Heroes of rural health were honored at the Rural Health Conference

In a heartfelt tribute to the unsung heroes of rural healthcare, the Rural Health Conference unfolded in a whirlwind of appreciation, recognition, and applause. The event, which took place over three days, served as a resounding testament to the dedicated medical practitioners who tirelessly serve in rural areas.

The conference illuminated the extraordinary efforts of these healthcare professionals, highlighting their unwavering commitment to delivering quality medical care where it’s needed most. One of the defining moments of the conference was the awards ceremony, where a select group of healthcare practitioners were recognized for their extraordinary work. The awards were presented to individuals and teams who had exhibited exceptional dedication, innovation, and compassion in their service.

Congratulations to the following recipients:

1.     The Rural Health special award – The Limpopo Rural Health Matters Surgical Outreach Team

They received the award for their gift of surgical care and specialists’ access to rural areas. This team, led by the Limpopo MEC for Health, Dr Phophi Ramathuba, have participated in the rural health matters outreach project that alleviated a surgical backlog in the province.

The program was initiated with the aim of benefiting people in disadvantaged communities. Through this program, rural hospitals enhance local accessibility, enabling patients to concentrate on their recovery rather than the challenges of reaching their appointments.

The program is made up of medical specialists with the aim of clearing surgical backlogs in rural hospitals.

In her speech at the Limpopo Health Provincial Department Budget Vote 2023/24, MEC Phophi Ramathuba said, “Since its inception, the campaign has seen over 6000 patients benefitting from a variety of surgical procedures ranging from orthopaedic, urogynecology, paediatric surgery, ophthalmology, maxillofacial surgery, gynaecology, amongst others.”

“This campaign has changed the face of healthcare in the far-flung, rural parts of our Province.”

Photo RHC

2.     RUDASA Rural Doctor of the year – Dr. Bukiwe Spondo

Dr. Spondo is working at Tefalofefe hospital in the Eastern Cape, she started in 2007 after completing her community service as a medical officer. She also joined the Masibambane ARV clinic, and she equipped herself with the task ahead. Her interest in HIV/AIDS management yielded results as patients got better on time to lead a meaningful life. After Masibambane clinic closed down, Dr Spondo opened a Clinical HIV/AIDS Management site in the hospital so that clinics would refer complicated cases to her. She started an outreach to 9 feeder clinics of Mnquma Sub-district. Dr Spondo with support of the Amathole Disctict NCD Manager and Butterworth hospital formed an MDR Review clinic so that patients from Mnquma Sub-district can be reviewed within the Sub-district. After realising that there were schools with high pregnancy rate between 10 to 19, she identified 2 schools that were the main contributors and organised health awareness days with Sub-district in those schools.

“Winning the RUDASA award for 2023, I felt good, excited, emotional, and humbled. It was a validation of my hard work and efforts. It motivated me to do more for rural health,” said Dr Spondo.

Regarding the theme of the year, Dr Spondo said that celebrating and honouring rural health workers who have dedicated their time and talents in improving the health care for rural people. “Celebrating and honouring health care workers for their outstanding achievements. I hope this will inspire the next generation of health care workers to work and stay in rural communities so that rural people can continue to have access to good quality.”

“I was born and raised in rural areas before going to KZN to do medicine. This award is something I will cherish for the rest of my life as it validates the importance of giving back to the community that raised you and supported you.”

Photo RHC

3.     RUNURSA Rural Nurse of the Year- Nosiphiwo Gunuza

She’s an Operational Manager at Ntafufu clinic in Nyandeni Sub District, O.R. Tambo District. Born and bred in deep rural areas in Lusikisiki.

On August 22, 2022, at Ntafufu Clinic, a 15-year-old boy in critical condition needed urgent care. However, due to the lack of reliable network connectivity they couldn’t get an ambulance. Therefore, Nosiphiwo and her cooperative staffmade a decision to place him in a car with an oxygen cylinder, providing continuous oxygen and set on a harrowing 20km journey to St Elizabeth Hospital. Along the way, the boy’s condition deteriorated, requiring Nosiphiwo to perform chest compressions while another staff member held the oxygen mask. They reached the hospital with the patient alive. He was admitted for three days and later discharged in good health, able to continue his studies. This story highlights their dedication and life-saving efforts in rural nursing. This is the heroic save that guaranteed her the nurse of the year award.

“The feeling of being honoured in front of great people was beautiful,” said Nosiphiwo regarding winning the Rural Nurse of the Year award.

She explained that she is grateful that there is a platform of that nature where rural people are acknowledged. “When you work at rural area, you are just working without expectations, and you don’t think that anyone is watching what you are doing.”

Commenting on the theme: Celebrating Rural Service, Nosiphiwo mentioned that celebrating rural workers is important.

“I can fully say that it is of great importance and it makes you feel great and appreciated for the work that you do.”

4.     RURESA Therapist of the year- Katy Miller

Katy earned a nomination from the Madwaleni Hospital staff in the Eastern Cape due to her unwavering dedication to serving both the hospital and the local community since 2013.Katy’s husband, Dr. Andrew Miller, serves as the clinical manager of Madwaleni Hospital and has previously been honoured with the RuDASA rural doctor of the year award. Dr. Miller says that their presence at Madwaleni Hospital is the result of Katy’s aspiration to live and work in a rural healthcare setting.

Katy initiated the development of a rehabilitation ward and implemented a Block System for cerebral palsy patients at Madwaleni. Additionally, she established a non-profit organization (NPO) called Layita. This NPO not only provides support to hospital services, including the employment of three rehabilitation translator assistants but also embodies a vision to inspire hope, drive positive change, and foster prosperity in the rural community surrounding the hospital.

Occupational Therapist, Katy Miller explained that winning the award at the Rural Health Conference was a genuinely unexpected and humbling experience for her, especially as her role as an Occupational Therapist has not been traditionally clinical or hospital based in nature.

“This award felt like a recognition not just of the work I have been privileged to be involved in but also of the collective dedication of everyone involved in improving rural health services. It’s a reminder that the field of Occupational Therapy (OT) is incredibly broad, and the role of OTs can encompass a wide range of contributions.”

“Rural service, while often challenging, is also immensely rewarding. It’s a privilege to be a part of bridging gaps, providing essential care where it’s needed most, and making a positive impact on the lives of underserved communities. I believe that celebrating rural service is a way to shed light on the vital, sometimes unexpected, work being done and to inspire others to join in these efforts.”

5.     RURESA Rehabilitation worker of the year- Joe Monoe

Joe is a physiotherapy assistant, who was nominated by Undine Rauter, Gelukspan Hospital in North West, for over 30 years of work in the area. His work moved from hospital based to outreach and developing new service areas. At times he was the only rehabilitation worker, and at other times he was a mentor to therapists and students.

“It makes me feel honoured and happy on being rewarded for the hard work, impact I’ve done on the rural setting in North west. I’m grateful to everyone who contributed on my journey, colleagues at work and Undine Rauter as my supervisor at the period. Thanks for the incredible recognition from Ruresa, I’m deeply grateful and the encouraging words that was inspirational to me. Glad to know that I’ve made a difference in my community,” said Joe.