Thousands of people benefitting from SANDF’s Project Owethu health drive

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As part of Armed Forces Day 2023 events, the South African Military Health Service (SAMHS) has launched Project Owethu that is bringing free healthcare to thousands of people in the Richard’s Bay area.

General Officer Commanding Area Military Health Formation, Brigadier General Mcebisi Mdutywa, on 14 February briefed the media on progress made with Project Owethu. He explained that preparations for it began as far back as July last year, and execution started in January

It aims to take healthcare to remote, rural and marginalised communities in conjunction with relevant arms of government such as the departments of Home Affairs, Health, Agriculture and Social Development.

Lieutenant General Peter Maphaha, as Surgeon General is commander of the SA Military Health Service, said the state’s resources are overstretched and in almost every case centred in bigger urban areas. It is difficult for them in terms of time, personnel and cost to get into deep rural areas.

For many in rural communities, it is difficult for them to access health treatment in urban areas, and so the SAMHS can do medical procedures in the field that civilian doctors cannot like dentistry or cataract operations.

Mdutywa explained that health support activities began on 6 February, in Eshowe, and are taking place throughout the region. To date, 3 465 patients people have undergone medical screening at schools and community halls and this has focussed on the early detection of disease, and health education. People have been immunised against measles, and nearly 400 referred for further treatment. A further 420 people have received ancillary health care, including dietetics services for young and pregnant mothers as well as nutritional education.

A total of 670 learners received psychological support, with presentations on mental health awareness. Teachers were taught to look out for psychological and emotional conditions, and identify bullies and bullied children. “The services were well received by the recipients and will make a favourable impact on the community’s mental health,” the SAMHS stated.

To date, 2 062 people have received social work support, ranging from addressing teenage pregnancies to child protection and substance abuse referrals.

In terms of oral health, 2 359 people have received oral health services, including teeth extractions, minor oral surgery, fillings, and false teeth. The SAMHS has also provided oral health education at schools. One of its oral health highlights was providing a dental laboratory service to manufacture dentures.

Animal health is another focus area, and over 1 000 animals have been treated or immunised. Some highlights include removing cancerous tumours from a dog, treating third degree burns on one animal, sterilising five dogs, and performing an amputation on another.

Together with the Department of Agriculture, military personnel have been assisting families to start vegetable gardens, with seeds and fertilizers provided by the Department.

The Department of Social Development has provided for 25 indigent families across the King Cetshwayo district’s local municipalities while five families in need of permanent homes are being attended to in collaboration with the Department of Human Settlements. A temporary structure for one recipient is under construction while permanent housing is built over the coming months.

Mdutywa said the SANDF is adding value and everywhere that Armed Forces Day is hosted will have outreach projects like this. “The defence force will work for the people,” he said.

The SA Military Health Service will host recruitment drives at the University of Zululand and the University of KwaZulu–Natal from 15 to 17 February at the KwaDlangezwa and Richard’s Bay campuses. Students who are interested in following medical careers in the SANDF are invited to attend the career drives. A mini capability demonstration will also take place at Unizulu Sports Field whereby SAMHS will demonstrate things like medical evacuation.