A Road Less Travelled: a reflection on the boundaries of Dr J. V. Larsen’s career My father’s life has been defined by boundaries, both good and bad! Many of these he crossed, some to his credit, and some to his detriment. Always, however, it was in the service of others and his God. In the 1960s he crossed the boundary of what was socially acceptable in a nation dominated by the socio-political and economic system of apartheid. As a recently qualified doctor he took his young wife to live in rural Zululand to serve and live among the poorest of the poor on a mission hospital. Such was the multiracial character of that community and its impact of the surrounding area that the apartheid security police kept it under careful scrutiny. He crossed the boundary of personal ambition when in the early 1980s he was given the opportunity to go to the top of his profession as professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the largest teaching hospital in the southern hemisphere, Baragwanath Hospital. Instead with others he built a system that saved thousands of women and children.
He crossed boundaries in entrusting the care of rural women to advanced diploma midwives whom he trained – neonatal mortality dropped from 68 per 1000 in Eshowe hospital to 25, and from 47 in the district to 25.
All this was costly. He suffered burnout largely related to unwise political decisions which dismantled in two weeks years of building an effective primary health care system. God and my mother helped him learn his personal boundaries and the limits of his responsibility.
These pictures were taken in December 2004, the final week of his work at Eshowe hospital. After 43 years in rural medicine and over 10,000 babies delivered, he had reached the boundary of retirement.
He forewent the professorship but became a world authority on rural obstetrics writing the textbook for the discipline. He was awarded a Fellowship from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and a Civic Award from the city of Eshowe.
These pictures were the subject of an exhibition in 2006 at the Chobimela International Festival of Photography in Dhaka, Bangladesh. They have not been published or publicly exhibited in South Africa
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