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George Mason University

Bongani Sibandze — George Mason University Presidential Scholar

April 15, 2015

In the developing country of Swaziland, the burden of disease currently results in a life expectancy of 52 years of age for its citizens. Compounding the problem is a lack of access to quality health care, trained healthcare workers, and strategic healthcare policies. Despite these challenges, Bongani Sibandze, a Ph.D. student at George Mason University, envisions a country where the burden of preventable diseases will be decreased or eliminated, and people will have access to necessary healthcare. It is with this vision that Sibandze began his journey to make a difference for his fellow countrymen.

Two years ago, Sibandze completed his Master's degree in Nursing in South Africa and decided that he needed to further his studies to realize his dream for his homeland. Sibandze researched many universities and settled on George Mason University's College of Health and Human Services. With its rigorous academic program, commitment to community practice, and close proximity to the Nation's capital, Mason would allow him to study clinical nursing, advances in education, and conduct research to support policy.

In January, Sibandze arrived, having recently been named as a George Mason Presidential Scholar which helps defray the cost of his education. Mason's commitment to global programs and outreach will have lasting outcomes for a country that currently spends 10 percent of its government budget on healthcare.

Sibandze noted that "acquiring the skills to conduct research to support policies will help to inform our [Swaziland's] government policies. Currently, there are few policymakers who understand research to make strategic decisions.... There are scant resources and the government needs to prioritize these resources based on evidence-based research."

Sibandze states that "the country needs more research studies to inform the education of its health care workers and to improve the delivery of quality care services to its people.

In Swaziland, access to healthcare is often problematic. Some people – particularly in the rural areas - may have to plan weeks in advance to make the 10 kilometer journey to the nearest clinic or up to 50 kilometers to seek advance treatment in a hospital. "These barriers," Sibandze explained, "mean that some people die on the journey to seek treatment or suffer a preventable death due to delayed treatment."

When he returns to his country, Sibandze will have the skills necessary to begin the change of healthcare. However, as he points out, he is "one man and will need the support from many sectors to begin to build a comprehensive health system." He sees George Mason's commitment as a university for the world as an opportunity to help more people from his country come to study at the University. "I very much appreciate the Presidential Scholarship that provides me the opportunity and financial support to study in such prestigious university. Through a community of scholars, Swaziland will become a country of opportunity," he concluded.

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