Over 100 UCT students volunteer to assist with manning coronavirus hotline
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Cape Town - More than 100 students from UCT’s Health Sciences faculty have volunteered to staff the Covid-19 hotline at the Disaster Management Centre based at the Tygerberg Hospital premises.
Tygerberg Hospital was one of nine provincial centres identified for the isolation and treatment of patients infected with the coronavirus.
UCT Surgical Society president Savannah Verhage said the response from students had been overwhelming and they had been classified as emergency medical personnel and issued with permits that allowed them to travel to and from the centre during the lockdown period.
The UCT Surgical Society is a student-driven society affiliated with the surgery department at the Groote Schuur Hospital, and has more than 400 members.
Verhage said the society was open to all UCT students with an interest in surgery, medical research and leadership. She said volunteering for the Covid-19 hotline and offering support where it’s needed was their way of assisting the country in a time of crisis.
“That need for support has escalated since the country’s lockdown at midnight on March 26.”
She said the volunteers had been handling a rising number of hotline calls from the public, reflecting high levels of anxiety. The students work 12-hour shifts, between 7am and 7pm or between 7pm and 7am.
The call for UCT Surgical Society volunteers to man the Covid-19 hotline came from UCT Professor Lee Wallis of the Disaster Management Centre.
Students were trained to take a thorough medical history over the phone using a Covid-19-focused questionnaire, and if required to refer callers to the appropriate level of care for further management.
One of the volunteers, Isabel Kim, a Medical Sciences student, said
manning the hotline wasn’t only about taking phone calls and answering questions, “but also about
being able to talk people through their fears”.
The most challenging part for Kim was to know how many people were at risk, especially the large numbers of immune-compromised people living in poverty with HIV and tuberculosis - and the injustice of access to quality health care.
Fourth-year student Zaahidah Razzak said it was also an opportunity to reach the public and educate people with facts by providing reassurance and help.