“You are always addressing real needs, where there are no other options for care,” says physiotherapist Maryke Bezuidenhout of her work in deep rural KwaZulu-Natal. “People are kind, grateful, friendly, curious, generous; the work demands creativity and self-discipline and a high level of clinical skill and knowledge across a broad range of clinical areas of practice.”
She treats a huge range of conditions and her work takes place in a wide variety of locations: hospitals, residential clinics, mobile clinics, home visits and tribal meetings under a tree. It was under a tree that 34-year-old Bezuidenhout and her colleagues met to establish Rural Rehabilitation South Africa (RuReSA) in the Eastern Cape village of Rhodes at the Rural Doctors Association South Africa 2011 conference.
Bezuidenhout says the founders of this thinly stretched but dynamic organisation wanted to raise the profile of and need for rehabilitation in rural areas, and create a network to connect rural therapists.
With 171 members, RuReSA provides support to rehabilitation therapists in rural areas through a resource website Ruralrehab.co.za, an online discussion forum and Facebook page, and advocates for change through input on policy and service strategies as well as working with the national department of health, professional bodies and universities.
“We believe that rural work can be inspiring and fun, and with a little support we can achieve great things.” Research and funding are two support needs she identifies.
Bezuidenhout is into rehabilitation for the rural poor over the long term. She’d like an espresso machine in her department, better storage for wheelchairs, and two well-maintained therapy-4x4s.
“And the audiologist would give her eye-teeth for an auditory steady state response machine so we can screen neonates and severely disabled children on site.
“I have always made a bee-line for the ‘road less traveled’ – the more remote, the greater the challenge, the more it attracts me. I thrive in a less structured environment and don’t mind being thrown in the deep end. The further away from a shopping mall, the happier I am.” — Mandi Smallhorne