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FMHS Social Impact report: Healing beyond the classroom
Author: FMHS Marketing & Communications
Published: 10/05/2024

Stellenbosch University's (SU) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) extends its influence far beyond the realm of education and research. While renowned for training highly skilled healthcare professionals and tackling South Africa's pressing health issues through cutting-edge research, the faculty's commitment also extends to the community level through a multitude of impactful social initiatives.

“We encourage faculty members, support staff, and students to develop and participate in activities that address priority health issues," explains Dr Therese Fish, FMHS Vice Dean: Clinical Services and Social Impact. “This includes volunteerism, teaching activities, research projects, and service-related programmes focused on South Africa first, then expanding to continental and global impact."

These efforts are guided by the FMHS' Social Impact Framework (SIF) 2019-2024, a strategic document that aligns the faculty's vision, mission, and core values with tangible social impact. “The SIF aims to achieve systemic, structural and social changes, ultimately leading to improved access to quality healthcare, a key indicator of social impact," says Fish.

A recent report highlights several of the FMHS' social impact initiatives. “The report showcases the remarkable contributions of our diverse faculty community," explains Ms Stacey Blows, FMHS Social Impact Coordinator. “These projects exemplify the unwavering commitment of individuals and groups who are dedicated to creating positive change in healthcare and beyond."

Here are summaries of social impact initiatives highlighted in the report:

  • ​Adapt2move – FIT (Frequent Individual Training)
    Department of Exercise, Sport and Lifestyle Medicine
    Division of Movement Science and Exercise Therapy

SU's Sport Science programme offers an elective module, “Adapt2move", focused on physical activity for individuals with disability. Students gain practical experience by designing personalised intervention programmes for clients from the wider community, aiming to improve their health and wellbeing. Clients, ranging from children to seniors, all have diagnosed disabilities. Under supervision, students dedicate at least 18 individual training sessions per semester at no cost to clients. 

  • Co-creating a culture of wellness in the Western Cape
    Department of Biomedical Sciences
    Division of Medical Physiology

The Division of Medical Physiology is actively promoting wellness in the Western Cape. They are involved in the WoW! Project which focuses on co-creating and sustaining a culture of health at all levels of society. This collaborative effort targets the prevention, reduction, and improved management of non-communicable diseases. Partnering with various stakeholders, the project empowers WoW! champions and participants in Cloetesville with twice-weekly exercise sessions. These sessions aim to foster a healthy relationship with physical activity within the community through structured training. 

  • The key to improving developmental skills for movement (KIDSmove)
    Department of Exercise, Sport and Lifestyle Medicine
    Division of Movement Science and Exercise Therapy

Stellenbosch University's innovative Kinderkinetics programme, KIDSmove, tackles various childhood development challenges through engaging movement-based activities.

The program offers a multi-pronged approach, addressing the needs of children in diverse situations. In the disadvantaged Kylemore community, KIDSmove partners with the AITSA! Aftercare Centres to promote holistic development in foundation phase children. This initiative prioritizes gross motor skills and introduces sport-specific activities, providing a foundation for healthy physical development and positive after-school options.

KIDSmove also addresses the impact of the pandemic on children's physical activity. In collaboration with Weber Gedenk NGK and Bellpark Primary Schools in Jamestown and Bellville, the programme incorporates sport-specific skills, fitness, and dance into a holistic approach aimed at rebuilding motor proficiency and movement confidence in a fun and engaging way.

For children with Down Syndrome, KIDSmove offers targeted support in Mitchell's Plain. Partnering with Beacon School for LSEN learners, the programme provides weekly sessions at the university's Department of Sport Science. These sessions focus on gross motor skills and sensory development, benefiting children while also equipping Kinesiology students with valuable experience in planning programmes for children with Down Syndrome.

Another specialised KIDSmove programme targets gross motor skills in children with Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) at Tygerberg Hospital School. This initiative focuses on motor planning, a skill linked to language development in young children with CAS. Movement-based activities aim to enhance both motor skills and potentially aid in language acquisition.

Finally, KIDSmove reaches Somerset West and Mitchell's Plain to support children with autism spectrum disorder. Collaborative efforts with Beacon School for LSEN learners provide weekly sessions focused on movement, water confidence, and sensory integration. This initiative benefits children while also offering valuable experience for Kinesiology students planning programmes for children on the autism spectrum.

  • African Network for Evidence-to-action in Disability (AfriNEAD)
    Department of Global Health
    Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies

SU plays a key role in advancing disability rights through the African Network for Evidence-to-Action in Disability (AfriNEAD). This initiative fosters a collaborative environment where researchers, stakeholders in the disability field, government representatives from Africa, and the international community can work together. AfriNEAD's core focus is on disability research that directly impacts policy and practice, ultimately improving the lives of people with disability.

  • Zwelihle school programme
    Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
    Division of Occupational Therapy

The Zwelihle school programme was designed to address the gross motor, fine motor, and perceptual stimulation needs of children at Lukhanyo Primary School in the Xhosa-speaking Zwelihle community near Hermanus. The initiative targets this specific developmental gap within the student population and empowers teachers to integrate the programme into the curriculum.

  • The Chaeli Campaign
    Department of Global Health
    Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies

The Chaeli Campaign, a well-established Cape Town NPO, provides therapy and outreach services to under-resourced communities. Their interdisciplinary team offers physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and communication support to children. With inputs from the Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies, the team has published good practice models and case studies from their grassroots work. This collaboration has led to publications, service-learning opportunities for students, and postgraduate studies for Chaeli Campaign therapists, with the potential to expand these partnerships with other NGOs.

  • Collaborative community cure during Covid-19 in Worcester
    Department of Global Health
    Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health

Faced with a high burden of chronic and infectious diseases, the Breede Valley sub-district and its residents with limited resources was a focus for the Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health (CRH) during the Covid-19 pandemic. Building on their existing relationship with the Cape Winelands District Health, Ukwanda CRH took an active role in assisting the community. Their initiative prioritized student and staff engagement to address the community's health needs, working alongside stakeholders to identify patients, assess health status, ensure medication adherence, and connect residents with necessary resources.

  • Ukwanda Annual Community Partnership Function
    Department of Global Health
    Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health

The Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health promotes health care in rural communities through intentional and relevant student, staff, and community collaboration. The Ukwanda Annual Community Partnership Function is a collaborative celebration of the year's community engagement activities at distributed rural clinical sites. This initiative was launched over a decade ago and has grown from strength to strength.

  • The 123 of TB
    Department of Biomedical Sciences
    Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics

Recognising a high rate of tuberculosis in Upington, Northern Cape, the TB Host Genetics Group partnered with the community to raise awareness. Their ongoing research, focused on genetic susceptibility to TB, has involved multiple trips since 2009 to share findings and build collaboration. Initially population-based, the study expanded to collect DNA from TB clinic attendees in the greater Upington area.

  • Vaccine Science 101 – An online course for Africa-based journalists
    Department of Global Health
    Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

The global pandemic thrusted health issues into the spotlight, leaving many journalists scrambling to understand complex scientific jargon. To bridge this gap, a short course offered by the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism and Stellenbosch University equipped Africa-based journalists with a foundation in vaccine science, specifically covering development, implementation, variants' impact, and procurement.

  • Stellenbosch University Telerehabilitation Initiative
    Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
    Divisions of Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, and Speech-Language Therapy

​The Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences rose to the challenge of disrupted services during Covid-19 by launching the Telerehabilitation Initiative in 2020. The purpose was to develop a model of telerehabilitation to complement clinical training in the three rehabilitation divisions and to provide complementary rehabilitation services to individuals at risk of functional limitations due to impairments. This initiative has seen further development with its integration into the undergraduate curriculum in a hybrid learning format. Telerehabilitation holds significant potential, particularly for remote and underserved rural areas, by offering increased access to crucial services where communities may have limited or no options.

  • Decolonising Sport and Health Matters
    Department of Exercise, Sport and Lifestyle Medicine
    Division of Sport Science

A project at the FMHS is fostering a network of young researchers focused on sports, health, social justice, and decolonisation. This "community of practice" will provide a platform for these scholars to publish their work and connect with others in their fields. The project also aims to develop learning materials based on their research and to create opportunities for collaboration across disciplines and with the broader community, reflecting the faculty's longstanding commitment to public engagement.

  • Rare Diseases Awareness Month
    Department of Biomedical Sciences
    Molecular Biology and Human Genetics

A first-of-its-kind project in sub-Saharan Africa is tackling rare diseases. A team of clinicians, scientists, and patient advocates are raising awareness, sharing patient experiences, and creating educational materials. This initiative aims to improve access to healthcare and services for families, influence policy changes, and boost education about rare diseases in South Africa. By increasing awareness of research efforts, the project also hopes to encourage more patients to participate in studies, leading to earlier diagnoses and potentially new treatment avenues.

  • SUNWELL Community Health Programme
    Department of Exercise, Sport and Lifestyle Medicine
    Division of Sport Science

​​SUNWELL Community Health Programme promotes healthy living across generations in low-income communities. The "upliftment through knowledge and movement" initiative aims to educate and empower adults and children to lead active, healthy, and safe lives.

  • Rural retention for undergraduate students – Ukwanda Rural Clinical School
    Department of Global Health
    Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health

SU Rural Clinical School (RCS) expands access to healthcare training in underserved areas. Originally launched in Worcester and Ceres, the RCS programme has flourished, establishing additional sites in Swellendam, Hermanus, Robertson, Caledon, and Upington. Future expansion plans include Stellenbosch and Malmesbury.

Final-year students at RCS locations participate in real-world learning through quality improvement projects. These projects directly benefit healthcare facilities and communities, often resulting in the creation of valuable resources such as posters, educational materials, assistive devices, and patient aids.

  • Ukwanda for Dietetic IV
    Department of Global Health
    Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health

Aiming to address healthcare inequities, the Dietetics programme places final-year dietetic students in rural communities for a six-week rotation. The Ukwanda Dietetics rotation integrates classroom knowledge with real-world experience, allowing students to provide nutrition services, conduct education sessions, and collaborate with healthcare workers across various settings. This immersive programme equips future professionals to effectively respond to the unique needs of underserved communities in South Africa.

  • Bishop Lavis SLEAK programme
    Department of Exercise, Sport and Lifestyle Medicine
    Division of Occupational Therapy / Faculty of Theology

SU's SLEAK (Skills, Learning and Educational Activities for Kids) programme equips learners from disadvantaged backgrounds in Bishop Lavis with the tools they need to navigate a crucial developmental stage (Grades 4-7). The programme focuses on fostering key developmental tasks, including social cooperation, skill acquisition, and a healthy sense of self-worth. Through engaging and constructive leisure activities, SLEAK sessions help learners build resilience in the face of their resource-constrained environment. Structured activities promote the development of transferable skills, enhancing social and interpersonal interactions, resilience, and basic work readiness – all essential for future success.

  • Inkuthazo Yesizwe youth organisation programme
    Department of Exercise, Sport and Lifestyle Medicine
    Division of Sport Science

SU's Division of Sport Science collaborates with the Inkuthazo Yesizwe youth organisation, empowering young people in Kayamandi township. Sport Science students serve as instructors for aerobics classes, coaching sessions, and coach education workshops, while also incorporating cardio exercises. Their role extends beyond fitness, fostering a positive learning environment and social cohesion within the programme. This initiative tackles health and mental wellness challenges, aiming to equip participants with skills that pave the way for fulfilling careers and life choices.

  • Patient-centred lifestyle rehabilitation for non-communicable disease in a low-resource setting
    Department of Exercise, Sport and Lifestyle Medicine
    Institute of Sport and Exercise Medicine

As South Africa and other developing countries grapple with a shift from infectious diseases to non-communicable diseases (NCD), a new study aims to improve how rehabilitation services are delivered. The research focuses on creating a patient-centred, cost-effective approach specifically designed for low-resource settings. This project will test the feasibility of this model and pave the way for a larger study to assess its effectiveness in managing NCDs.​

  • Physiotherapy service-learning initiative
    Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
    Division of Physiotherapy

​​SU's service-learning projects immerse students in community-based rehabilitation while emphasizing collaboration, sustainability, and social justice principles. These real-world experiences, completed during clinical placements, equip students for primary healthcare challenges – a vital skill as they move into community service. The 8-week projects involve community assessment, intervention planning, and patient education on topics like stroke recovery, TB compliance, and early childhood development. Locations span from Helderberg Hospital to the Military Hospital in Wynberg.


  • ​Futureproofing Public Health
    Department of Global Health
    Division of Health Systems and Public Health

​​​The Division of Health Systems and Public Health launched "Futureproofing Public Health" in 2019. This initiative fosters a collaborative environment where experts explore pressing public health issues through a future-oriented lens, considering local realities. By examining current global health challenges, the programme aims to anticipate future threats and explore innovative interdisciplinary solutions that account for emerging trends. These discussions pave the way for effective strategies to address both communicable and non-communicable diseases.

  • Empowering Women Initiative – A Women's Health and Wellness Day
    Department of Global Health – Division of Health Systems and Public Health
    Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences – Division of Physiotherapy

SU's Division of Health Systems and Public Health collaborated with the Northern Tygerberg community to empower women through health promotion initiatives. Their "Women's Health and Wellness Days" mobilise women, offering knowledge sharing, dialogue, and showcases of community resources. These events empower women, highlight critical issues, and convene key stakeholders to address them effectively.​

  • ​Medical 3D Printing Lab infrastructure upgrade
    Department of Surgical Sciences
    Division of Orthopaedic Surgery

SU's Orthopaedic Medical 3D Printing Lab, established in 2018 for surgical planning and training, rose to the challenge of Covid-19. They repurposed their printer to rapidly design and produce PPE for healthcare workers. Partnering with various departments and volunteers, the lab quickly manufactured face shields, hands-free door openers, and vital equipment for the frontline, demonstrating the agility of 3D printing in crisis situations.

 

  • Tuberculosis Hip Hop Science Spaza
    Department of Biomedical Sciences
    Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics

The "Tuberculosis Hip Hop Science Spaza" project used rap and hip hop to make science fun and accessible to high school students. This initiative tackles knowledge gaps about TB, medical science, and related research. School learners collaborate with scientists to create hip-hop music about TB, its comorbidities, and risk factors. Public performances and radio play featuring researchers' insights aim to raise awareness, inspire future scientists, and bridge the gap between science and the community.


  •  SALT (Sharing Abundant Life Together)
    Department of Nursing and Midwifery

The FMHS partners with Sharing Abundant Life Together (SALT) and the Department of Health to address the extensive healthcare needs of women in Dunoon, a community facing high HIV rates and unemployment. This collaboration aims to bridge the gap between available services and community needs, with a focus on holistic women's health – mental, physical, emotional, and socioeconomic. SALT, a social justice NPO, offers additional support including counselling, document assistance, and life skills training, emphasizing their commitment to "equal rights and dignity for all."


  • ​Open doors to future possibilities
    Department of Biomedical Sciences
    Division of Medical Physiology

The FMHS bridges the opportunity gap for disadvantaged high schoolers by hosting visits to its Department of Biomedical Sciences. These visits expose students to research activities, basic science practicals like microscopy, and other campus facilities like the Anatomy Museum. Collaborating divisions showcase potential career paths, scholarships, and even health topics relevant to daily life through a mini-symposium. This initiative, fostering collaboration within the department, aims to spark curiosity and empower students from underserved communities.

  • ​Let's Move_Kom Beweeg_Masihambe
    Department of Exercise, Sport and Lifestyle Medicine
    Division of Movement Science and Exercise Therapy

The Division of Sport Science's Movement Laboratory tackles movement disorders in elderly and neurological populations. They partner with local organisations like Bridging Abilities to address the gap in community health programmes. Research translates into action through educational platforms and supervised exercise groups led by Biokinetics students. This collaborative approach empowers communities, fosters student learning, and fuels ongoing research focused on improving movement and health outcomes.