Reflections on the 2019 Rural Health Conference

A Summary from the Conference Organising Chair

Candidates at the 2019 Rural Health Conference By: Chair of the Organising Committee: Saul Cobbing (DRILL Fellow) 19 September 2019

In September 2018, I found out that I had been elected (in my absence) onto the 2019 Rural Health Conference (RHC) organising committee – this is a lesson to all readers never to miss a meeting that you are meant to be at! The next thing I knew – because it was decided that the 2019 conference should be in KwaZulu-Natal – my DRILL supervisor, Prof. Bernhard Gaede, had suggested that I be the chair of the organising committee. As one of the “L”s in “DRILL” stands for Leadership, I decided to bite the bullet and embrace this role. A couple of months later, I found myself in a car driving around the KZN South Coast, scouting out potential conference venues. Kapenta Bay outside Port Shepstone ticked all the right boxes, plus it was a stone’s throw from the beach, a plus for delegates from the rural interior, and so the planning began. After months of Skype meetings, countless emails and losing what little hair I had on my head, we found ourselves all set up for Day 1 of the conference on Thursday 5 September 2019. As a committee, we had decided that the theme for the 2019 Rural Health Conference would be “Izwi lomphakathi wasemakhaya” – “The rural voice”. I really think that we succeeded in our aim of getting as wide a range of voices as possible to be heard at the conference. This included oral and poster presentations by traditional leaders, traditional medicine experts, government officials, students, health activists and a wide range of health professionals and academics working in the field of rural health.

A personal conference highlight for me was the outstanding opening keynote address by Ms Bongi Zuma, a woman living with a disability, a community rehabilitation worker and the mother of a son with a disability. That somebody like this, who would normally not be given a voice, was not only provided this platform, but absolutely enthralled the audience, says a lot about this year’s conference. For full particulars on the conference (including video and photo footage from the amazing UKZN audio-visual and photography staff), check out

On a personal note, I could not have fulfilled my duties as conference chair without the amazing help of the wonderful DRILL staff: Dr Nisha Nadasan-Reddy, Lungelo Khanyile and Themba Manqele. In summary, I am proud to have been given the opportunity to work with this diverse, committed team of rural health practitioners and UKZN staff members. The lasting legacy of this conference is that a real voice was provided to so many people. The challenge for us all is to now make sure that we act on these voices to bring about real change in rural healthcare.

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