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Students Raise TB Awareness in Strand

UWC students take TB awareness to the community

According to research by a group of third-year Nursing students at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), the community of Rusthof in the Strand has lately experienced a surge in suspected tuberculosis cases.

Based on the number of people (adults, and children over five) reporting to the Rusthof (Gustrouw) Community Health Clinic for testing and treatment, the TB incidence rate in the area had slowly declined throughout 2015. But 2016 didn’t start well for the community: while only 16 people were put on treatment in December 2015 – awaiting test results to confirm the initial diagnosis – that number jumped to 47 in January 2016, a spike of close on 194%. (Numbers returned to their 2015 levels after January.)

That may not be uncommon among poorer communities in the Western Cape, the province with the highest incidence rate of tuberculosis in South Africa (and as a whole, the country has the third-highest incidence rate in the world).

Which is why the UWC students, as part of their third-year course at UWC’s School of Nursing, decided to host a TB Awareness Day at the clinic on 16 May 2016.

The students came prepared. They had a full programme of educational presentations, testing for both TB and HIV (because of the threat of coinfection), face painting for the children (with the help of members of the UWC audio-visual team that accompanied them), snacks and lunch for children and parents, and a short play based on a song they had composed. And with the assistance of Willmaree Lakey, TB nursing sister at the clinic, they even attracted a couple of NGOs – like Kheth'Impilo, which does health promotion work in local communities.

Evelyn Bock, the UWC School of Nursing clinical facilitator who oversaw the students’ project, was certainly impressed with the group’s efforts. As were the clinic staff, reporting that it was the first such awareness activity hosted at the clinic.

“The students were well-prepared and well-organised, and they took the initiative,” observed Bock. “And what they did will lay the groundwork for further health promotion activities at the clinic.”

For the students, the day proved to be a baptism of fire. After a few “sleepless nights” ahead of the event – unsure whether anyone would turn up – they were pleased with the turnout. But they’re not sure whether their message really got through.

Community members showed less enthusiasm for the talks than they had hoped, reported student Franzelle du Plessis.

“One of the reasons I think that people in our community continue to get sicker and sicker from TB is because they don’t have a lot of interest in learning about the disease,” said Du Plessis. “Education is key to stopping the spread of TB, but people weren’t very open to learning.”

It’s a problem they’re not sure how to address just yet, the students concede. But in the healthcare profession they’re on the verge of entering, there are rarely any easy answers - and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to find them anyway.