On March 8th this year, International Women’s Day was celebrated across the globe. Closer to home here in South Africa, our SANPUD team and partner organisations engaged in a range of activities in three cities which set out to deliver healthcare services free of charge to female members of the People Who Use Drugs (PWUD) community.
The Cervical Screening Package service provided was offered in Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town, and consisted of pap smears (ie: cervical HPV screening), HIV testing and counseling, primary healthcare screening and family planning. The reason for offering these services is that these members of our community are often stigmatised or face prejudice from healthcare professionals on the basis of the lives that they lead. Offering a safe and non-judgemental space for these women, and one at which neither their life choices nor their frequency of sexual activity would be criticised was a primary driver for the SANPUD team as they embarked on a programme of informing these community members of the availability of the Cervical Screening Package.
Below are summaries of each of the days’ activities at each of the three locations.
Pretoria: Sediba Hope Medical Clinic
Day 1 at Sediba Hope Medical Clinic saw 26 women attending, and a further 10 on Day 2.
Though the female members of the PWUD community that were informed of the opportunity to access primary healthcare were at times apprehensive of the way in which they might be treated, their experiences were largely positive. In achieving this, the Sediba Hope clinic team were very helpful and went above and beyond the call of duty to assist and enable the SANPUD team’s aims, and even went so far as to reassure all those attending that all were welcome - including a transgender woman who, though she could not participate in the pap smear, was still offered the range of other services available.
Of particular help were Vanessa Hechter, the Director of Sediba Hope Medical Centre, and Chantal Graca-Correira, who kindly assisted in our team’s efforts to communicate the services on offer, by designing and printing the flyer (below) that provided details about the services on offer. Beyond this direct support, local drug and substance use service Hopeline provided additional support through their 24-hour contact centre.
In total, Day 1 at Sediba Hope Medical Centre saw 26 women attending, and on Day an additional 10.
In order to make the experience as positive as possible, the SANPUD team provided both food parcels and also a cosmetics pack (consisting of makeup, female sanitary pads, toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant). The result was that all who attended felt cared for and that their needs had been considered, an outcome that left both the SANPUD and clinic teams feeling that they had achieved their objectives.
Durban: Bellhaven Memorial Centre
In Durban, the SANPUD team and partner organisation Advance Access & Delivery rolled out healthcare services at Bellhaven Memorial Centre in Greyville. Providing valuable media exposure, SANPUD Operations Administrator Janine Windvoel was interviewed on regional radio station Lotus FM, which created an opportunity for the local community to be made aware of the services being offered. The result of good networking and outreach meant that the number of women attending was the greatest of all three programme locations, with a total of 80 women benefiting from access to the range of services provided.
A valuable aspect of the way in which the women were treated on the day was that by having a ‘maternal figure’ present, many of them felt comfortable and came away from the experience feeling that they had been seen and heard, and their needs understood, by both the clinical staff and the SANPUD team who were in attendance.
Cape Town: Chapel Street Clinic, Woodstock
SANPUD team members present at the Cape Town rollout were Charne Roberts, Natalie Jacobs and Portia Tsuro - and they were assisted by the head of the Chapel Street Clinic, Sister Mjezu and her team. Over the course of the 2 days, there were a total of 25 female PWUD who made use of the clinical health package. As with the other locations, both a food parcel and a cosmetics pack were provided to all women that attended.
As observed at other locations on the day, many of the women who attended were fearful of having any tests done relating to sexual health as many of them have resorted to sex work as a way of making money. However, with reassurance provided by both our team and that of the Chapel Street Clinic, there were many tears of joy and hope. To enable those attending to be as comfortable as possible, Day 2 of our Cape Town rollout was held in the park around the corner, providing an environment in which the ladies felt comfortable and were at ease.
For more on the Cape Town activities of our team, take a look at the article published by the Southern Suburbs Tatler.
From Amiena Collins, one of the ladies who attended the Chapel Street Clinic session:
“I had a very good experience with the event at Chapel Street Clinic with Charne and Natalie. I felt very privileged to be a part of the event, and it’s good to know people have so much faith in women. Thank u so much.”
Overall, the objectives of our first International Women’s Day initiatives were achieved by ensuring that female members of the PWUD community in each urban area were able to access and make use of the primary healthcare services on offer. We’re looking forward to building on the lessons learned, and making the most of these to create even greater awareness of future initiatives of this type.