Students from UKZN’s School of Health Sciences together with various governmental and non-governmental organisations recently offered free primary healthcare services to children living with disabilities in the rural district of iLembe.

The intervention programme held at the Ntathakusa Primary School in Ndwedwe was the first of its kind.

The partnership was formed when representatives from the Tongaat Hulett group approached the Health Sciences Disciplines at UKZN on behalf of desperate parents and caregivers of children with disabilities who are members of the local sugarcane farming community.

Ms Nkonzo Mhlongo, Socio-Economic Development Manager for Tongaat Hulett, said the provincial Departments of Health (DoH) and Social Development teamed up with the local King Shaka non-governmental organisation for people with disabilities.

Final-year students from the Disciplines of Audiology, Dentistry, Occupational Therapy and Speech Language Pathology joined Stanger Hospital nurses in the provision of a variety of primary health screening services.

Mhlongo said the intervention aimed to assess children with disabilities in the community. The results would be evaluated and lead to programmes being designed to assist parents, caregivers and educators in the community to address children’s specific needs.

Parents and caregivers also used the opportunity for free screening and hospital referrals were made in special instances.

Dr Penelope Flack, Academic Leader for the Discipline of Speech-Language Therapy at UKZN, said the University would continue to play its part in developing educational programmes for parents and educators to better understand how to manage children living with disabilities.

Flack said iLembe had a strong community structure and in line with the DoH re-engineering of primary healthcare, such interventions were critical.

Flack said a holistic approach to healthcare was needed and recalled two successful projects being run in the School of Health Sciences at the neighbouring KwaDabeka and Marianridge communities. She said experiential learning was essential for students in the School.

Mrs Nobuhle Nzimande, HOD of the hosting School, said the intervention was vital as many parents struggled with raising children with disabilities.

Mr Sibongiseni Chamane, an Educator at the School, said they were very grateful health services had been brought into the underdeveloped community which had limited access to basic healthcare. ‘We hope to see more and more interventions of this nature.’

Ms Nadhira Ramnat and Ms Fathima Suleman, students from the Audiology Discipline, said they both had family members who were deaf, and screening for hearing loss on the day had been an uplifting experience.

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