With the arrival of the Phelophepa train in Mokopane in Limpopo, residents have been able to overcome long queues, medicine stock-outs and a lack of privacy.

The state-owned Transnet mobile clinic has provided free healthcare to thousands of South Africans living in rural areas since 1994. Town residents didn’t waste any time flocking to the train to experience the wonderful service firsthand last week.

A breath of fresh air

Anna Moganedi wasted no time in visiting the train. “I used to suffer from various ailments and go to clinics or hospitals but when I heard the Phelophepa train is coming, I wasted no time. Here, there is no such thing as a shortage of medicines or waiting for hours because the staff is on lunch or knocking off before you enter,” said Moganedi.

Asked if she was satisfied with the medication that she got from the Phelophepa train, she responded, “How will I know now? I will know after taking these tablets and liquid solutions.”

Fellow resident, Lleka Kekana agreed: “We may not tell you our diseases but the nurses at Phelophepa clinic treat us well and we are satisfied.”

Sero Chauke* visited the clinic for toothache. “I have rotten, aching teeth. The doctors removed them and gave me medication and health talk. I will go to the hospital next time because the Phelophepa train is temporary but a helpful service.” 

Array of services available

The 20-coach train currently visiting Limpopo is known as Phelophepa 2. Thelma Thamagane Satekge, the train’s manager, explained that healthcare services are offered at a nominal fee of R10 or free of charge in some instances. 

The train also offers mental health support through a psychology clinic.  It consists of two components, onboard and outreach. This clinic is headed by educational psychologists backed by four students who are pursuing their master’s degrees. The onboard team attends to walk-in clients.

The outreach teams visit schools, correctional services facilities and communities around. During the Health-e News visit, Satekge mentioned that more than 1500 people attended workshops conducted by outreach team members while 25 individuals consulted on board. Phelophepa’s psychological services are free of charge.

In good hands

Patients who visit the train for primary healthcare are attended by nurses on board. The outreach teams visit schools, geriatric groups and others identified by the local organising committees.

There is also cancer awareness for all types of cancers.  There is however no medical doctor but four registered nurses and nine final-year nursing students provide care.

“Here in Mokopane, we have also taken in several unemployed nurses and retirees to assist on a temporary basis.,” Satekge said.

A smile on every dial

According to dentist, Dr Thabiso Manamela, said the clinic is resourced with two dentists, one oral hygienist and 10 final-year students. The outreach team members visit school learners at foundation phases and those with dental problems. Those that can’t be treated on-site are referred to the train.

After consultations, patients visit the pharmacy for medication. Here, they are given advice on how to use it by two pharmacists, supported by final year students. One of the two qualified pharmacy assistants is an unemployed resident of the area.

Satekge said that the passion and commitment displayed on the train impresses her each time. 

“It is all about using our diverse skills to the benefit of people who don’t always get the health care that they need.  Working for the disadvantaged community is on the top of our agenda,” she told Health-e News.

When the Phelophepa bug bites

An optometrist by profession, Satekge recalled her first Phelophepa memories.

“I first came on board  in 2008 and stayed for two weeks as final year student. On completion of my degree, I worked for a government hospital but left in 2011 to join Phelophepa as one of the qualified optometrists,” said Satekge.

She was promoted to manager after running the eye clinic since 2016.

“I am proud of all our teams including the security staff. Theoretically, we start at 7: 30 until 16:30, but in essence, we go beyond depending on the number of patients. Before leaving Mokopane, we worked until 18:00 and attended to over 400 patients,” she added. 

Growing together

The Phelophepa trains don’t only cater for the physical and psychological needs, but also nutrition. Temporary employees are also often brought into the fold. In addition to medication and equipment, the coaches arrive laden with seeds for communities to sow. 

“Residents identify a site or show us their already existing community projects. We then provide them with seeds and show them how to grow them. The primary aim is to ensure these people get all the nutrients they need from the vegetables they grow,” she said. 

In Mokopane alone, about 70 people were temporarily employed as cleaners, kitchen assistants, laundry assistants and translators during the two-week stay.  

Training is another prominent feature

“Another legacy of ours is a one-week training programme for a maximum of 20 people, mostly community health care workers (CHWs) in basic health education. Here in Mokopane, 16 people got their certificates of attendance at the end of our first week. Another 20 received theirs before we departed for Mookgopong in Waterberg District last Friday.

Phelophepa (pronounced pay-lo-pe-pa) means “good, clean health” and is owned and operated by the Transnet Foundation, with Roche being Phelophepa’s main external sponsor. – Health-e News.

*Not real names