Garret Barnwell

Advocacy and communications officer, Médecins Sans Frontières

Garret Barnwell, former president of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Southern Africa, has spent several years working in the field across Africa and the Middle East, and now works to promote better evidence-based care and mental healthcare, particularly in rural areas.

Currently working as MSF’s advocacy and communications officer in Rustenburg, Barnwell focuses heavily on the public health response to sexual and intimate partner violence.

Prior to qualifying as a clinical psychologist, Barnwell worked in the field with MSF in South Africa, Somaliland, Turkey and Lebanon. Among other projects, he assisted with the malnutrition assessments in Somalia during the Horn of Africa Crisis of 2011, helped rehabilitate a 140-bed hospital in Somaliland and assisted in the effort to provide medical supplies to doctors in Syria. “While my family has always been very supportive, I think there were times when my mother sat with a ruler and a map, measuring how far I was from a conflict or other potential security concerns,” he says.

He has completed two master’s degrees, in conflict management and clinical psychology, at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NNMU) in Port Elizabeth, where he worked as an intern psychologist. He also conducted regular outreach with colleagues to Graaff-Reinet, where he developed his passion for rural mental health, sparked by his work as a student working on Transnet’s Phelophepa Healthcare Train. He was actively involved in the development of the Rural Mental Health Campaign launched at the 2014 Rural Health Conference.

Barnwell is now embarking on his PhD, aiming to focus on a potential link between suicide and intimate partner violence, and how they intersect with the public healthcare system.

He aims to continue advocating for improved, patient-centred care for survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence. “What drives me is hope — it’s easy to become negative and cynical, but we are entering a stage in the public health care landscape where we can actually bring about change, and I see people becoming passionate about driving positive change.” – Tracy Burrows



Twitter: @GCBarnwell @MSF_southafrica