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Young health workers lend a helping hand in rural KZN

KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo has encouraged young health professionals to leave their comfort zones and go out to the rural areas to help communities that require healthcare.

The MEC was speaking recently in Durban, at a workshop for the orientation and induction of 268 students. They originate from universities across the country and began their 12 months’ community service at the beginning of January.

The 2019 group of community service officers includes dentists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and audiologists. The introduction of compulsory community service in health started during the 1998/99 financial year, under former President Nelson Mandela’s government. Although it initially focused on doctors and dentists, it was introduced to other healthcare workers, including therapists and nurses.

“Most of the services offered by these therapists are hardly ever there (in rural areas). You don’t see them. Allowing these young people to go into these areas decreases the need for people who suffer the consequences of hypertension, diabetes, stroke, to have to come back to the urban areas where there’s a majority of these professionals,” said MEC Dhlomo.

Dentist Frieda Maritz, from Tshwane, studied at the University of Pretoria. She was initially placed at Ekhombe Hospital, before being transferred to Hlengisizwe Clinic. “I’m quite happy to be outside of Durban. Ekhombe was rural, but it’s been an experience. I’ve learnt a lot in terms of my work. I’m looking forward to learning to speak IsiZulu, getting to know the community better and making a difference,” said Maritz.

Nombongo Ntswayi, an audiologist from Cape Town, has enjoyed her first few weeks at Christ the King Hospital at Ixopo, where she’s been placed.

“Working with people from the community of Ixopo, you get to see the other side of life and appreciate the people. Being able to provide health services to people who don’t have access to them is quite rewarding,” said Ntswayi.

Yashnita Ramsunder, an occupational therapist who studied at the University of Cape Town, is based at Gamalakhe Clinic, outside Port Shepstone. “I’m really happy where I’m placed. I service nine clinics.  What I’m looking forward to the most this year is helping the poorest of the poor, helping the disabled gain independence in communities, and raising awareness about mental health and disability, because that’s what I’m passionate about,” said Ramsunder.