Medical students give up holiday time to serve communities in need

09 July 2014 | Story by Newsroom
A SHAWCO speech therapist screening potential patients.
A SHAWCO speech therapist screening potential patients.

While most students went on holiday, a group of SHAWCO Health medical student volunteers started the university vacation by running a week-long clinic serving communities in Vredenburg on the West Coast.

The primary healthcare clinics, which are offered at no charge, are made possible through the support of GrandWest Corporate Social Investment (CSI), which for the past eight years has been SHAWCO Health's primary sponsor, enabling the 71-year-old, student-driven organisation to provide weekly primary healthcare clinics to poor communities across Cape Town.

A history of SHAWCO's healthcare clinics

In 2009, SHAWCO Health ran its first week-long Rural Health Project in the Eastern Cape district of Mqanduli. This project was so successful that plans were drawn up to emulate its success in the Western Cape, and, following discussion with the public health directorate at Groote Schuur, identified three target areas: Worcester, Vredenberg and the Cederberg.

In 2011, SHAWCO Health students ran a weekend rural clinic in Vredenburg, serving the community of Louwville. The weekend trip was another success and, following requests from the community, it was repeated in 2012.

Over the years, the focus of the clinics has moved from curative to being more preventative, with the emphasis being placed on health promotion talks and screening tests. Health promotion talks include: HIV, TB, diarrhoea, hypertension, diabetes, intimate partner violence, sexually transmitted infections and family planning. Screening tests include HIV counselling and testing; pap smears for cervical cancer; blood glucose for diabetes; and blood pressure for hypertension testing.

In addition, the team has broadened its reach along the West Coast to include the communities of Saldanha, Diazville, Laingville, Hanna Coetzee, and Louwville.

A positive impact and experience

It's not just the communities who have benefited, says SHAWCO Health president and fifth year UCT medical student Abbaas Allie. "Over the years we've witnessed how students' lives have been changed through their interaction with communities during the GrandWest CSI-sponsored SHAWCO Health projects. Supervising and volunteering students have reported that the experience is eye-opening and life-changing. It is a great opportunity for students to learn and develop their practical practice, as well as learning about the context from which a large majority of South Africans come."

"GrandWest CSI is enormously proud to partner with SHAWCO's health clinics, which have become a part of the communities they serve, and the doctors and nurses from the communities have spoken of the value of our service," says GrandWest CSI Manager Heidi Edson. "Through health promotion and screening, we are empowering patients with knowledge of health issues in their own language, and detecting health problems at their beginning stages, before they become life-threatening."

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