The Western Cape Province of South Africa (SA) is blessed with breath-taking natural beauty and a rich cultural heritage. The residents represent a rainbow of cultures, offering a unique opportunity for constructive community interaction. The Centre was established in June 2001 by the University of Stellenbosch, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, as part of their vision to train health care professionals with applicable knowledge and hands on experience of the health issues facing rural and underserved communities.
Almost half of the SA population lives in rural areas. Rural communities (especially in developing countries) are generally underserved, and the health status of people living in these communities is often poor. Rural people move to urban areas not only in search of jobs but also to secure better access to health care. Rural health issues are applicable to the greater African context, as the burden of disease and problems in service delivery are similar across the continent and in most resource-limited settings. In Africa, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malnutrition rank amongst the ten most disabling conditions and are strongly associated with poverty, which in turn is most prevalent in rural areas. In 2001, the Association of African universities declared: “To a greater degree than ever before, African universities must renew their commitment to helping Africa find effective solutions to its perennial problems of poverty, hunger and disease.” African Universities must be at the forefront of research, education and action in these relevant areas. The Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health was established in response to this urgent call.