Patients in South Africa are digging their way to better health in an innovative vegetable garden program that Project HOPE is pioneering to combat non-communicable diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension.
Understandably, HIV and tuberculosis, the pivot points of a major public health crisis, have taken center stage at clinics in South Africa for years. Yet, this has meant that the serious issue of non-communicable diseases that can be deadly have not had the attention they deserve.
Project HOPE is working to address this through increased screening, diagnosis, and disease management. But it’s also important to ensure that patients make lifestyle changes and get access to nutritious, healthy foods that have not always been available to them. This is where the HealthRise project in the Emthanjeni municipality comes in.
Day Clinic support group, mentored by Project HOPE Program Support Implementers (PSIs), harvests and sells carrots, cabbage, onions, and tomatoes to community members and health facility staff.
One elderly patient, Mrs. Dikana, was diagnosed through HealthRise and was able to turn her health around through the program.
“Through the monthly support group sessions I’ve committed to attending, we learn how to manage the garden and our diets. That, combined with the hard work of digging in the soil and growing my own vegetables, has really helped me to change my lifestyle,” she said.
“Thanks to the monthly support group meetings, I’ve learned how to balance my medication and diet and now my blood pressure and blood glucose are normal.”
Any harvest that is left over is shared among members of the project and they share profits of the project to improve their finances as well as their health.
Project HOPE’s intersectoral approach was adopted from the South African government’s Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases 2013-17 and the National Department of Health’s Integrated Chronic Diseases Model (ICDM) and Ideal Clinic model of care. Through Project HOPE collaboration, the Department of Agriculture donated the group’s gardening tools, including packets of seeds and bags of compost.
Not only does the vegetable garden teach and support the patients, Patricia Van Wyk, the municipal ward councilor for the residential area around the clinic, found the garden initiative to be a useful platform to teach other community members new skills necessary to ensure food security and income generation.
“Providing the tools necessary to learn these gardening skills is an incredibly helpful way to eliminate poverty and unemployment in the community,” she said.
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