ResearchSouth Africa's Healthcare SOS: Why a "Superhero Surge" is Needed

South Africa’s Healthcare SOS: Why a “Superhero Surge” is Needed

The country has a two-tiered, inefficient healthcare system made up of government-funded hospitals and clinics that cater for 71% of the population and private healthcare, which serves approximately 27% of population.

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South Africa urgently needs a “Superhero Surge” to address the acute scarcity of health professionals and boost the number of public health graduates, ultimately strengthening frontline clinical health workers and improving the quality of public healthcare.

This is the view of Dr Jackie Witthuhn, Programme Manager for Public Health at the IIE MSA’s School of Engineering, Science and Health, who believes that public health graduates can play a major role in boosting public healthcare capacity, freeing up medical staff to focus on treating patients.

What does the research say?

“Research has shown that 79% of doctors and nurses are carrying out duties for which they are overqualified. Non-clinical public health graduates can play a crucial role in fulfilling some of these tasks. Medicine is only one branch of health and focuses on curative services and treatment, whereas public health focusses on both primary and secondary levels of health prevention,” explains Dr Witthuhn.

The IIE MSA, an educational brand of the Independent Institute of Education (The IIE), is contributing to efforts aimed at reducing skills shortage in the public healthcare sector. The institute delivers the IIE Bachelor of Public Health, which is a multidisciplinary and flexible undergraduate degree that enables students to learn and apply key principles of Public Health, opening doors for graduates to pursue a wide range of careers.

On completion of the undergraduate degree, students can apply to further their public health studies by enrolling for Honours in Public Health or an IIE Postgraduate Diploma in Public Health.

The IIE MSA collaborates with several organisations in the healthcare industry value chain, which offer graduates placements to help them gain work and practical experience.

The IIE Public Health qualifications create opportunities for graduates to pursue careers in the public, private, or non-profit sectors, where they can specialise in various fields such as disease prevention and control, biostatistics, community health work, and Health Promotion. In addition, students can work in public health related fields including epidemiology, health administration, health awareness, policy and promotion, nutrition, public health project management, and research.

As such, the IIE MSA campus recently hosted a Public Health Conference, which was attended by alumni, prospective students, current students, placement coordinators, and academics, who gathered to discuss trends and new developments in the industry. At the conference, third-year students, who had completed the Health Promotion Practicum module shared their experience about their placements.

“Public health is a great profession. As you take a step into your career, you begin to realise that you are not just a public health student, you learn that you are an important change maker in society,” says Carmenia Joy Wleh, an IIE MSA public health graduate.

Public health is the art and science of preventing and controlling of infectious diseases, prolonging life, promoting physical and mental health, sanitation, personal hygiene, and organising of a country’s healthcare system to ensure a healthy and productive population. Typically, public health professionals focus on disease surveillance and detection as well as addressing the underlying determinants of health.

“The vast shortfall of both health professionals and non-clinical health professionals needs to be addressed. There is a critical shortage of mid-level resources, and this highlights the need for a more integrated system towards increased workforce planning to ensure improved quality, care, and access to health for all,” says Dr Witthuhn.

Despite facing budgetary constraints, the government plans to spend R836 billion on health over the next three years to maintain service delivery and to cover wage increases, according to the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement, tabled before Parliament by the National Treasury on 1 November 2023.

Also Read: Southern Africa Faces Terrifying Cholera Outbreak Amid COVID-19 Surge – Oxfam

Public health care graduates are also needed to combat the increasing burden of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes which are rising at alarming rates.

Healthcare experts are calling for improvement in South Africa’s healthcare system to make access to healthcare more equitable and affordable. The country has a two-tiered, inefficient healthcare system made up of government-funded hospitals and clinics that cater for 71% of the population and private healthcare, which serves approximately 27% of population.

“Higher education institutions and the healthcare industry must collaborate to develop skills in the industry, for both clinical and non-clinical graduates. Therefore, public health graduates can play an important role in making the healthcare system more efficient, accessible, and affordable,” concludes Dr Witthuhn.

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