Mpilonhle, an isiZulu word meaning “a good life”, is a South African community-based organization founded in 2006 based in King Cetshwayo District of northern KwaZulu-Natal Province. It is dedicated to identifying and implementing innovative solutions for the health and social problems faced by youth in South Africa, especially impoverished youth living in rural areas.
The end of apartheid and the advent of a democratically-elected government in 1994 brought political and social rights to the majority of the population that had been denied these rights for so long. But it did not end the inequality and poverty that resulted from hundreds of years of oppression. Adding to the burden faced by the newly democratic country was the explosion of the HIV epidemic, with South Africa remaining among the countries most severely affected by the epidemic.
In response to these challenges, Mpilonhle was founded by three persons with diverse backgrounds and with extensive experience working in developing countries. Dr. Michael Bennish is a pediatrician and infectious disease expert who has worked in developing countries for 30 years. Formerly a Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics, and Community Health at Tufts University, he was the founding Director of the Africa Centre, a research center in South Africa. Dr. Joseph P. Sevilla is a Ph.D. economist from Harvard University who has a long-standing interest in finding cost-effective solutions to the health problems of developing countries. Ms. Marie-Christine Ryckaert has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and was formerly an Executive Director of Executive Education at the Kennedy School. She is committed to bringing the best in public management principles to developing countries and establishing high performing organizations.
With initial funding from Oprah’s Angel Network and the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, Mpilonhle began its activities in October 2007. Initial activities were focused on providing comprehensive health services to youth in schools though the use of mobile health units, including provision of HIV testing and reproductive health services. In the ensuing 7 years, Mpilonhle has provided health services to more than 100,000 children and adolescents, including providing HIV voluntary counseling and testing to 40,000 youth, of whom 75% have accepted testing. It has been recognized as one of the most innovative public health initiatives in South Africa, and its school health programme has provided a model for the recently launched school health programme of the South Africa Department of Health, which is one of the three pillars of the re-engineering primary health care initiative of the DOH.
Mpilonhle now works closely with the KwaZulu-Natal Departments of Health and Education to help them implement the school health programme and to provide other services to youth.
Mpilonhle has used the infrastructure and community engagement that it has developed through its health programmes to implement other important programmes to service the community. These include camps for HIV-infected children and their family members at which medical, social and psychological needs are attended to, the development of community and school-based gardens to provide training in dry-land agricultural techniques that will enhance the livelihoods of all involved, and computer based educational programs that supplement the math and science programs in rural schools.