UP’s nursing conference highlights Ubuntu philosophy’s role in healthcare

Posted on September 21, 2023

As South Africa gears up to celebrate Heritage Day, the University of Pretoria's (UP) three-day conference has placed an ancient African philosophy, Ubuntu, in the spotlight.

Amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the global healthcare community faced unprecedented challenges and disruption became the new norm, this conference, held from 13 to 15 September 2023, provided valuable insights into Ubuntu philosophy, caring ethics, and collective responsibility in healthcare.

Under the theme ‘Centering Ubuntu Healthcare in Society 5.0: A Transdisciplinary Agenda during COVID-19 and Beyond’, the conference was hosted by the School of Healthcare Sciences within the Faculty of Health Sciences at UP's Groenkloof Campus. It was funded by the National Research Foundation and organised in collaboration with the University of Venda.

(L -R) Professor Shirley Mooa, Dr Mable Kekana, Professor Thaddeus Metz and Professor Mavis Mulaudzi 

Keynote speaker Professor Thaddeus Metz, renowned for his analytical exploration of the African philosophical tradition, addressed the audience. Prof Metz explored the intricate relationship between Ubuntu philosophy and healthcare ethics.

Drawing comparisons between Ubuntu and Western ethical frameworks, such as the ethics of care and respect for autonomy, Prof Metz highlighted Ubuntu's unique approach to complex ethical dilemmas in healthcare. Ubuntu emphasises harmonious relationships, cooperation, and community well-being, transcending the conventional Western focus on individual autonomy and care.

"In Ubuntu, we find the combination of sharing a way of life with others and caring for their quality of life, much like in a family or amongst friends," Prof Metz explained, shedding light on Ubuntu's emphasis on relationships.

Creating a person-centred service

Within the context of Society 5.0, Prof Metz questioned the potential dehumanisation caused by overreliance on technology and automation in healthcare. He acknowledged the benefits of advanced technology but cautioned against overlooking the essential role of compassionate caregiving and human touch.

The conference opened with an exploration of Ubuntu philosophy by Dr Mable Kekana, Chairperson of the School of Healthcare Sciences and Head of the Department of Radiography. Dr Kekana highlighted Ubuntu's core concept, emphasising the inherent goodness within each human being and the significance of caring for one another as an expression of our shared humanity.

Dr Kekana passionately conveyed the role of the School of Healthcare Sciences in nurturing a culture of care, not only among students and patients but within the entire community. She stressed the importance of creating a person-centred service that upholds Ubuntu's principles, exemplifying the school's commitment to leading the way in educating healthcare professionals globally.

Additionally, the Department of Nursing Science celebrated its 67th anniversary, and this conference marked the beginning of a new chapter. The future holds promising opportunities to further explore Ubuntu philosophy's role in healthcare.

Professor Fhumulani Mavis Mulaudzi, the South African Research Chair in the Ubuntu Community Model and Professor of Nursing at the University of Pretoria, discussed the profound impact of COVID-19 on nursing practice and healthcare. Her talk emphasised the need for nurses to embrace digital technology for universal health, particularly in a tech-savvy future.

She stated: "The pandemic has propelled nursing into a new trajectory. It raised the profile of nurses globally, showcasing our advanced clinical skills, unwavering commitment to patient care, and compassionate palliative care during those challenging times."
Her presentation underscored the critical significance of integrating digital skills into nursing education and practice. “In an era of advancing technology, nurses must become technologically literate to deliver optimal care and maintain competitiveness within the healthcare workforce.” She also addressed the gender-related digital divide, emphasising the imperative of ensuring equitable access to technology and digital training for female healthcare workers. Bridging this divide stands as a vital step towards empowering nurses and other women in healthcare to actively engage in the digital transformation. 

Integrating indigenous knowledge systems
Prof Mulaudzi stressed the importance of African voices in the context of digitalisation and Society 5.0, stressing the need for preparedness and inclusivity in ongoing discussions. Her insights highlighted the multifaceted nature of integrating digital technology into nursing and the importance of preparing nurses for a tech-savvy future while preserving the core values of compassionate care.
The conference also featured Rutendo Ngara, an African indigenous knowledge systems practitioner and transdisciplinary researcher, who highlighted the importance of respecting, preserving, and integrating indigenous knowledge systems into our modern understanding of the world. Her insights highlighted the depth of indigenous knowledge systems and their potential contribution to addressing contemporary issues, including healthcare and sustainability. In her closing question, “Are we in a time of returning to the origins of Ubuntu and Sankofa?” Prompted reflection on the value of embracing these ancient wisdoms in our modern world and was an invitation to reconnect with our roots, learning from indigenous knowledge systems and find harmony and co-creation in our collective journey.   
The conference, which attracted professionals, scholars, and students from diverse sectors, exemplified the growing interest in integrating Ubuntu philosophy into healthcare practices and the need for transdisciplinary collaboration. A panel discussion chaired by Professor Shirley Mooa, the head of the Department of Nursing Science at UP, delved into the integration of indigenous knowledge in curricula, highlighting the importance of decolonising the curriculum, understanding one's identity, and promoting inclusivity.
The 'Centering Ubuntu Healthcare in Society 5.0' conference served as a catalyst for the ongoing exploration of Ubuntu's role in healthcare ethics, enriching human connections, and fostering compassion in a rapidly evolving world. As the healthcare community continues to grapple with change, Ubuntu philosophy shines as a guiding light toward a more compassionate and inclusive future.
As the conference concluded, attendees left inspired by Ubuntu's significance in shaping the future of healthcare. Ubuntu philosophy shines as a guiding light toward a more compassionate and inclusive future in the ever-changing landscape of healthcare.

Prof Mooa praised the leadership demonstrated by Professor Annatjie van der Wath, the conference co-ordinator and thanked her for skilfully leading the conference arrangements and for making the event a success.

“This conference's success would not have been possible without the dedication of the entire organising committee, including the scientific, funding, budget, and logistics committees,” said Prof Mooa.

- Author Sindisiwe Kubeka

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