SHAWCO’s paediatric clinic brings hope to Hout Bay

13 May 2024 | Story Niémah Davids. Photo Lerato Maduna. Read time 10 min.
The latest SHAWCO paediatrics clinic took place on Saturday, 11 May.
The latest SHAWCO paediatrics clinic took place on Saturday, 11 May.

In the spirt of “We rise by lifting others”, a group of University of Cape Town (UCT) student volunteers sacrificed a crisp autumn Saturday morning to spend it in service of the children of Hout Bay – bringing primary healthcare services to those in need and bridging a much-needed gap in the healthcare system.

Organised by the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) – a UCT student-run non-governmental organisation, the paediatric clinic in the picturesque seaside suburb was the fifth such clinic for the year. SHAWCO Health brings free primary healthcare services to vulnerable communities across the Cape Metropole. The latest clinic, which was held at Sentinel Primary School on Saturday, 11 May, was no different.

“With our clinics, all we want to do is continue building on Andrew Kinnear’s legacy. As a UCT medical student, he founded SHAWCO in 1943. He was a part-time ambulance driver and used his salary to pay for his studies. Through his work, he noticed the disparities between the haves and the haves not, especially in healthcare. And he started SHAWCO to bring healthcare to communities where services were lacking,” said Chris Pearce, SHAWCO’s head of paediatrics for 2024. Pearce and his deputy, Jae Eun Park, are part of the clinic’s organising committee.

“Although South Africa has changed so much over the past 80 years, there are still many people who experience poor access to healthcare, and we try and change this by taking services directly to the people.”

Paying it forward

The paediatric clinic joined a mix of volunteers from UCT’s Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS), including medicine, physiotherapy, audiology, occupational therapy and speech language pathology. The idea, Pearce said, is to make seeking healthcare a positive experience for the community, who are often forced to endure the downside of the public healthcare system. This, he added, includes lengthy waiting times at clinics, under-resourced facilities and overburdened healthcare professionals. Patients between the ages of 0 and 18 years were eligible to attend the paediatric clinic.

At the crack of dawn, the group of volunteers loaded their buses with supplies for the day and made their way to Hout Bay from the FHS campus. Once they arrived, they set up two mobile clinics on the school precinct to easily consult with patients and conduct their examinations in private. Other volunteers, like student physiotherapists and audiologists, conducted their sessions in designated classrooms. An added service for the morning was an on-site pharmacy, aimed at patients who required medication, or visited the clinic with an existing monthly prescription. A nursing sister was standing by to dispense what they needed.

SHAWCO
SHAWCO volunteers at the Sentinel Primary School in Hout Bay.

Pearce said such clinics have become an integral part of the community because they are located at churches, community halls and schools for easy access for residents. And local community healthcare workers, who have built a level of trust with parents and caregivers, are tasked with recruiting patients on a first-come, first-served basis.

“On average, SHAWCO runs three Saturday clinics a month, including a paediatric clinic in Hangberg and Imizamo Yethu [both in Hout Bay] and in Tambo Village in Gugulethu. We also facilitate a women’s health and mom and baby clinic in Kensington. And on selected weekday evenings, depending on doctors’ availability, we run a health and wellness clinic in these communities, as well in Wynberg and Masiphumelele,” he said.

Promoting healthy lifestyles

As the mist lifted from the bay, little patients accompanied by their parents or caregivers streamed into the clinic, eager to receive the care they needed. And volunteers welcomed them with open arms – ushering them to where they needed to be.

While patients consulted with a healthcare professional and others waited in line, not a second was wasted. This lull gave other volunteers an opportunity to facilitate discussions on important health-related topics. Because May marks Burns Awareness Month in South Africa, the team dedicated their waiting room sessions to the topic, and distributed burnshield packs to patients afterwards. In the past, Pearce added, other topics up for discussion included tuberculosis awareness and prevention, how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and the importance of breastfeeding. During this time, volunteers also consulted with patients individually or in small groups if they had further questions related to the discussion.

 

“This was such an engaging time between our patients and volunteers.”

For the first time this year, he said, SHAWCO also introduced their Play Group initiative – a fun and interactive session led by students studying towards other degrees at UCT. These volunteers, referred to as play mates, facilitated play sessions with the young patients while they waited for their consultations with a student doctor.

“This was such an engaging time between our patients and volunteers and meant that our donated toys, colouring books and crayons were put to good use, occupying the energetic little boys and girls,” he said.

A parent’s take

For Irene Mfazwe, a Hout Bay community worker and SHAWCO volunteer, the clinics have been a godsend for the children of Hout Bay, as well as their parents.

Irene Mfazwe
Irene Mfazwe.

Mfazwe said she religiously visited the paediatric clinic with her two children for 20 years and received “excellent care”. In fact, she explained, it was at a SHAWCO clinic where her son’s severe eczema was assessed and where she received a letter for the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. Now that they’re all grown up, her daughter has also joined the volunteer programme to give back to the community. And Mfazwe encourages parents in her community, especially those whose children attend the early childhood development (ECD) centre where she works, to do the same.

“I market and promote this clinic everywhere because I know it benefits the children. I have the experience. I always tell parents that if they were to pay a private speech therapist or audiologist for their child’s care, it would cost lots of money. But here, SHAWCO brings it to us for free. So, bring them here,” Mfazwe said.

“I am very grateful to the SHAWCO team of back then and of now for their contribution to our community.”

Assessing fine motor skills

An added component to the morning’s packed line-up was a special sports programme, led by UCT biokinetics and exercise science students, to get young participants’ bodies moving. In partnership with a local basketball club, the team aimed to assess children’s fine motor skills and teach important muscle strengthening exercises.

Pearce stressed the importance of encouraging a regular exercise routine for children’s optimal mental and physical well-being. It helps them maintain a healthy weight, strengthens their bones and muscles and helps to prevent noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life. To wind down after the session, participants were treated to Jungle bars and snack mix, and they enjoyed every bite.

“Everyone had so much fun. There’s nothing like some exercise to get those happy endorphins going and it’s always so heartening to witness how much the children really just want to play and be children,” he said.

Facilitating peer-to-peer learning

But clinics of this kind don’t just benefit the communities they serve. They also bode well for the university’s teaching and learning project. Because there are no restrictions to health sciences student volunteers’ year of study, Pearce said, those in the early years of study are paired with senior counterparts to enable a peer-to-peer learning and mentoring process.

SHAWCO volunteer
A volunteer tends to a patient during a session at the clinic.

And the team of volunteers are made up of more than just students – qualified volunteer healthcare professionals give time back in service of the community as well. What this means, he explained, is that after students have examined their patients, they present their findings to a qualified healthcare professional. It’s during this process that patients’ diagnoses and treatment regimens are finalised. Health professionals also provide students with tips on how to improve their patient consultations and this served as an opportune time to answer any questions students had.

“Our clinics nurture an incredible learning environment for our students. It’s proven over and over again that students who participate in SHAWCO clinics during their early years at university really excel during their later years while doing hospital rotations because of the practical, hands-on experience these clinics provide,” Pearce said.

 

“It’s about our patients and their well-being and ensuring that they leave here stronger and more empowered to take care of their health compared to when they first arrived.”

“But for us here today, it’s about more than that. It’s about our patients and their well-being and ensuring that they leave here stronger and more empowered to take care of their health compared to when they first arrived.”


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