By: Lunga Memela (HST Communications Engagement Lead)
Over 50 delegates from various entities in and around KwaZulu-Natal's uMgungundlovu District including the Health Systems Trust (HST) brought their thinking caps to a Civil Society Strategic Planning Workshop that was held from 11 to 13 January 2023 to deliberate on how best to eradicate social ills tarnishing the social fabric and health status of local residents.
Established in 2007, uMgungundlovu District's Civil Society Forum (CSF) upholds the values of selflessness, integrity, objectivity accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. It has continuously battled with soaring rates of TB and HIV infection, teenage pregnancy, drug use, gender-based violence, poverty and youth unemployment.
uMgungundlovu District's CSF Chair, John Mofokeng, said that the challenges faced by the local communities are dire. They felt it was important for them as a forum to hold a first-of-its-kind strategic workshop to map out a way forward at the start of a new year. He said that joint effort would be required from the 18 civil society sectors as well as the government Departments of Health, Education, Social Development, Justice, Home Affairs and Agriculture.
The work carried out by the CSF is guided by South Africa's National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs 2017-2022 that was drafted as a roadmap for the next stage of the South African National AIDS Council's (SANAC) journey towards a future where HIV, TB and STIs are no longer public health problems. Mofokeng said: "While the National Strategic Plan exists, we still needed to develop a framework that is tailored to the specific needs of uMgungundlovu District." He said members of the forum reside within the district, making them easily accessible to community members, and sensitive to social ills endemic to the district.
Former Traditional Health Practitioner Sector member, CSF Exco member and uMgungundlovu community radio presenter, Nana Ingelosi kaMakhanya, explained that the CSF is voice for the community, especially the voiceless. She said that the CSF is tasked with lobbying and community advocacy. She would love to see the community thriving and taking better care of their health. Similar sentiments were shared by the CSF Deputy Chair, Zikhona Nyathi, who said that some members of society remain voiceless, especially when it comes to health issues, and end up losing their lives when this could have been prevented.
A younger member of the CSF, Dalindyebo Nkoliswa (28), who is an active member of uMgungundlovu's Inkunzi Isematholeni Foundation, said he was concerned about people using and injecting drugs in the community. He believes that they too must be involved in decision-making; having their health attended to often resulted in this key population feeling heard, understood, and already on their way to recovery.
Group discussions paving ways forward at the workshop
HST is District Support Partner (DSP) to KwaZulu-Natal's Department of Health (KZN DoH). Impressed with the workshop's proceedings, HST's SA SURE PRO Project Manager, Nomvula Radebe, said that the organisation relies on the voices of civil society to guide the manner in which we work and how the services that we offer can support communities. She noted the importance of government and non-governmental organisations listening to and receiving civil society feedback, whether good or bad, in order to stay accountable for key deliverables.
Radebe is part of HST's flagship project entitled South Africa Sustainable Response to HIV/AIDS and TB (SA SURE) Project (SA SURE PRO) that is funded by the U.S. President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programme through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for 'Sustaining HIV/TB Epidemic Control in South Africa'. The project engages at the provincial, district, facility and community levels of the South African health system to support Department of Health facilities in four PEPFAR focus districts in KwaZulu-Natal: eThekwini, uMgungundlovu, uThukela, and Zululand.
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