Go rural, say medical students

16 April 2010 | Story by Newsroom

Rural Health Awareness WeekCalling cards: (From left) Samkelwe Majola of the RSN, guest speaker Marije Versteeg and the RSN's Itumeleng Mtatamala at the Rural Health Awareness Week.

Long-running student society Rural Support Network (RSN) is in the throes of its Rural Health Awareness Week (RHAW) of 12 to 16 April, part of its campaign to educate fellow students about the needs of health care in South Africa's often neglected outlying areas.

As it did back in 1996, when it was first launched, the RSN runs a packed agenda. For one, members, all students in the Faculty of Health Sciences, visit schools in townships and rural areas (often their own neighbourhoods) to encourage learners there to consider tertiary education and, more specifically, medical training at UCT. In addition, the society runs an ambitious placement programme, which includes arranging individual and group placements for UCT students at rural hospitals.

The latter initiatives, just like the Rural Health Awareness Week, aims to expose students to the plight of rural health care in South Africa, and perhaps to pique their interest in working in such communities, says RSN chairperson, Itumeleng Ntatamala.

"A student from the suburbs would not really have thought of going into the deep rural areas. But once they've done it, they'll start thinking that maybe this is an option for community service."

So over the five-day RHAW, run with financial and moral support from the faculty, the RSN lined up a host of speakers to address topics such as rural health education at UCT and the role of the UCT graduate in rural health, and to speak of their own experiences as health-sciences professionals working in rural communities.

"There is a huge need for more students to go to rural areas for their community service," says Marije Versteeg of Wits University's Rural Health Advocacy Project, one of the organisations that took part in the RHAW. This, she adds, would be one way to address the many shortcomings (fewer resources and medical professionals chief among them) in rural health care.

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