Hosted by Women in Action (WiA) a group of pastors' wives committed to volunteer work, Dr Albertina visited the Witkoppen Health + Welfare Centre, a primary health care facility where almost 10 000 patients are treated each month, the WMACA Kidz Clinic in Alexandra which cares for abused children and the CHOC and adult cancer wards at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. WiA works with CHOC (the Childhood Cancer Foundation in South Africa) and WMACA (Women and Men Against Child Abuse) on various on-going education and awareness campaigns and supports these organisations through fund-raising initiatives.
Dr Albertina stressed the importance of empowering people through education and awareness, both of the risk factors and disease symptoms, and the value of living a healthy lifestyle to help prevent the onset of disease. Unfortunately, too many cases of HIV/Aids and cancer are only identified once the condition has progressed and this late-stage diagnosis reduces the chances of successful treatment.
Without alarming anyone, she said it is important to notice and respond to any changes, whether in yourself or a loved one. Weight loss, changes of skin tone, development of lumps, lack of appetite or energy, should all be taken seriously and referred to a doctor for a professional opinion. It is better to be safe and visit a clinic or hospital, rather than ignore warning signs and hope that they will go away - they seldom do. Pain is the body's way of indicating that something is wrong and should never be ignored.
Speaking at the WiA's "It's all about you" cancer support group, Dr Albertina encouraged everyone to safeguard their health by choosing healthy food (fruit, vegetables and high fibre foods such as whole grains) and drinking at least two litres of water a day. She stressed the importance of regular exercise and warned against high fat convenience foods, smoking, alcohol and risky sexual lifestyles.
At all clinics she visited, the plight of those who have been abused or are sick, was brought into sharp focus by the long queues of people needing help and the limited medical teams stretched to capacity every day trying to see as many patients as possible. At the Witkoppen Clinic, people start queuing outside the gates at 4am but for some the wait is short as they are turned away by 6.30(with the exception of children) when staff identify how many patients can be attended to by the number of available staff. If admission is refused, those in need are advised to go to the closest 24 hour facility.
The Witkoppen Clinic is staffed by three full time and three part time doctors and 19 nurses who see 400 - 500 patients each day. The Clinic refers all patients for HIV testing and encouragingly, reports that positive status statistics are down to 18 - 20% of the 1 400 people tested each month.
For the Women in Action team, spending time and learning from Dr Albertina, an assistant at UCKG in Lisbon, was a privilege. Dr Albertina inspired everyone to continue the existing education and awareness campaigns and support groups which play significant roles in changing people's lives. With Dr Albertina's support, WiA will increase their efforts and impact even more positively on a wider sector of society.