Carly Stewart | Libertyville, IL — Psychology and Medicine, Health, and Society, 2017
Carly Stewart is from Libertyville, IL. A member of the class of 2017, Carly is double majoring in Psychology and Medicine, Health, and Society. Carly’s project takes place in Stellenbosch, South Africa, learning about the health care system and working in clinical rotations in Public Health Care community clinics. Carly will be looking at multiple aspects of South African health care such as HIV and AIDS, malnutrition and poverty, environmental health, and worldviews of health.
Blog Post One:
Over the past week, I have been adjusting to life in Stellenbosch, South Africa: an incredibly beautiful and diverse city surrounded by mountains that glint pink in the setting sun. We spent our first few days learning the culture of South Africa and local ways and customs. When the next week came around, my cohort and myself were immersed in the study of South Africa’s turbulent political history. Over the course of the week, we spent 9 AM – 5 PM in lecture every day, learning about the course of the Apartheid Laws its eventual conclusion. However, even with the successful transition of power, discrimination and inequality still rock the nation.
In the past few days, I’ve built upon my understanding of the culture with an exploration into the Public Health care system of South Africa. A massive 84% of the country depends on Public Health services and most are also reliant on free services as well as 53.8% of the population falls beneath the poverty line. The poverty line in South Africa is defined in multiple ways; the large 53.8% figure is defined as the widest definition of poverty and includes those who survive on 779 Rand per month: $52. However, 21.7% of South Africans live in extreme poverty meaning they are not able to pay for basic nutritional requirements as they make 335 Rand per month: $22.
Poverty is a stark and abundant reality in South Africa that produces many negative health outcomes that the Public Health sector battles on a daily basis. In my class we will continue to learn about the HIV epidemic, other communicable diseases, malnutrition, mental health, and maternal health. Most excitingly, we will take what we learn in the classroom each day and visit a different public health facility each afternoon. We will see community health centers, public health centers, and non-private hospitals.
In my first week in South Africa and in my interactions with South Africans, I have faced many challenges. I have been challenged in my understanding of South African culture and politics, anthropology of developing countries, health problems of different parts of the world, been asked to step outside of my comfort zone on a daily basis, and most of all, my experiences have challenged my humility. Witnessing the political, social, economic, and health struggles of a developing country has become an antithesis of what I experience in America. My experiences thus far, and those I hope to continue to gain over the next 4 weeks, reinforce my drive to educate myself fully to make beneficial changes in health fields nationally and globally.
Blog Post Two:
Reflecting on my South Africa experience exudes sentiments of diversity, empowerment, and mind-opening experiences. I learned, visited, and experienced first-hand the health care system throughout my journey in the Western Cape of South Africa. South Africa is a developed, yet still developing country and that includes not only their health care system, but the political and social factors that influence health disparities. Through the classes in which I partook, the site visits on which I traveled, and the patients and health providers that I met I got a real look into the health care system in this uniquely disparate country. However, what I think is the biggest take away from this trip is the global view of health that was learned and shared throughout the process. In our classes we learned from key stakeholders in the public health care system about the South African system, we shared with them the views and system from our home countries, and we also got to learn from and share our knowledge with health professionals in the community, as well. I truly believe that one of the most important parts of global humanitarian work is a global understanding of the health issues at hand. Situations and health statuses vary drastically throughout the world due to differences in culture, social structures, politics, geography, and the list goes on. But to be able to learn about systems and practices in other countries may just be the key to developing a program, policy, or system in one’s home country to enact a major change. Through my trip I really feel that I was given, but that I was also able to give, this global perspective of public health.
The most memorable moment was during our site visit to Tygerberg hospital: the hospital used in conjunction with Stellenbosch University. The hospital is the second largest in all of South Africa serving approximately 3.6 million patients. The Head Nurse took us through the hospital showing us different wards and diverse patients. We had the opportunity to explore the Cardiac ICU, Pediatric Oncology Unit, and Day Surgery Recovery wings. Our enlightening adventure ended with a Q&A session with the Head Nurse. We learned about the vastness of the hospital and its 1900 beds, the patients they serve, and their insurance policies. Near the end, I asked about the biggest barriers the hospital faces, especially being one of the largest in the entire country. Immediately, the Head Nurse responded with finances. Even as a government funded facility, the hospital did not have the fiscal resources to provide all services and support enough staff to be at maximum functioning. In addition, the building—built in the 1970s—is in dire need of an update. The hospital has a plan for building a new complex, but is in the process of fundraising. They estimate that this will take about 5 years to raise all of the funds needed, but they are not sure of the exact time span. It was incredible to me that even one of the largest and top hospitals in the entire country, especially in contrast to the community clinics we visited, struggled to fully provide for their patients. But, this is a problem that extends all across the globe. To be able to see the situation first hand in a developing country and hear about it from key stakeholders in the public health system such as health workers and patients was an incredibly eye-opening experience.
Overall, my trip and experience in South Africa tested my global and cultural sensitivity especially in relation to the health care system with an emphasis in public health care. Through my experience I learned about health systems in South Africa, Singapore, Belgium, France, and different systems in different states throughout America. I was also able to share my knowledge with those who lived in other countries. From this trip, I learned that it is this global collaboration that creates the most major changes that health care systems all across our planet need to see. To be narrow-minded is detrimental, but to expand mental, physical, and geographical boundaries is to take steps forward to solving the most critical issues that our health care systems face. Thank you infinitely, Mr. and Mrs. Nichols, for allowing me the opportunity to explore an incredible country, engage in global humanitarian work, and learn life lessons that I hope to instill in my future career in the Public Health field. I look forward to meeting you and sharing even more of my experiences with you!