Interview with RuDASA chairperson, Desmond Kegakilwe

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Dr Desmond Kegakilwe was the RuDASA chairperson for 2012-2016. Born in Tlakgameng Village in the far west of the North West province, Desmond matriculated from Mafikeng with dreams of being a law enforcement officer, or an engineer. His life changed when he was granted a scholarship to study medicine in Cuba, which became one of the most exciting and challenging moments of his life! He drew on inspiration from the elders in the village, especially his grandfather, and graduated with a medical degree in 2004. Desmond currently works for the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (WRHI) as a Clinical Quality Improvement Mentor for the Mafikeng Sub district, mentoring professional nurses, mostly on HIV/AIDS and TB clinical issues, in 29 clinics. He works in the hospital one day a week to keep his clinical skills sharpened. In 2012 he was given the honour of being nominated one of the Mail and Guardian’s “200 Young South Africans”. Find out a bit more about Desmond below.

What was it like studying medicine in Cuba?

Cubans are amazing people. They love being Cuban and believe in themselves.I learned a lot from them about simple humanity and was inspired by their history and heroes.They have a strong working health system which I believe results from their good education system, which is free for all from primary to tertiary level.

Can we win the battle for good rural healthcare in SA? How?

I cannot say we are not going to win the battle for good rural healthcare because then I will have to leave Medicine. It is not going to be easy but we have to win at all costs.

How do your current activities contribute to the world/South Africa?

I believe it gives hope to people. In the past I have travelled for more than 100km on very bad roads to see less than 5 patients. On my way I would ask myself, “Is it worth it?” The relief and happiness of the people I treated, who sometimes waited for more than two hours to see me, was my motivation. In 2007-8 I included home visits as part of my work. I managed to deliver 4-5 wheelchairs and examined some patients at home; helped others to get home oxygen, assisted the abused and mentally ill; and helped blind people to go to school. These things are unheard of in rural and remote areas. If I could, I would go and live in rural areas and help those who need it. The difference between rural and urban is that whilst urban people have to endure long queues and waiting lists, rural people wait for days up to months, and then travel if the chance arises - in most instances only to get their names placed on waiting lists and to sit for the whole day in long queues!

What do you love about what you do?

Seeing smiles on patients faces. Farming is my other passion. How do you hope to contribute to society in the future? By being part of healthy nation, living in a rural area, and by making sure that the NHI is implementable and IS implemented in rural areas. Then contribute in farming.

Where would you like to be in 5 or 10 years?

In 10 years time I want to be on my farm as a full time farmer; and to help young people to develop farming skills.

What has helped you the most to achieve all that you have?

I have my wife and three kids; I basically divide what little time I get to be with them. Their understanding is indispensable in order to do what I do. My family is what I am most proud of.