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Dr Andrew Ross

The Order of the Baobab in

Dr Andrew Ross Awarded for:
His outstanding contribution in training young rural medics in the field of health sciences. His work has provided hope to rural communities who use local hospitals.

Profile of Dr Andrew Ross

Dr Andrew Ross was born on 10 February 1962. He is a principal specialist in Family Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and previously worked as a Medical Superintendent at Mosvold Hospital in deep rural northern KwaZulu-Natal between 1990 and 2003. As a Medical Superintendent, Dr Ross faced a continual shortage of qualified healthcare staff just like in any rural hospital.

In the early 1990s he organised a full complement of doctors from Britain to come and work at his hospital. Critical shortages of qualified healthcare professionals working in this rural community continued to have a negative impact on the provision of healthcare services. Concurrently the community also experienced a high disease burden related to poverty, inadequate water, sanitation and a lack of basic infrastructure.

It was out of this persistent challenge that Dr Ross realised that the best way to address healthcare staff shortages in rural areas was to invest in local youth. He believed that young people from the area – in spite of many financial, social and education obstacles – had the potential to become health professionals. In 1999 he pleaded with traditional and religious leaders in the community to encourage each household to donate one rand to send four learners who passed matric and met university requirements to study optometry, physiotherapy, pharmacy and medicine.

He realised that for the approach to succeed, there was a need to not only fund these students, but also to mentor them whilst they were studying as most of them faced serious social and academic challenges. Each term he went around the universities where the students were placed to mentor them in all aspects of medicine. In return for the opportunity they received, the students were required to work at Mosvold Hospital after completing their studies for the same number of years they received support.

This initiative triggered resistance from potential corporate funders who were not convinced that rural youth would cope at university, especially in the health-sciences field. The resistance from the potential funders did very little to discourage the determined medical superintendent. Each year more eligible students from the impoverished rural community of Ingwavuma applied and were accepted, and funds had to be raised to support them.

As the first four students showed good progress in their studies, a few funders were convinced about the potential of the initiative and started coming on board. The initiative then grew to be a hospital scholarship scheme named Friends of Mosvold Scholarship and later named Umthombo Youth Development Foundation after it was replicated to other hospitals across KwaZulu-Natal.

Since then this non-profit organisation has produced 218 healthcare professionals across 16 different healthscience disciplines (medicine, physiotherapy, pharmacy, occupational therapy, dentistry, environmental health, speech therapy, social work, nursing, radiology and psychology), and supports 234 rural students across all South African universities. The scholarship scheme has also been extended to 11 KwaZulu-Natal and two Eastern Cape rural hospitals. Dr Ross moved to the UKZN as a lecturer where he continues to teach and mentor future healthcare professionals and specialists with a specific interest in rural public health.