President Nelson Mandela and Brazilian soccer legend Pele smile for photographers at Union Buildings in Pretoria

South Africa's Gauteng province hospitals conducted a massive surgical marathon, which included over 700 elective surgeries across 32 Gauteng healthcare facilities in the wake of Nelson Mandela International Day, July 18.

Motalatale Modiba, who serves as Gauteng Health Department spokesperson, said that the surgical marathons will help the health facilities to reduce their backlogs, especially when it comes to surgeries. The department is planning to hold more of these marathons on a quarterly basis until the backlogs are cleared.

He pointed out that earlier this year, there were 32,000 awaiting surgical procedures but now, they have managed to reduce the backlog to 18,000 surgical procedures as of Tuesday.

Considering Nelson Mandela International Day is celebrated on July 18 every year, health professionals performed over 700 surgeries in one day.

"These patients have been chosen according to surgical backlog lists at every hospital, and incorporates waiting time and prioritization according to clinical needs," Modiba said, SA News reported. "The aim is to see how far we can push this so that even beyond Mandela Day, we are able to continue running these surgical marathons."

Modiba disclosed that this marathon consists of various surgical procedures including arthroplasty, hernia repair, maxillofacial, hysterectomy, cataract excision, prostate biopsy, colostomy closures, cesarean section, and circumcision.

He explained that this surgical marathon is not just about reducing the backlog but also about restoring "dignity to hundreds of patients whose lives have been impacted by their medical condition."

"The clinicians who will be performing these surgeries are specialists in the various disciplines and their teams consist of registrars, medical officers, scrub nurses and other support staff, including porters and cleaners who are all vital in the success of the surgical marathons," he continued.

Modiba said that these surgeries are recording some major surgical breakthroughs such as the first heart surgery for Bheki Mlangeni District Hospital; brain surgical procedures at Sebokeng Regional Hospital and the first laparoscopic cholecystectomy for Bertha Gxowa District Hospital.

"There has been a concerted effort to also use this opportunity to expand the capacity to perform surgical procedures across various facilities, including attending to infrastructural issues and the beatification of the general environment at hospitals," he added.

Steve Biko Academic Hospital's professor Mashudu Tshifularo also spoke about this marathon, revealing that the hospital is planning to do 10 surgeries at level 6 theatre.

"We will continue on other days to relieve the backlog because our backlog is very big, seating almost 200," he added. "The backlog is due to the [available] theatre days and sometimes we don't have the available space to do the compression."

Nelson Mandela International Day is celebrated to honor the anti-apartheid activist and first president of South Africa Nelson Mandela, who won the election with more than 60% of the votes in 1994.