The changing face of global health: Yale and South African doctors partner to expand care
While working in South Africa several years ago, Dr. J. Zachary Porterfield came across a young child in a clinic in rural KwaZulu-Natal. During the examination, the doctor was surprised to find that the patient had drainage from her ears and loss of hearing.
“It had progressed to the point that she was having difficulty in school,” said Porterfield. “When I asked her mother how long this had been going on, she said three years. Her ears had been draining, and she had been losing her hearing for three years.”
Unfortunately, this is not an unusual situation in some KwaZulu-Natal communities. Indeed, many children in at-risk communities around the world are losing their hearing as a result of chronic untreated ear infections, a phenomenon largely unheard of in the United States. The socioeconomic and personal costs of acquired deafness are usually devastating.
The issue of chronic ear infections is particularly interesting in the case of South Africa because the country has skilled physicians and the medical technology necessary to treat such infections, explains Porter, now a senior research fellow in the Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Infectious Disease.
The problem, he said, is access to care: South Africa’s major cities have modern medical infrastructure, but many rural areas lack such resources, and traveling from a rural town to the city is often too expensive, time-consuming, and difficult for people in need of medical attention.
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