Recently, I had my first real visit to the clinic.
South Africa offers free medical care to those who cannot afford private care. The private care, obviously, is superior, and the public system is overloaded. I have no idea how many people I saw in the waiting room. I felt extremely white and did not want to be obviously staring. It felt like over 100. It was tight, but there were still some available chairs. People did not seem uncomfortable, and I’m sure the waiting area gets much more crowded.
By most accounts, there are 80,000 people in my township. The clinic serves all of them. It is maybe as big as a large house. I should try to get some pictures. While it is certainly overcrowded, the system does provide a basic level of care to those willing to wait. Surely, many people die who would live if they had the money for private care. Still, I think the United States could learn a lesson here. A “poor” country is able to provide basic health services to everyone. What is stopping the richest country in the world? I would take the South African public/private system over what the US currently offers, even if I ended up on the public side. But I digress…
My reason for visiting was to meet with some members of local home based care organizations (HBCs). Home based care is the front line in the fight against HIV/AIDS and pretty much every other health and social ill in the country. Ostensibly, HBCs provide healthcare to patients, mainly HIV+ patients, who are unable to come to the clinic. In reality, they do everything from the home care to feeding orphans, growing food, being social workers, coordinating patient care, dealing with mental health issues, and raising money. I’m sure there is more.
The HBCs are funded by the Department of Health (which is also possibly passing out money from PEPFAR), but the funding, unsurprisingly, is insufficient. The HBCs are setup as NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), and everyone involved with the HBCs is a volunteer. The HBCs I met with today don’t have money to buy basic medical supplies, like gloves. Thankfully, their patients are still able to get medicine from the clinic, but it is clear the HBCs need some support.
There are 3 HBCs operating out of the clinic, and by some accounts there are many more local organizations supporting HIV+ individuals (not to mention the organizations serving the other populations HBCs have an interest in). The need for support for HIV+ individuals is tremendous, and the need for support for other at-risk populations is just as great. After meeting child after child with no parents, you begin to think, “are schools really the best place for a volunteer?” Personally, I feel the need for a volunteer to work with the HBCs and other community organizations is greater than the need for a volunteer in the schools. It’s hard to get learners interested in education if they (rightfully) aren’t sure that they would live long enough to finish university. And it’s hard to get learners to prioritize their schooling when they are taking care of their siblings and/or parents, possibly without a permanent home.
So I’ve decided my first real Peace Corps project will be to get a healthcare specific volunteer to come here. In addition to the group of volunteers I am from (The Schools and Communities Project), there is another group of volunteers forming the Community Health Outreach Project. They work mainly with HBCs and other health-based NGOs. And while I will certainly be working with the HBCs as best as I can given my commitments, I think they would be better served by a volunteer with a more appropriate background. Hopefully, I will be able to help the local HBCs navigate the volunteer placement process. However, the process can take years.
In the meantime, I’m going to try to help them fundraise, get a computer working, and explore ways to make more money with a bead-selling venture that supplies a lot of their supplemental funds.
Anybody want to buy some beadwork?
Seriously, anybody want to buy some beadwork?