With only one dermatologist in the public sector per 4 million people, training nurses from community clinics to diagnose and treat dermatological cases is of utmost importance.
This was highlighted by UCT's Pat Kelly, Chief Professional Nurse and Co-ordinator of the Community Dermatology Programme. Kelly was speaking at a function to celebrate the handover of two computers to the project at Hout Bay's Main Road Clinic.
The computers, donated by PRA International (formerly Cro Medica), a company that conducts research and runs clinical trials on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, will be used to register all patients and compile monthly database statistics at the Main Road Clinic as well as at the Hout Bay Day Hospital.
Nicola Bennett, PRA's clinical operations manger, explained the computers had become available after an IT overhaul at the company and had been fitted with the relevant software and licensing requirements.
"We want to give back to the community, offering equipment that will help with your processes and procedures and make your lives a little easier," Bennet told the clinic's staff members.
Initiated in 1997 by the head of UCT's dermatology division, Professor Gail Todd, the project has seen some 33 nurses in South Africa and 21 beyond the borders being trained to diagnose and treat common skin disorders. They are able to recognise life-threatening skin diseases and know who to refer for specialist opinion.
The nurses undergo full time training for eight weeks. This includes lectures given by dermatologists and practicals presented by clinical nurse specialist, Sister Nora Christians.
According to Kelly, the programme is unique and its success has set a precedent followed by other countries.
"Many first world countries are copying what we are doing here," she commented. "We are the dermatology division that runs a fulltime dermatology course for nurses.
"The role of the dermatological nurses we train cannot be emphasised enough. It is a cost-effective option as the correct treatment and management is given thereby reducing wastage. Common skin diseases can be treated right here with the patient not having to go all the way to Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH)," said Kelly.
Alleviating long queues of unnecessary referrals at GSH also ensures more serious cases are dealt with sooner at the provincial hospital, she added.
With hundreds of patients now receiving high-quality dermatological care, Todd and Kelly have been invited to present the advantages of the programme to City of Cape Town health director, Dr Ivan Toms, and his team of district managers, hopefully securing additional funding and leading to the training of more nurses.