Return to campus sees students largely forgo online services that were a lifeline during the lockdown in 2020.

The Wits Campus Health and Wellness Centre has been experiencing a steady decline in the use of telenursing services since students have been given access to the university as of January 2021.

The facility which solely relied on telenursing services in 2020, after lockdown regulations forced the university to close, has recorded only 24 online consultations from January to March 2021.

In contrast, Campus Health has recorded an increase of 81in-person consultations during the same three months.

Head of department Sister Maggie Moloi says that this is due to the integral nature of the nurse-patient relationship which requires nurses to physically assess students before dispensing relevant treatments.

“Telenursing services are mainly for students requiring advice and assistance, it does not replace face-to-face consultations,” says Moloi.

In addition to scheduled in-person appointments, Campus Health nurses also conduct consultations via Zoom, WhatsApp and video calls as well as by phone.

It also issues referrals through students’ emails, where necessary, to be used at local clinics or hospitals. When required, Campus Health nurses directly contact local clinicians to attend to students’ medical needs.

Lebo Sangweni, a first-year BA student, said that the nurses assisted her when she recently visited the health facility, despite not having made a prior appointment.

“I was informed [that] walk-ins are no longer the norm, but was helped either way,” says Sangweni.

Sister Simangele Sitoe, who is currently the only psychiatrist at Campus Health, says there was a spike in the number of students who reached out to the facility for counselling when the country went into hard lockdown. She says this was due to the significant change in the living and learning environment of students who were best suited to living on campus.

While recommending the telenursing service especially for students – it has enabled her to reach and assist students quicker through phone calls and emails, despite the distance – Sitoe says “a few challenges” have risen. The main drawback is that the one-hour counselling sessions could potentially be interrupted as a result of a lack of accessibility to data, network connectivity issues or load shedding.

In response to students encountering problems when making appointments online, Moloi says Campus Health is in the process of acquiring a medical electronic system that should improve that.

FEATURED IMAGE: Sister Maggie Moloi responds to emails at the Wits Campus Health and Wellness Centre. Photo: Nondumiso Lehutso