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360 Maties medical students answer call of duty to fight coronavirus

Maties Caity Turner, left, Sitaara Dhansay, Zahra Ayyoub and Cameron Fourie work at the tracing centre at the Tygerberg Campus of Stellenbosch University.
Maties Caity Turner, left, Sitaara Dhansay, Zahra Ayyoub and Cameron Fourie work at the tracing centre at the Tygerberg Campus of Stellenbosch University.
Image: University of Stellenbosch

A group of medicine and health sciences students at Stellenbosch University’s Tygerberg campus have joined the fight against Covid-19 by volunteering during the lockdown.

Instead of packing their bags and going home for the national lockdown, hundreds of undergraduate students at the university's faculty of medicine and health sciences decided to sacrifice their recess to stay and fight the coronavirus pandemic.

I wanted to stay and make a difference and help wherever I was able to,” said Cameron Fourie, a second-year medical student who is now working in the Covid-19 tracing centre on the Tygerberg campus.

Cameron is one of about 360 TygerMaties who are volunteers.

Elsjé-Marie Geldenhuys, a sixth-year medical student, said: I never decided to volunteer. Rather, I knew I wanted to be there and to help. As future health-care workers it’s in our nature to help — it is who we are.”

Said student intern Sheryl Marshall: “Volunteering was the most natural thing to do. I really felt that I wanted to stay and help — especially when we are facing such a huge health crisis.” 

Marshall is helping to care for patients in Tygerberg Hospital’s internal medicine ward, which frees up more doctors and nurses to attend to Covid-19 patients.

The students are doing this of their own volition. The hospital and university never requested assistance, they just took it upon themselves and we are so grateful for their help,” said Dr Suretha Kannenberg, a lecturer in the division of dermatology at the faculty of medicine and health sciences. She is helping to manage volunteer services at the faculty and Tygerberg Hospital.

According to the university, the student volunteers are working on numerous fronts and are provided with the necessary training and protective equipment.

They receive a flu vaccination before they are allowed to work in a hospital, and are working under the supervision of senior health-care staff.

There are 70 students who are working in Tygerberg Hospital’s Covid-19 screening area, whose responsibilities include interviewing patients under investigation and doing administrative tasks.

Another 20 students are screening people at the four main entrances to Tygerberg Hospital and dispensing hand sanitisers.

Another group of 15 students works at the contact-tracing centre at Tygerberg campus where they are helping to telephonically trace contacts of positive cases, while 115 students are helping at the national Covid-19 helpline.

In the internal medicine wards, 70 students are helping with the day-to-day functioning of the hospital.

“These are senior students doing things like drawing blood and placing drips and other tasks that they would have been performing anyway as part of their clinical training,” Kannenberg said.

Students are also collecting data and running statistics for the division of epidemiology and biostatistics at the faculty, while others are doing data capturing at the division of medical virology, the university said.

The students have been so professional and so keen to help. With the sudden increase in clinical and administrative duties at the hospital, the students’ assistance has freed up doctors’ and nurses’ hands to be able to perform other life-saving tasks,” said Kannenberg.

Abdul-Baasit Isaacks, a fifth-year medical student, said: I thoroughly enjoy being at the forefront and screening the patients who come in at entrance 5 at Tygerberg Hospital. I feel like this is a way for me to give back to my community,” said Abdul-Baasit Isaacks, a fifth-year medical student.

For Isaacks, volunteering was a initially a tricky choice as he suffers from asthma and with coronavirus being notorious for affecting the lungs and causing respiratory problems.

Rector and vice-chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers said: “These students from divergent backgrounds are joined by a common sense of purpose: saving lives and improving the quality of life of our people, for the most part, against the odds.

“The odds of social circumstance characterised by poverty and inequity, of badly equipped medical facilities and poor working conditions, and running the risk of being infected. But these students are undeterred and mobilised by the realisation of a sense of both professional and civic duty. They are being deployed at the centres of need,” De Villiers said.

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