I received a Mayaud Travel Grant from F&M to participate in the program “Healthcare Challenges in South Africa”, conducted by Child Family Health International (Link to http://www.cfhi.org/). During this four-week program, I stayed with a host family and shadowed physicians, nurses, paramedics, and ambulance practitioners in four different clinical sites in Cape Town, South Africa. The clinical sites included a community health center, public hospital, emergency rescue service, and HIV/AIDS clinic. In addition, I attended a series of weekly lectures focusing on the healthcare system of South Africa, common illnesses, and clinical case studies.
Through my clinical rotations, I had the opportunity to treat patients directly. I learned to draw blood, give injections, administer nebulizers to asthmatics, and assist with clinical procedures such as deliveries and suturing. I was also involved in educating mothers and expectant mothers about the importance of proper health care (including HIV/AIDS testing) and nutrition for themselves and their babies, such as how to administer oral re-hydration therapy to infants and small children. These experiences provided me with the opportunity to interact with patients on an individual level and to contribute to their health in a measurable way.
In addition to working in the clinic and hospital setting, I also had the unique opportunity to ride along with the emergency rescue service for three twelve-hour shifts. I remember the experience vividly. Dust settled on the rusted ambulance as we bounced along the creviced dirt road. Small, sullen-faced children loitered on the street corner amid rows of brown aluminum-sided shacks. Driving through the Shanty Towns of Cape Flats and entering the one-room shacks of patients, I was able to experience the conditions in which the people of South Africa live and the obstacles many face in obtaining adequate medical care, such as transportation issues and long waiting times or confusing referral systems in the clinics and hospitals. In South Africa I came to understand why, given the stresses of daily life and the day-to-day struggle for survival, preventative health care must often take a back seat to more immediate, pressing medical care concerns. My experience in South Africa has left me with a more concrete appreciation of how socioeconomic factors affect the delivery of medical care and the manifestation of disease and illness.