Health train a hit in Limpopo province


5 September 2012

Locals in need of affordable health care arrived in numbers when South Africa’s Phelophepa health train spent the past week stationed in Polokwane in Limpopo province.

A project of South African state logistics company Transnet, with major backing from Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche, the Phelophepa health train started in 1994 to give affordable primary health care to the poor, particularly those living in remote areas of the country.

“[Polokwane] exceeded our expectations,” Phelophepa acting manager Sibonelo Mtshali said on Friday. “We brought free services to their back yard, and we are happy they have used this opportunity.”


Free check-ups, affordable medicine


He said medical professionals on the train had checked for or treated various illnesses including high blood pressure, sugar diabetes and cancer, while some had offered dental and eye care.

He said check-ups were done for free while medicines were sold for only R5. Those with eye problems paid only R30 for prescription eyeglasses.

Mtshali said that at every station where it stopped, Phelophepa trained 40 volunteers to advise residents on basic health matters, while giving 70 jobless opportunities to help with translation and cleaning services.


‘A lifetime opportunity’


Enipha Makgale, a final-year nursing student at Limpopo Nursing College, said she was thrilled to have been given an opportunity to get hands-on experience with Phelophepa.

“This is a lifetime opportunity for us students because there are conditions that we don’t see at local hospitals and clinics,” Makgale said.

Nomfundo Bhembe, who is studying towards a Bachelor of Dental Science at Medunsa, said it was both exciting and exhausting to attend to a lot of patients in a short time.

“It’s been a long week, with a lot of experience gained,” said Bhembe.


First trip to the doctor


And the patients were clearly grateful. Local resident Modjadji Mochemi, 53, said she had never been to a doctor’s office because she could not afford medical fees. “I received my first free dental service at the train, and I wish they can come here every day,” said Mochemi.

Francinah Mabotja, principal at Leetetja Primary School in Moletji, brought pupils with health problems to get medical check-ups. “Three of the pupils were checked for eye sight problems, while five were checked for dental problems.”

The train’s Limpopo tour continues in Musina this week, Makhado next week, and Tzaneen from September 24 to 28.