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Improving Health Care for Poor Rural Communities

Resource type: Grantee Story

Dr. Thembelihle Phakathi is a rarity, a 24-year-old doctor from rural South Africa, who cares for children in rural communities. Harkening back to her childhood in Ingwavuma, she explains: “We did not even have a health clinic, just a mobile van that visited once a month at the most. Sick people did not get care, unless they had money to travel to a hospital.”

Ingwavuma is typical of rural South Africa, where millions are struggling with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. To ensure that residents get the care they need, the Friends of Mosvold Trust (FOM) is making it possible for young South Africans from rural communities to become physicians, nurses, aides and other health professionals. So far, FOM has produced 56 graduates and is currently training 84 students. Remarkably, very few of them drop out.

“Common sense and research show that youth who are trained in or near their home communities are much more likely to return to those communities to provide care,” explains Zola Madikizela, a Population Health Programme Executive in South Africa. “Without more indigenous health professionals, we’ll never improve the health of the population.”

Launched in KwaZulu-Natal province, Friends of Mosvold has expanded to other parts of the country with Atlantic’s support. Students receive full scholarships and mentors, who help them fill gaps in their education, learn to use their time wisely and balance family obligations with school work. In turn, for every year of support, each student agrees to one year of service in a rural community where many settle and provide care.

“This is a sustainable model. We are providing local people with skills, so they can return to their communities and provide care,” said Gavin MacGregor who directs FOM. “We say to them ‘You can do it! Yes, it is hard, but if you apply yourself, you can be whatever you want to be.’”

This programme aims to improve health care for poor rural communities by training their young, socially committed people to become doctors, nurses and general health care workers and, upon graduation, having them work in their home communities for at least the same period they received financial support.

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