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Nov 18
Rotary event encourages KwaMashu residents to remain health-focused while recovering from KZN’s recent tragedies

By: Lunga Memela (HST Communications Engagement Lead)

The National Department of Health (NDoH), together with Rotary International, hosted a Rotary Family Health Day on 15 November 2022 at KwaMashu Sportsfield in eThekwini. This event harnessed key stakeholders and partners to bring services to people at community level, as part of the South African Government's strategy for delivering equitable and integrated health care.

Lead partners at the event included the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health (KZN DoH), the eThekwini Municipal Health Unit, the Health Systems Trust's (HST) SA SURE Pro project, and a number of community-based organisations. The event was funded by the international Rotary Action Group for Family Health & AIDS Prevention (RFHAP), paying homage to communities and individuals gravely affected by the province's recent floods, public unrest, and COVID-19.  

The Rotary Family Health Days (RFHD) campaign is a public‒private partnership between government, SANAC, Rotary International and various organisations aimed at bringing a comprehensive package of free primary and specialised health services to identified underserved communities across the country on three consecutive days during the month of November every year.

The event was addressed by the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, who praised the organisers' collaboration and the turnout from the community, noting how important it was to ensure that health care is more accessible to all.

He also used this platform to officially launch the theme for #WorldAIDSDay on 1 December 2022: Equalise and Integrate to End AIDS. The annual World AIDS Day Campaign serves to unite people in controlling the HIV epidemic, to show support for people living with HIV, and to honour those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. 

Deputy Health Minister Dhlomo said it was heart-breaking to learn that the country's youngest mother in 2022 is 10 years of age. All constituencies present at the event, including civil society, were confronted with the reality that children are sexually active, be it consensually or not. With the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign commencing on 25 November, it goes without saying that more must be done to protect women, children and especially young girls from all forms of violence, including sexual violation ‒ not only as a human rights issue, but also in an effort to stop the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Deputy Minister Dhlomo, along with KZN DoH Head of Department Dr Sandile Shabalala, called on people to take advantage of community-based services to improve their health outcomes.

Dr Diane Morof, Associate Director of Programmes for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC South Africa), addressed the gathering by saying that the past two years had not been easy for the people of KwaZulu-Natal. "We were one of the provinces worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While recovering from COVID-19, we experienced social unrest that claimed many lives. As we tried to rebuild our province, we experienced devastating floods that left hundreds of people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands more," Dr Morof (pictured below) reflected.

"All these unfortunate incidents disrupted lives and reversed TB and HIV care and treatment gains. The treatment disruptions were particularly felt in eThekwini Metro and surrounding districts. The floods destroyed homes and washed away people's identification documents, clinic cards, and much-needed treatment. The roads leading to the clinics were also affected, making it difficult for people to access public health facilities. All these difficulties caused people to miss their clinic appointments and for some, treatment was interrupted," Dr Morof explained.

HST's SA SURE Pro project staffers were present at the event in mobile units, providing HIV testing and counselling services. Funded by the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the U.S. CDC, the project supports the DoH in providing community- and facility-based services delivering life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART) for people living with HIV, and works with community leadership to improve access to treatment and a better life for all.

A community member receiving voluntary HIV testing and counselling from HST at the event.

Key insights from Rotary CEO at the event

The CEO of RFHAP, Ms Sue Paget, said that our post-COVID-19 world shows how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted the people most affected by diseases – "the poor, the marginalised, those living without access to health care, those living in informal settlements, farmworkers, and those in this area so affected by the devastating floods."

Rotary's President Elect, Mr Gordon McInally, also conveyed his message of support virtually at the event.

Ms Paget explained that the organisation had learnt key lessons from its first pilot in Uganda in 2011. These were that:

  • community-specific health interventions are needed;
  • integrated preventative health screenings enable people from the communities to come forward for testing without the stigma that is associated with singular screening;
  • the people using these interventions believe Rotary to be a non-partisan or neutral, and therefore trustworthy, organisation;
  • driven by service leadership and volunteerism, Rotarians are happiest when working together for common cause, directly benefitting their country and the communities in which they live and serve.

"Through effective collaboration with the private sector and government," said Ms Paget, "Rotary Family Health Days play a part in building and strengthening health care. We do this in communities through education, through governance, through empowerment and leadership, to respond to local and global health challenges that face our country but also our continent… Good health affects not only the individual, it affects all of us. It has a good spin-off at community, family, corporate, government and country levels."

Polio and measles vaccination

Deputy Minister Dhlomo also reiterated one of the main objectives of the day, which was to promote the nationwide call to action for measles vaccination roll-out. Polio and measles are currently a major public health threat in the country and across the African continent, calling for urgent intervention, especially immunisation.

Other health priorities

In addition to promoting women and children's health at the event, speakers also flagged men's health and men's mental health as a priority. Integrated services offered to the KwaMashu community on the day included family planning, immunisation, TB and HIV testing, Pap smears, dental screening, an eye clinic, screening for minor ailments and chronic diseases, a children's clinic, as well as a clinic for the elderly where those in need were issued with new walking sticks. 

One of the final key messages emphasised to attendees was the importance of adherence to chronic medication. They were reminded that the DoH has made it possible for government-issued medication to be collected for free at convenient collection points after registering for a free service called CCMDD (Central Chronic Medicine Dispensing and Distribution) or 'Dablapmeds', which HST continues to promote through its online communications channels.

HST's Acting Area Co-ordinator for KwaMashu, Nokzola Mqholiwe, takes dignitaries through the process for HIV testing services at the event. 


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