Activism is in Dr Indira Govender’s blood: her parents, who are human rights lawyers, were active in the struggle for a democratic South Africa and her grandfather was a graduate of Robben Island.
So it seemed natural that when we spoke to the young doctor from Durban she was preparing to leave South Africa and fly to South Sudan with Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders or MSF).
Govender was drawn to public health as a student. “I completely believe in the social determinants of health,” she says.
“Working in rural South Africa is mind-blowing. I believe that community service was one of the best things that ever happened for our country.” But an urgent need to work towards consistent and reliable treatment plunged her into working for MSF, where she was a key member of the group that established the Stop Stockouts project (aimed at encouraging people to report when public health hospitals ran out of essential medicines such as antiretroviral drugs), partnering with people from the Rural Health Project, the Treatment Action Campaign and Section 27.
“MSF gives voices to people who otherwise wouldn’t be heard,” she says. “I was looking for something like that.”
A spell with a hospital in Stellenbosch followed, during which Govender also got actively involved with the Rural Doctors Association.
After several months in the Western Cape, she went back to rural work near Ulundi for a time, but she was looking for a chance to get back into MSF, this time using her training as a doctor.
She sees the two-month contract working in South Sudan as a wonderful opportunity. “It’s going to be interesting,” she says. “But it’s not for the faint-hearted.”
Govender is looking forward to coming back and working in rural South Africa once more as this is where she sees herself for the foreseeable future. “That’s where you can make a huge impact,” she says. And making an impact is the keynote of this young doctor’s life. — Mandi Smallhorne