Women in Action (WiA) was honoured to welcome internationally acclaimed hematologist, Dr Albertina Vieira, who visited Johannesburg last week to offer her expertise and services as a volunteer specialist.
With experience at the Bom Jesus Hospital in Angola and now Professor of Hematology at the Egas Moniz University in Lisbon, Portugal, Dr Albertina’s speciality is in blood related diseases and her passion is to make a positive difference, both in Portugal and in Africa.
Dr Albertina and the WiA team visited the Witkoppen Health + Welfare Centre, a primary health care facility where almost 10 000 patients are treated each month, the WMACA Kidz Clinic in Alexandra which cares for abused children and the CHOC and adult cancer wards at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. WiA works with CHOC (the Childhood Cancer Foundation in South Africa) and WMACA (Women and Men Against Child Abuse) on various on-going campaigns.
At all these facilities, Dr Albertina paid tribute to the dedicated teams of doctors, nurses and volunteers who demonstrate selfless commitment and deliver exceptional results often without good infrastructure support and complete diagnostic results.
Dr Albertina highlighted the importance of education, awareness and early detection of diseases, particularly HIV/Aids and cancer. If treatment is started in the early stages of the disease, the chances of a complete cure or remission are increased. Tragically, too many cases are only identified once the condition has progressed and this late-stage diagnosis reduces the chances of successful treatment.
Without alarming anyone, she said it is important to notice and respond to any changes, whether in yourself or a loved one. Weight loss, changes of skin tone, development of lumps, lack of appetite or energy, should all be taken seriously and referred to a doctor for a professional opinion. It is better to be safe and visit a clinic or hospital, rather than ignore warning signs and hope that they will go away – they seldom do. Pain is the body’s way of indicating that something is wrong and should never be ignored. Women should examine their breasts as a routine each month to detect any lumps and if they have any concerns should have a mammogram. In the case of some cancers, known as the silent disease, by the time the patient experiences pain, the condition is severe and the outcome (prognosis) may have been compromised.
Speaking at the “It’s all about you” cancer support group, Dr Albertina said that blood tests are essential in order for medical teams to make the correct diagnosis and prescribe appropriate treatment. She stressed that patients have the right to request blood tests if they are not ordered by their doctors. Patients should always keep their blood test results so that they can be compared with future reports.
She encouraged everyone to safeguard their health by choosing healthy food (fruit, vegetables and high fibre foods such as whole grains) and drinking at least two litres of water a day. She stressed the importance of regular exercise and warned against high fat convenience foods, smoking, alcohol and risky sexual lifestyles.
At all clinics she visited, the plight of those who have been abused or are sick, was brought into sharp focus by the long queues of people needing help and the limited medical teams stretched to capacity every day trying to see as many patients as possible. At the Witkoppen Clinic, people start queuing outside the gates at 4am but for some the wait is short as they are turned away by 6.30 (with the exception of children) when staff identify how many patients can be attended to by the number of available staff. If admission is refused, those in need are advised to go to the closest 24 hour facility.
The Witkoppen Clinic is staffed by three full time and three part time doctors and 19 nurses who see 400 – 500 patients each day. The Clinic refers all patients for HIV testing and encouragingly, reports that positive status statistics are down to 18 – 20% of the 1 400 people tested each month.
For a young cancer patient at the CHOC ward at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the arrival of the WiA team was a happy moment in his difficult day. When he heard them speaking Portuguese, his face lit up with a wonderfully broad smile and he welcomed the chance to speak in his mother tongue. This courageous child left his home and family in Mocambique eight months ago to receive treatment in South Africa and although he has contact with relatives, his closest family is unable to support him through his treatment journey.
For the Women in Action team, spending time and learning from Dr Albertina, an assistant at UCKG in Lisbon, was a privilege. Dr Albertina inspired everyone to continue the existing education and awareness campaigns and support groups which play significant roles in changing people’s lives. With Dr Albertina’s support, WiA will increase their efforts and impact even more positively on a wider sector of society.
By: UCKG PR Department