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Profiles in Public Health

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Sergio Alves

MBCHB, Medicine, Stellenbosch University

What does public health mean to you?

Public health refers to empowering and educating people to promote healthy lifestyles, in all forms, and prevent illness in a patient-centered manner as well as at a community level with the purpose of improving their quality of life.

What inspired you to study public health?

I grew up in South Africa which has the one of highest rates of inequality in the world. I became aware of the many ways in which this inequality affected the people of South Africa. One of the ways in which this inequality can be seen is in the access to quality and affordable healthcare. I volunteered and worked in many public clinics and hospitals which led to me realising how much good can be done by addressing public health issues at a community level. I realised that I could make a greater impact on the health of the surrounding population by channelling my efforts and skill into assisting in the communities where individuals are in need of quality healthcare.

What has been the single most rewarding experience of your career or studies so far?

I have had several very rewarding experiences to date. One of the most rewarding experiences I have had occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. We, as a group of individuals from the Division of Public Health, decided to create summaries referred to as Daily Briefs of the most up-to-date COVID-19 research which could be used as a guideline of recommendations to assist emergency medicine healthcare workers treating patients in ICU. The healthcare workers in ICU were often so busy treating COVID patients that they were unable to keep up with all the latest research which was being published daily. It was incredibly rewarding to see that these Daily Briefs had an impact on the management of COVID patients and that they were found to be useful.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing public health today?

The biggest challenge in public health today is addressing the multifactorial components that affect disadvantaged communities. There are many programmes which focus on trying to improve healthcare in disadvantaged communities without attempting to improve the socio-economic factors which are the root of many of the issues that prevent access to healthcare in those communities. We should be doing more to address the root of these issues, while also advocating, educating and empowering these communities which to improve the overall health and wellbeing of the community.

What advice would you offer someone who is thinking about a career in public health? 

There are many different facets and sub-fields of public health. Therefore, there are many different opportunities for you to explore and possibly find a new passion where you may be able to contribute to the field of public health.

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