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Medical students demand equal, fair community service opportunities from health department

Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University students march to the Department of Health to submit their memorandum of demands. Picture: Oupa Mokoena African News Agency (ANA)

Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University students march to the Department of Health to submit their memorandum of demands. Picture: Oupa Mokoena African News Agency (ANA)

Published Oct 12, 2021

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Pretoria - The Department of Health has been labelled discriminatory for refusing to provide community service opportunities to students studying to become oral hygienists and dental therapists.

This was expressed by students from Sefako Makgatho Health Services University, who delivered a memorandum to the offices of minister Joe Phaahla.

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Singing and displaying placards, the students said the department’s behaviour left them desperate and seeking opportunities to do their community service in the private sector where they were exploited, poorly treated and sometimes working without formal contracts of employment.

School of Oral Health student leader Phuluso Semata said it was on record that the moratorium on posts was effected around 1994 by the new dispensation.

“The government stopped paying students from their first year to final year, and subsequently froze all community service posts indefinitely.

“No reasonable and justifiable written explanation was granted for this decision, which adversely affected the future hygienists and therapists.

“Everyone in South Africa has the right to have access to health services. The Department of Health as an organ of state is mandated to take reasonable steps with its available means to ensure access to primary oral health care.

“The continued refusal by the Department of Health to make the community service provision for the above professions is a direct denial of the right for everyone in the republic to have access to heart care services,” said Semata.

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The students demanded that the department urgently convened with all relevant stakeholders in health care and affected students to work to ensuring that every oral health practitioner – and not only dentists – is afforded the right to equal protection and benefit before the law.

They said the department ought to stop discriminating against students in health services on the basis of their qualifications, and outline why they have dentists in higher positions managing their affairs while they have highly qualified and influential oral hygienists and dental therapists who are eligible for appointment at a directorate level.

“We have many other grievances and that is why we also want the department to provide reasons for the appalling disparity in remuneration between therapists, oral hygienists and dentists who are all clean-teeth professionals.

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“We also want the department to encourage the relevant institutions of higher learning to fulfil their mandate of training more oral hygienists and dental therapists.”

The head of health sector bargaining and stakeholder engagement in the department, advocate Miale Ngake, accepted the memorandum.

He promised to deliver it to the minister and ensure that efforts were made for a response within 10 working days as stipulated by the students.

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