South Africa launches second health train

16 March 2012

South Africa’s custom-built “health train”, Phelophepha I, delivers health services to remote areas of the country, reaching over 180 000 patients a year. That number will now be doubled, following this week’s launch of the R80-million Phelophepha II.

What started out in 1994 as a modest three-carriage ophthalmological clinic, the Phelophepa Health Care Train has grown to hold 18 fully refurbished coaches fitted with special healthcare equipment.

The two trains will now operate simultaneously, providing on-board primary healthcare, dental, optometry and psychological care to South Africans living in areas otherwise beyond the reach of such services.

A project of South African state logistics company Transnet, with major backing from Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche, Phelophepa I has received numerous local and international accolades, including the prestigious United Nations Public Service Award.

Practical training institutions

Engineered and built at Transnet’s facility in Salt River, Cape Town, the R82-million Phelophepa II boasts advanced technology, including a fibre-optic network – a first for any train in South Africa.

Besides the services they offer to their patients, the trains serve as training institutions for final-year nursing, dental, optometry, psychology and pharmaceutical students both from South Africa and abroad.

Each train has 20 permanent staff, 16 contracted security officials and 40 students staffing it. As with its predecessor, Phelophepa II will run from January to September of every year.

Over 5.5-million people reached

Over 5.5-million people have been reached by the project since 1994, and over 20 000 student doctors and nurses have had the opportunity to hone their skills on Phelophepa.

Speaking at the launch of Phelophepa II at Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape on Monday, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba said the new train “demonstrates how public-private sector partnerships can be used to transform the lives of communities through social entrepreneurship”.

Transnet Group chief executive Brian Molefe said Phelophepa II would allow the company to “make an even bigger contribution to society by providing more health care to communities that need these services the most”.

Also speaking at the launch, Franz Humer, chairman of the board of directors at Roche, said the company was “proud to have continuously grown our support for the Phelophepa healthcare train during the 18 years of our sponsorship, because Phelophepa has such a remarkable impact on the lives of thousands of people every year”.

Roche sponsors the trains’ primary health care clinics and pharmacies, while Colgate-Palmolive partly sponsors the dental clinic.

SAinfo reporter