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ADLS) and Advanced Trauma Life Support.

“I thought I might specialise in anaesthetics, having worked with an extremely impressive doctor, Philip Kenny, the Head of Department and Consultant in Anaesthetics at the Kimberley Hospital Complex.  I obtained a Diploma in Anaesthesia from the College of Anaesthetists of South Africa in 2014 while I worked at Tygerberg Hospital. After a few months, however, it became clear to me that my heart was not – as I had supposed – in anaesthetics.

“I have always been passionate about helping people and having an impact on lives. When I met a medical colleague who was working at COHSASA at the time, I was intrigued to hear about the work being done. It seemed interesting to me and I love to travel, even though I know the kind of travelling that Quality Advisers do for COHSASA is taxing in the extreme! But I was fascinated by changes that can be brought about through adhering to international standards. I love the idea of a hospital working as a well-oiled machine.

“In fact, I have always had a dream of setting up the perfect hospital, a “utopia” in a sad and neglected part of Africa. It is a vision that drives me. At this hospital, there would be the best possible equipment and technology which would be maintained according to world-class standards. Experts in all fields of medicine would be on the staff and they would treat their patients with dignity and respect. I want that vision realised.”

Emerging from an embattled public health system in South Africa, Abigail is even more determined to make a change; have an impact.

 “The COHSASA colleague advised me to hand in my CV. I forgot about it but was thrilled when I received a call to come in for an interview. And here I am.”

She will soon be leading a very busy life in Cape Town and travelling throughout Africa.

“Of course, I will miss my family – my Mom Dad and sister who live Kimberley. But I shall keep myself busy.”

She is a keen interior decorator (and has completed a short course in the subject) and delights in creativity, principally music and graphic art.

Abigail is a gentle woman who exudes compassion but there is a steely determination in her eye. She wants to make a difference.

“I want to heal people with love and then with medicine.”

Dr Nicole Spieker, Director Quality of PharmAccess Foundation and Managing Director of SafeCare, based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, has been appointed to the COHSASA Board. Dr Spieker has worked closely with COHSASA over the past six years. 

PharmAccess is a Dutch not-for-profit organization dedicated to the strengthening of health systems in sub-Saharan Africa. Working with local public and private partners, PharmAccess’ mission is to create access to affordable, quality healthcare for low income groups. This is achieved through the introduction of standards, the creation of health insurance systems, the provision of affordable loans to private clinics, medical and administrative capacity building, HIV/AIDS and healthcare workplace programs, and learning and analysis through operational research. 

Dr Spieker is also the MD of the SafeCare Initiative, started in 2010 by the PharmAccess (Netherlands), the Joint Commission International (JCI, U.S.A) and COHSASA (South Africa). The SafeCare approach is based on internationally acknowledged (ISQua) quality standards and dissects the improvement process of healthcare providers in survey-able, measurable steps. Currently this programme is operational in four countries in over 1000 facilities with public and private sector partners.

Prior to this, Dr Spieker was Director of clinical support services at the Aga Khan Health Services, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where she was responsible for developing and fostering effective collaboration between clinical support departments, medical staff leadership, faculty and other affiliated services to ensure an integrated approach to providing quality services, and fulfilling the hospital's diagnostic, clinical, research and educational goals and objectives. She holds a PhD in Molecular Genetics from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. 

About her appointment to the COHSASA Board, Dr Spieker says, “I look forward in my new role as board member of COHSASA to help achieve its mission of better and safer healthcare for African patients across the continent. I also look forward to working together with a great team of dedicated people!”