Health science students conscious of the socio-economic factors affecting the quality of healthcare, launched a society dedicated to student activism last night at the Wits Parktown campus.
The Student Advocates for Health Society (StAH) runs as one of the projects of the Wits Rural Health Club, according to one of the founders, Ndumiso Mathebula, 4th year MBBCH.
The aim of StAH is to encourage student activism by creating awareness of human rights issues relating to healthcare. The idea came about when a group of students doing shifts at a hospital were outraged by a poster indicating that some patients were denied HIV treatment.
“We saw the social inequality and did not know how to do anything about it. We [health science students] don’t know what’s happening in the world, we don’t know what politics mean. This organisation is to inform students about the realities of what is happening in hospitals,” said Mathebula.
The plan is to give opportunities to students to work with organisations like Section27, Doctors Without Borders, the Wits Citizenship Community Outreach, the Wits Transformation Office and the Treatment Action Campaign to create change. Students will learn different skills of advocacy, according to Mathebula.
Neo Mkhaba, 4th year MBBCH and StAH media officer, said as advocates, health science students would be empowered to “identify problems and come up with solutions that are comprehensive and sustainable” and added, “Change must start with us”.
We need more people to step into the darkness, because someone has to turn on the light.
Students were enthusiastic about the prospect. Joseph Tewson, honours in anatomy, said: “I get very excited when things happen on campus. We are a very laid-back generation. We need more of this on campus. We need more people to step into the darkness, because someone has to turn on the light.”
Lesnè Pucjlowski, 3rd year MBBCH was keen on standing up for her patients, “I’m really just interested in standing up for my patients’ human rights. Our patients are important and their needs are important and I am happy that StAH will give me the opportunity to be proactive”.
Cybil Mulundi, 4th year MBBCH, wants to implement what she learns at StAH in her career, “I am here to learn how doctors can make patients more aware of their human rights and make sure they are not taken advantage of”.
Monique Losper, 4th year MBBCH, added: “I would like to find out how to create a better relationship between doctors and patients in our careers going forward. I am expecting StAH to help enhance awareness of rights and responsibilities so that patients can receive good healthcare.
The organisers used the event to commemorate the youth of 1976, who died for what they believed in, said Mkhaba. The same spirit of activism should be carried by this generation, but it should not be destructive, emphasised Mathebula. In the past, people had to destroy to get their freedom, he told Wits Vuvuzela.
Key note speaker Dr Gavin Anderson built on his point by stating, “Students should examine closely what is happening to make sure that it corresponds with what they believe should happen, and then take action.” It is easy to “work against,” “working for” is quite difficult, he added.
This article was featured in the Wits Vuvuzela