Healthcare Workers

A day in the life of healthcare workers in South African agriculture 

South Africa, 5 August 2021: South Africa has a secret league of superheroes who rarely receive the praise they deserve. During Covid-19, they’ve been lifelines on the frontline, helping to curb the virus and bring hope and care to the communities they serve. Nurses play a pivotal – and serially under-rated – role, especially in remote regions. Dutoit Agri’s nurses and healthcare workers – who serve various Dutoit farms in the Western and Eastern Cape – are the perfect example of this in action and a case study of why more farms should consider collaborating on much-needed clinics.

The nurses and healthcare workers operate the Dutoit clinics during weekdays, offering everything, from treatments for chronic back pain, HIV/Aids, and diabetes to family planning – and now vaccination roll-out. Dutoit started the various clinics on selected farms to answer the need for care, given the farms’ remote locations. It’s had a significant impact on people’s quality of life, curbing absenteeism and upping productivity. For these healthcare workers, it’s a calling.

This Women’s Month, nurses Sophia Kotze and Brumilda Klein, and healthcare workers June Jantjies and Florence Hlomela, share insights into what life is like as a healthcare worker in one of South Africa’s major farming companies:

A day in the life

The nurses drive about 700 km collectively each week between the clinics and the farms. They see about 35 patients daily at clinics on the smaller farms – and up to 90 in a day during harvest time at the bigger farms. A lot of the time, patients are as eager to seek an empathetic ear as they are to receive medical attention. Kotze says, “Some days, patients arrive with a headache and all they want is to talk to the nurse. They need an ear, not medication. We encourage them to talk and when they leave, they feel relieved and lighter.”

Chronic back pain is patients’ most common complaint, but people also come in for diabetes, high blood pressure and anti-retrovirals. Klein says, “Our chronic patients need us the most. We are not at the clinic just to hand out medication, but to provide lifestyle assistance as well. Our most important role is to provide advice. Before Covid-19, we ran regular awareness campaigns, for example, teaching people with diabetes how to care for their feet, foods to avoid, etc. This kind of proactive help is where you really see the difference a healthcare worker can make.”

Another vital role the nurses and healthcare fulfil is empowering women with family planning. Klein says, “Family planning should be every woman’s choice. We don’t offer the same solution to everyone; we take the person’s needs into consideration.” It’s a critical service in communities where woman would often otherwise struggle to receive counselling and regular access to the contraceptives they prefer.

Vaccination roll-out in remote regions

Now, the nurses and healthcare workers are focused on rolling out vaccines, “We’ve completed the vaccinations for the elderly. Funnily enough, it was the men who were scared! We provided as much information as possible to the patients. There were some quite heart-warming moments. At Sneeukop Farm, there was one elderly gentleman who couldn’t wait for his vaccine. He was ecstatic to receive it.”

Kotze says the team took some strain, being healthcare workers on the frontlines. “We have our own families at home, so we’re concerned about infecting loved ones. But Dutoit was wonderful and went above and beyond to put the right protocols in place and purchase the PPE we needed. When numbers in Ceres climbed, they asked our workforce to stay safe on the farms instead of going to shops in town, and they managed all the grocery shopping for their team. The support was incredible.”

South Africa’s farms need more nurses – so does the world at large

The World Health Organisation reported a global shortage of 5.9 million nurses in 2018. The South African Nursing Council found that in 2020, there was 1 nurse to every 213 people in the country. In the Northern Cape, this is 1 nurse to 350 people. Numbers of nurses in the country are decreasing. Daily Maverick cited an Australian study that demonstrates that the health cost savings that come from employing more nurses are double the cost of hiring them. It suggests the situation in South Africa would be similar.

Nurses like the Dutoit team are doing remarkable things in areas where access to care would otherwise be limited. It’s imperative to attract more people into the profession, incentivise them to work in remote regions, and set up clinics in these areas for them to operate from. As Kotze says, “Having a healthcare worker or nurse on the farm lightens the load for the Department of Health’s clinics and results in a happier, healthier, more productive workforce, which benefits the whole country.”

Willem Coetzee, Chief Operating Officer at Dutoit Agri, says, “We’ve seen first-hand the difference it makes to offer a workforce ready and constant access to good healthcare interventions and treatment. During harvest season especially, when all hands are needed, it’s a critical means of keeping a team well, motivated and productive. This improves the farm’s overall productivity and yield. It’s a sustainable way to serve a community, in a way that uplifts and benefits everyone.”

Here’s to all the nursing superheroes. The world needs more of you.