Stellenbosch University
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Ukwanda offers crucial research platform
Author: Florence de Vries
Published: 05/06/2018

“You can do research anywhere. All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind," Prof Nulda Beyers said, quoting the famous physician Martin Fischer in her keynote address at the Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health's research day.

In her talk, Beyers, a renowned researcher and distinguished professor in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), emphasised the importance of research in the medical field, and particularly, primary healthcare investigations in rural communities.  

In her presentation entitled 'Life Lessons from Research', Beyers addressed students, academics and other stakeholders about the many incisive results which can emanate from properly executed research and how it serves to advance others in small and very often, significant ways.

Beyers, who started raising awareness about paediatric tuberculosis in the 1980's, said sometimes researchers do not leave their comfort zones – often to the detriment of research outcomes: “When you undertake research, keep your eye on the ball. Find a mentor, get a roadmap and work hard at raising awareness about your specific field, and remember that working with communities will put you in an excellent position to achieve what you set out to do."

Established in 2002, the Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health, through the Rural Clinical School based in Worcester, provides a multi-disciplinary platform that equips the university's medicine and health sciences students with appropriate knowledge and hands-on experience to address the health issues facing rural and underserved communities in the country.  The Centre, which stimulates relevant rural research as part of its overall vision of improving rural healthcare, aims to address the needs of the country's rural communities by recruiting and supporting students from and in rural areas, amongst other strategies.

Several studies show that South Africa's largely poor health outcomes, particularly in rural areas, are compounded by the shortage of facilities to train health professionals. To this end, Ukwanda is in the process of establishing a research team that will be tasked with improving access and equity in healthcare with a specific focus on South African communities based in rural areas. The research team will furthermore co-ordinate a long-term rural health research agenda for Ukwanda and provide research support to its staff and students.

Research presentations at the research day included investigations into Single-leg hopping in children with and without foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and Accurately measuring tuberculosis treatment adherence. According to Ukwanda's director, Prof Ian Couper, the centre's research team will focus on four research priorities, which are set to develop into niche areas over time. These are rural health professions education, collaborative care, rural child and family health, and clinical research in regional and district settings.

Caption: Prof Nulda Beyers