Winter school turns 25

Winter School participants Kalpita Patel, Tanya Dube, Nondumiso Ncube and Nkagisang Khalo.

The University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) School of Public Health celebrated the 25 anniversary of its annual winter school, which runs over three weeks in June and July.

The winter school attracts a wide range of audiences, largely people within the health services, but also researchers, community health practitioners and health activists.

Each year community health practitioners, and those involved with research and academic work, take a break from their busy schedules to be exposed to the latest thinking in public health.

The programme enables them to discuss and exchange ideas on improved planning and implementation of primary health care in the continually changing environment of the developing world.

To date, some 12 000 participants — mainly nurses and middle level managers — have attended these courses from all over South Africa and many other African countries.

Nosi Kalawe, a HAST (HIV/Aids, STIs and TB) medical officer with the Western Cape Department of Health, attended the Rational Medicines Use (RMU) course at the winter school. “It’s been very relevant to what I’m doing. I wanted to develop skills to help me supervise better, and also to be able to evaluate medical use — and that’s what I did.”

Asiphe Ketelo is an on-campus public health student who participated in the monitoring and evaluation of health and development programmes.

“It was a great experience for me, meeting health professionals who work directly with communities. I’m so much more motivated to start my career in this field. It gave me a clear picture of what health professionals do and the difficulties they encounter, such as the lack of resources, which has been a consistent challenge. There are so many health problems facing communities today.”

Most courses are one week long to allow busy health workers receive continuing education with minimal disruption of their services.

The success of these courses lies in their relevance — and many students return to winter school to take up other courses or enrol in the public health post-graduate programme at UWC.

UWC’s School of Public Health was established in 1993, an initiative of then-Rector Jakes Gerwel, under the leadership of Professor David Sanders.

Its purpose was to strengthen education and research in public health and primary health care, and to build capacity in the health services.