Brain Injury Rehab in South Africa
I was privileged to be asked to speak at the South African Neurological Rehabilitation Association (SANRA) Conference which was held on August 27-29 in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was one of a group of international speakers invited to speak at the conference. My colleagues represented the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates with Kelli William Gray, PhD, MPH, M.S. OTR/L an Assistant Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University; Laura Murray, PhD, CCC-SLP a Full Professor at Indiana University; Catherine Dean, PhD, the Director of the Physiotherapy Program at Macquarie University ; Doctor Sabahat Wasti, MB:BS MRCPI, the Medical Director of the Cambridge Medical and Rehabilitation Center in Abu Dhabi and Doctor Paul McArthur from Whiston Hospital in Liverpool and Mr. Peter Sanderson a Physiotherapist specializing in spasticity from the Royal Orthopaedic Teaching Hospital in Birmingham. Other conference faculty came from South Africa and included Professor David Benetar a Medical Ethicist from the University of Capetown and Doctor Greg Jonsson a psychiatrist working with individuals with mental illness who are HIV+. Additionally, the schedule included many interesting and skilled South African rehabilitation clinicians whose presentations added to a full and satisfying experience over the three days of the conference.
The SANRA Conference is held every other year and the scope of the conference touches on many areas of neurorehabilitation. The Conference Committee for this year’s event was chaired by Ms. Karyn Casey, the President of SANRA who, with the efforts of the committee, did an excellent job in creating an engaging learning environment for all the participants.
South Africa is a challenging rehabilitation environment with limited services and a large geographical land mass, diverse population and a large population of uninsured individuals. The only Level I Trauma Hospital in Africa is located in Johannesburg. Post-acute and community-based care which we accept as the standard for brain injury rehabilitation is lacking due to limited funding and resource availability. A few NGO’s are developing community support and outreach programs which rely largely on volunteers and use peer support groups. Yet, the spirit, drive and compassion of the South African clinicians I met are strong and positive characteristics.
Before the conference I stopped in Dubai to see this amazing modern city which has developed seemingly overnight and even journeyed to the 125th floor of the tallest building in the world. Each floor of the newly constructed building is a race for the sky. After Dubai, I went on a safari at Pondoro Lodge in the Balule Preserve, a private conservation-oriented game preserve to the northwest of Kruger Park. That was an amazing experience where I spent nearly 8 hours a day in the bush with a Ranger and Tracker and several fellow travelers. It was a “Bucket List” experience.
I hope to get back to South Africa soon. It was an experience of a lifetime which has left me with great memories.