Sindiswa Gede, District Health Manager for the Department of Health in the Eastern Cape, is one of the key South African professionals getting management training through the Albertina Sisulu Executive Leadership Program in Health. Here, she talks about how she’s putting her training into action.
The Albertina Sisulu Executive Leadership Programme in Health offers post-graduate studies to healthcare professionals. The goal is to foster deeper learning and the transformation of the country’s health system. Program Fellows do course work, get mentored, and collaborate with other Fellows on projects.
As a District Health Manager for the Department of Health in South Africa’s Province of the Eastern Cape, Sindiswa Gede is the precise type of person the program was designed to help. Gede is “responsible for the well-communities of the Eastern Cape,” she says, overseeing health services for over 890,000 people.
ASELPH study topics include strategies for combating and reducing the impact of TB and HIV/AIDS transmission, approaches for increasing life expectancy, and tackling the unique challenge of trying to modify South Africa’s entrenched, two‐tiered health system of public and private services. For Gede, her particular program focus is decreasing the levels of infant mortality in her district’s hospitals. She spoke with South Africa Partners.
How do you balance your time on the job with your time in the ASELPH program?
I have been given time from the provincial offices to take this degree. Over the weekends I work on my school work, after hours I work on my projects, and during the week I’m doing my job. What I like about this program is that it’s not taking you from your job. For instance, we have a study group for East London, and we meet at five o’clock on weekdays and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. People really are committed — we make time for our studies and we work on projects as a group.
Are your projects real-world focused? Are you looking for solutions that you’ll actually implement?
Yes. One of the projects I’m working on is to lower the infant mortality rate. What I found is that one of my hospitals is one that is contributing a lot — that is, it has a higher rate of mortality there. And what I found is that there are more babies born before their time there, born underweight, and that the neonatal unit is not up to standards. Those babies are managed by people who are not well-skilled.
So my project is to improve the quality of the neonatal unit at that hospital, looking at staffing and at infrastructure to improve the overall quality of service.
So you’re putting your studies directly into use in your healthcare programs.
Yes, exactly. All my hospitals will be improving their neonatal care. On the academic side, on the administration side, I’m working on how to retain the doctors in my hospitals. Because I’ve found that I’ve got a brain drain in my institutions. So I’ve got a partnership with Africa Health Placements, whereby they hire and recruit doctors for me, and we work together to retain them.
The other project I’m doing on the academic side is to look more closely at the administration to see what the actual situation is on the human resources side. What things can we improve to have a good, working HR department?
How have your interests in these areas been enhanced by your ASELPH studies?
In our program, we are doing an HR focus, with budgeting, managing, planning, quality, finance. With my research topic, on the factors that are leading to severe malnutrition in the poorest district in my area, I’m looking at how to manage the solutions, how to market them, and how to budget for them.
We are being trained to be the decision makers. To be able to manage financially. Some of the modules in the program, such as the ones on leadership, I have done before, but the difference is the approach and the follow up. It’s not that it’s more sophisticated, because the way they teach is so simple, but that it’s coming from people who are so experienced. They make me understand my role, and they provide examples to be able to apply in a work situation.
How did you choose to get involved with health care?
You know what? I had a dream of giving. I came from a rural community, and I saw a lot of people suffering. Getting to a hospital would take them about 200 kilometers. I thought, if I could train to be a nurse, I can help a lot of people through health education and prevention, rather than just treating the disease. Even when I was a young person, I would help out at school, with the motto “Be Prepared.” I felt, when I was still young, that if we could all live a healthy life, we could have a healthy nation.
Did you have the kind of encouragement to go into health care management as a young woman that you would have as a young man?
Women of South Africa — we are shy. There used to be that theory that men are the only people who can lead, and be leaders. But in my mind, I told myself, “Women can be leaders, women can hold higher positions in administrations.” And we can prove that by being hardworking and knowing the principles of management.
I like to motivate women. I’m a motivational speaker. And I can tell you that young women, old women middle-age women, all women in this country need role models towards positive health outcomes. Young women, too, need role models so that they can be leaders of tomorrow. We need to grow young people so that they can lead this country.
What do you hope for?
My personal goal is to make a difference. My vision is to have health services be accessible to my community, and to serve the community with professionality. I’m looking forward to transforming the Department of Health in the Eastern Cape. I’m looking forward to seeing that the health reforms are being implemented. And I’m looking forward to making change in the administration of health and helping people in the rural communities understand that they can lead a healthy lifestyle and live longer.