New platform for PHASA and AFPHA students

On heritage day, 24 September 2013, national and international medical and public health students – the next generation of healthcare leaders – assembled at the first ever  Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA) and the African Federation of Public Health Associations (AFPHA) student symposium held at the Cape Town International Convention centre.

Amid a line up of medical motivational speakers, students presented their research. First up, from the School of Public Health at the University of Pretoria (UP) and the vice president of PHASA and AFPHA, Dr Flavia Senkubuge encouraged students in her opening plenary address to take the baton and run with it. She quoted Ernest Hemmingway by saying, “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” Senkubuge urged students to dare to be different, bold and ambitious enough to step in the gap where many fear to tread.

Likewise, Professor Stephen Hendricks injected inspiration into the youthful audience. At present, Hendricks is a Professor in Public Health Policy and Management at the school of Health Systems and Public Health at UP. Concurrently, he is the programme director for the Albertina Sisulu Executive Leadership Program in Health (ASELPH). ASELPH is a collaborative effort between UP, the University of Fort Hare, and Harvard University. Giving the students a power talk he said, “Serve others first- have power with people not over people and look for new scientific truths.” Hendricks urged the students to consider the type of leaders they were. He cautioned that the transaction cost of low trust among team members was very high if they did not trust their leaders.

Then, DJ and Dr Joe Molete took the podium. The audience went from muffled chuckles to loud laughter. Not only did Molete give the talk as a donation to PHASA and AFPHA, he is an academic and Disk Jockey with multiple degrees. Among his degrees are a B.Sc. honours degree in Biochemistry, Masters Degree in Biology, Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology and an MBA. He has worked in the U.S.A at the Baxter Health care corporation, the American Red Cross and the International Aids Vaccine Initiative. Molete attained degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) in Johannesburg, Howard University in Washington DC, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Cape Town and Harvard Business School. Previously, he filled leadership positions in initiatives founded by the South African Department of Science and Technology funded initiatives, namely Cape Biotech, Biotechnology Partnerships and Development and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. Now, he is the founder and coach at Dr Joe High Performance Academy. Now one may wonder- why this long introduction to Molete? Well, it is all in aid of the message he brought to symposium students: “Focus on continuous development, integrate your portfolio of passion to achieve success- work your cross-pollination skills”. He invited the students to stand up and dance with him to Mariah Carrey’s song, Make it Happen. In seconds, students stood up to dance to DJ and Dr Molete’s beat.

Some students presented from the podium and others in front of their poster boards. Dare Emehinola presented his research on Knowledge, attitude and practice of malaria prevention among students residing in Mariere hostel of the University of Lagos, Nigeria. Emehinola sees himself not only as medical student but also as public analyst, freelance and ghost writer. Emehinola shares his views with the world at his blog.

Another student, H. M Van der Westhuizen from Stellenbosch University presented her research from the podium on Assessing knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding Mycobacterium Tuberculosis infection risk among Health Science students in a TB endemic setting.  On completion of Van der Westhuizen’s presentation an audience member asked, “How do you propose getting this message out to other universities?” Van der Westhuizen said, “It needs a TB champion at other campuses.” She said that they have set up a TB policy at Stellenbosch University, and the University of Cape Town has a similar one that could be used as a guideline. At this point, an additional audience member suggested with regard to Van der Westhuizen’s research that perhaps the first task for the PHASA junior executive committee should be to contact other campuses.

Speaking to the dissemination of Van der Westhuizen’s TB research, Professor Laetitia Rispel, the President of PHASA and the head of the School of Public Health at Wits University commented that educators have been meeting at PHASA conferences for about three years, looking at the public health component of the undergraduate medical training. “Contact them and make a presentation because that would be the quickest way to get your recommendation into action at all medical schools in South Africa,” said Rispel.

Next up were the students, who assembled around poster boards in nervous anticipation of their turn to present their abstracts. The benefits of surfing as a leisure pursuit from adolescent boys perspective was presented by Mieke Willems and included a poster and video. In the video, a young boy from Gary’s Extreme Surf School in Muizenberg, Cape Town, came on screen saying, “If it wasn’t for surfing, I don’t know what I would be now, probably a gangster or something- probably up to mischief.”

Moreover, Kian Barrett spoke about his research on Epidemiological profiling of patients at the Orthopaedic outpatient clinic at Kalafong hospital. He said that because of the distance and lack of transport it was found that patients could pay about R 70 just to get to the hospital. He recommended that the hospital considered a bus system.

As proceedings moved along, the best poster and presentation was judged and awarded. Liesl Stassen and her team (Justin Vieira Ashleigh Sent, Amy Whitehorn,  Albertus Malan and Mbali Mahlangu) merited the best poster award. Their research was done on The factors associated with Eersterust clinic’s attendees resilience to living with a chronic disease. The best presentation award was earned by Denesha Naicker who presented her research on The risk factors for asthma in the indoor home environments of primary school children in Overport, Durban.

Best poster award

Best poster award presented, from left: by the vice president of PHASA and AFPHA, Dr Flavia Senkubuge to Liesl Stassen and best presentation award given to Denesha Naicker

Near the end of the symposium, the first ever 2013/2014 PHASA and AFPHA junior executive committee was nominated and elected. The PHASA junior executive committee president is Arauna Louw , the vice president is Mandu Mguli, the Public Relations Officer is Inge Kleinhans, the campus coordinator is Deane Dubber and the treasurer is Mamadisa Happy.

Subsequently, Louw was asked about his vision for the PHASA 2013/14 committee. He said he aims to help address public health issues currently facing South Africa and to work closely with his seniors and mentors to generate solutions. One of Louw’s primary focus areas is to involve inter-sectoral expertise in PHASA activities. “My vision is to get more students involved, to spread the message of PHASA’s activities as there are thousands of students who have no idea what we do.”

Next, the 2013/2014 AFPHA junior executive committee was elected. The president is Dr. Y.O Disu from Nigeria, vice president is Ms Inge Kleinhans from SA, the country coordinator and secretary is Dr. Babatunde Odugbemi from Nigeria, the Public Relations Officer is Ms Thandekile Moyo from Zimbabwe and the treasurer is Mr Arauna Louw from SA.

In his term, the president of the AFPHA junior executive committee plans to bring his management, coordination and communications skills to the team. “My vision for AFHPA is to make it an avenue for mobilising all Africans studying public health, at home or abroad for effective participation, in African health decisions and actions,” said Disu. Senkubuge congratulated the new committee members and wished them well in their forthcoming PHASA and AFPHA endeavours.

At present, Dr Yolandi Swart is the chair of the student organising committee.  She was part of the think tank behind the student symposium and the master of ceremonies at the symposium. In closing, Swart urged students to go out into the world and change lives. “People may not remember your name but in a very real way you have made their lives a little better,” said Swart.

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