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Dr Andrew Ross will be receiving the highest citizen award in South Africa, the Order of Baobab (Silver), for his contribution to improving rural healthcare through investing in local rural youth.
Dr Ross was the medical superintendent of Mosvold Hospital in the 1990's. Movold Hospital is a rural hospital situated in Ingwavuma, northern Kwa Zulu Natal. Most people haven’t heard of Ingwavuma let alone travelled there. However, Mosvold Hospital serves a population of approximately 120 000 indigent rural dwellers. A huge challenge is to attract and retain healthcare staff to work in such a far flung part of South Africa. In 1998/9, the hospital needed 6 Doctors but only had 2 (Dr Ross and a colleague)! In addition there was no pharmacist, radiography services were limited and there was no luxury like a dentist!
Out of this crisis, which had been ongoing for many years, Dr Ross had a hair brain scheme to invest in the local youth to become the healthcare professionals that the hospital needed! It was a radical idea because rural schools were bad, plagued by lack of qualified teachers, poor resources like classrooms, textbooks and no science laboratories or library.
Dr Ross shared the idea with the community via the local leaders and asked them to support the idea by recruiting and encouraging their children to work hard at school so they could apply to a health science facility. He also asked them to each contribute R1 (one rand) which would be seed money to support the first students and would assist his fundraising efforts.
In the first year four students who came from the area and had got a place to study at university were supported. Each was enrolled for a different health science degree: Physiotherapy; Optometry; Biomedical Technology and Pharmacy. This was the small and humble start of the “Friends of Mosvold Scholarship Scheme” now called the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation (UYDF).
Since then the scheme has grown from 4 students to 233 students being supported this year thanks to the success of the four pioneers. A condition of the support is that they are required to work at the hospital where they were selected for at least the same number of years they were supported for.
Within two years of starting the scheme spread to include the other 4 hospitals in the district. Currently students are selected from 16 rural hospitals (14 in northern KZN and 2 in the Eastern Cape).
The programme has produced 218 healthcare professionals covering 15 different health science disciplines. The programme has been responsible for instituting a number of health disciplines that previously were not available such as: optometry; physiotherapy; speech therapy; audiology; occupational therapy; psychology as well as providing qualified, motivated and local staff to existing departments.
Of the 218 graduates, 69 are medical Doctors, whilst 53% of the 218 are women. Through the mentoring support programme the UYDF consistently achieves exceptionally high university pass rates –the 2014 pass rate was 94%, whilst the 2013 pass rate was 94%. An incredible achievement from rural youth!
Dr Ross was responsible for the establishment of this innovative scheme which has numerous benefits besides the provision of qualified healthcare workers for rural hospitals. From 1999 to 2007, Dr Ross was solely responsible for raising the necessary financial resources in addition to providing mentoring support to the students. Ms Elda Nsimbini, a nurse at Mosvold Hospital and Trustee, was responsible organising the students holiday work and managing the administration. In 2008 a Director and other staff were employed with the purpose of developing the scheme further.
Dr Ross is a Family Medicine specialist and works at the University of Kwa Zulu Natal, where he trains some of the students supported by the UYDF.