After a bumpy start, when COVID-19 vaccines finally began to rollout across the country, South Africans breathed a sigh of relief. However, while health experts expected there to be challenges around vaccination supplies, what was less expected was that primary healthcare hospitals in rural areas would largely be left to their own devices.
One such hospital, Tintswalo District Hospital (Tintswalo), a Mpumalanga-based primary care facility in Acornhoek, took matters into its own hands to help the local community get vaccinated thanks to healthcare professional volunteers.
Kim Craven, a medical professional from the United States, who volunteered at Tintswalo through the Tshemba Foundation, was inspired by how the hospital overcame the numerous challenges it was facing.
“As a district hospital, Tintswalo’s catchment area is large, and the hospital is extremely busy. A successful vaccine rollout is critical to ensuring that COVID-19 related hospitalisations are kept to a minimum,” says Craven. “This means that with limited resources, Tintswalo staff have needed to encourage and educate the local population to vaccinate, find inspired solutions that successfully separate infected inpatients from those who are not and screen every person who enters the facility. They’ve also needed to coordinate with outlying primary health clinics for similar protections within their spaces. It’s been a complex process that everyone at Tintswalo embraced.”
Craven’s high opinion of the resilience and creativity of Tintswalo’s team is matched by the enthusiasm that the staff of Tintswalo feel for the medical volunteer programme that backs their efforts.
“We are an under-resourced district with over-stretched staff,” says Dr Andries Maebela, former Senior Clinical Manager at Tintswalo. “Volunteers bring so much value to Tintswalo because of this – energy, enthusiasm, skills and expertise that they willingly share, even after they’ve left us. Whether a volunteer spends three days with us or a few weeks, they always leave their mark.”
Volunteers are making a measurable impact at Tintswalo
The volunteering programme is a partnership between Tintswalo and the Tshemba Foundation, a medical volunteer programme that is designed to connect healthcare professionals who have knowledge, skills, experience, and a deep desire to give back, with rural communities in need at the Tintswalo Hospital, and its surrounding clinics.
“Needs change and fluctuate,” says Dr Maebela. “Different medical experts, doctors, general practitioners, specialists, nurses and anaesthetists are all welcome at Tintswalo because everyone brings their own unique experiences and views. More importantly, they give our doctors confidence because they are being exposed to top expertise, medical insights and medical best-practice.”
For Craven, the vaccine rollout at Tintswalo was about more than simply administering jabs. The confidence that both she and her colleagues have in the vaccine became a critical component of what they were doing.
“The residents near Tintswalo are not unique in their vaccine hesitancy,” says Craven. “Both myself and the staff at Tintswalo found repeated opportunities to re-educate and re-assure community members who did not want to vaccinate. They were apprehensive because of mis-information they had received from a wide variety of sources that terrified them into thinking they would experience adverse effects, from impotence to magnetism.”
It was therefore heartening to see that most community members were enthusiastic about the opportunity to receive the vaccine, particularly once their fears were appeased.
“We did this together – volunteers and the staff of Tintswalo,” says Craven. “Tintswalo’s leadership team have shown how willing they are to partner and engage with other clinical leaders to develop teams within the organisation to accomplish excellent patient outcomes.”
It is this willingness that made Craven’s time at Tintswalo so rich and rewarding. “Being given the opportunity to make such a meaningful impact to a community such as Acornhoek is an experience I will never forget,” says Craven.
Become a volunteer with the Tshemba Foundation
While the Tshemba Foundation’s volunteer programme is best suited for longer stays, there are short-term opportunities available that can accommodate busy schedules while still maximising the impact of volunteering at Tintswalo and the local clinics in the area.
To find out more, visit https://www.tshembafoundation.org/volunteer-programme