Volunteers Proactively Support Holistic Rural Healthcare Through Outreach Programmes
Busisiwe is 9 years old. She lives in rural Acornhoek in Mpumalanga, and she attends her local school. Unfortunately, she struggles to see what her teacher writes on the blackboard and her writing, spelling and reading skills are suffering. By the time she’s 12 years old, she will be a few years behind her peers. By the time she’s 17, it will be a challenge to pass matric.
Busisiwe’s situation is far from unique. If she lived in an urban area her eyesight would be tested during routine eye exams at her school. She would already have glasses and her school career would be taking a completely different direction. Unfortunately, there are many healthcare challenges that rural areas face, from local healthcare capacity to the distances that parents must travel to access healthcare. The result is that proactive healthcare is often not an option.
For Busisiwe, this means not receiving the glasses she needs. For some of her classmates, it means not receiving TB medication or having a treatable illness diagnosed. Busisiwe and her friends face another challenge as well. For many of them, one meal per day is normal, and they are growing up and trying to concentrate at school without sufficient nutrition, even though many of their parents work long hours and some even hold more than one job.
“Across South Africa there are dedicated school nurses, hospitals and community health workers who focus on outreach programmes that go into rural communities to provide proactive healthcare,” says Dr Inez Allin, Clinics Coordinator at Tshemba Foundation. “These programmes screen for TB, HIV and Covid, and perform routine healthcare checks. The challenge is capacity – South Africa’s rural areas are vast and populous and seeing everyone regularly is difficult.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has diverted already-scarce resources as well, with the necessity for screenings and vaccinations overburdening already stretched school outreach programmes.
To support the existing infrastructure as much as possible, the Tshemba Foundation, a medical volunteer programme that attracts healthcare professionals from around the world to share their knowledge, skills and experience, is now focusing on an outreach programme over and above the volunteers who routinely spend time at Tintswalo Hospital, the district hospital in Acornhoek.