Mzansi’s rural areas are home to the poorest of the poor, with no jobs and limited access to basic healthcare, hospitals, and clinics. It is especially a struggle for women in rural areas. Despite these challenges, there are individuals and communities working tirelessly to create a better future for healthcare in these areas.
After taking the initiative at an early stage of her career to be involved in rural health advocacy, Molatelo Maseko from Limpopo became a founding member of Rural Nursing South Africa. She says she saw the healthcare challenges faced by her community while completing her studies, so it was going to be easy to tackle them with the knowledge that she acquired.
“During my four-year nursing course, we used to do home visits in rural communities where we would encounter very poor families who did not have food and had to take care of the sick on chronic medications. Others stayed far from clinics, while others lacked proper care.”
A rewarding journey
“As rural healthcare workers, we would normally joke about it and say that we are the resources because, honestly speaking, sometimes we are all that we have in emergency situations. It is not easy to handle those situations due to a lack of resources and expertise as compared to those in urban areas.
Maseko says that mobile clinics are a convenient way of bringing primary health care to rural communities. Children are able to access immunisations free of charge with this service. People who live far from clinics are also able to access services found in clinics at a low cost, saving a lot in transport fares.
“It is not easy to be a rural healthcare worker due to the challenges we encounter in our lifetime, including poverty, bad infrastructure, a lack of basic resources such as water, and many more. In my language, the elders usually say ‘kgotlello e tsala katlego’, which simply means patience gives birth to success. With passion and the love that we have for our work, we will continue to soldier on, and surely, we will conquer,” says Maseko.
Breaking down barriers
Zodwa Mkhize, who resides in Mkhombosa, a rural area in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, speaks of barriers they face, like the distance to clinics and not having money for transportation. However, she mentions how a mobile clinic that frequently comes to the area has been of great assistance to them.
“I use the mobile clinic whenever it is around, and I need health care because hospitals and clinics are very far away, and you need to have money for transportation to take you there.
We are usually updated on a community group chat about where it’s going to be on which day. It is very useful because whatever you wish to do at a clinic, you are able to do it at the mobile clinic. They ensure all our needs are catered for, for both adults and kids,” she says.
‘Just doing our best’
Currently, a medical intern at General Justice Gizenga Mpanza Regional Hospital, located in the small town of Stanger in KwaZulu-Natal, Simphiwe Phungula says women in rural areas face challenges associated with poor socio-economic backgrounds, which unfortunately have a direct link to education levels and health-seeking behaviour. She also mentions how they have numerous responsibilities in the home, to the point where they neglect their health because they’re the homemakers and carers in their households.
“I was encouraged to be a doctor in rural KZN when I came across a foundation called Umthombo Youth Development Foundation (UYDF). They take matriculation graduates from rural areas in the province, send them through university to study health care degrees, and then place them back in their communities to serve their people.
Being efficient, no matter what
“I was placed at the only regional hospital in Ilembe District. As a medical intern, it was in my best interest to serve in such an area because I wanted to familiarise myself with the struggles of healthcare delivery in rural KZN at the beginning of my career so I could be as efficient as I could be no matter where I was placed as a medical officer,” she says.
“If this is not enough, there are referral hospitals for more specialised intervention. It’s quite important to note that managing emergencies is also very much within our scope in rural facilities, and should patients require a referral, we can stabilise them for transfer,” explains Phungula.
Despite any lack of resources, Phungula underlines that assisting people in a rural environment reminds her so much of the expression ‘Ubuntu’, and says waking up daily to go to work in such an environment is a rewarding experience on its own because any help provided is appreciated and truly recognised by the patients.
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