‘Miracle train’ comes to town

2016-07-06 06:00

THE Transnet Phelophepa Health Care Train, which brings health and hope to thousands of rural South Africans in need of access to health-care facilities, will be visiting the Pietermaritzburg Railway Station from 11 July to 22 July.

The Transnet-Phelophepa Healthcare Train is the world’s first primary healthcare hospital on wheels which uses the existing rail network in South Africa to make quality medical care an accessible reality for many of South Africa’s most remote communities.

The 19 coach train, with its 20 resident staff members, fondly known as the “miracle train”, carries the most modern medical equipment on board. Phelophepa is indeed a journey of hope that continues to make a history of caring. The name “Phelophepa” combines elements of Sotho and Tswana and, roughly translated, means “good, clean health”, exactly what this travelling health clinic provides.

A special team of resident staff live on the train for its annual nine month operational period. These dedicated health-care professionals and support staff, together with the Transnet Foundation senior staff and under the leadership of Shamona Kandia manage the logistics and supervise the stream of final-year students from leading academic institutions, who participate to gain invaluable practical experience for two weeks at a time.

Annually, approximately 1 200 final year students practice on-board Phelophepa Health Trains. It travels for 36 weeks each year visiting a different rural community every week or two weeks. This was a significant step forward in the Transnet Foundation’s vision of providing quality health care where health services and infrastructure were not fully in place.

Although the Transnet Phelophepa Health Care Train can only be in an area for a limited time, the goal is to supplement and support existing facilities to make sure the residents can continue benefitting from quality health care once the train has departed. Education and empowerment that leave better equipped and informed communities in its tracks is a core value of the Phelophepa programme.

The first of our Transnet Phelophepa Health Care Trains started operating in 1994. The train has shown incredible growth since its humble beginnings as a three-carriage eye clinic. Today – almost two decades later – it boasts 19 fully refurbished and equipped coaches that provide facilities for health, oral and vision screening programmes, basic health education awareness and community counselling workshops.

It won several service excellence awards over the years , among those the United Nations Public Service Award in the “Improving Service Delivery” category in June 2008. Through on-board clinic services and community outreach programmes Phelophepa impacts over 180 000 patients a year.

Before the train rolls into town, teams are sent out to alert the community of the days the train will be delivering services. A comprehensive social mobilisation strategy are developed and implemented in collaboration with all local stakeholders in each community. Relationships are established with the existing health-care providers so that patients can be referred and continue to receive the care they need. While the train is in the area, screening and health-care education are the primary concerns. Nursing teams visit schools to screen children for health-related problems and educate them about basic health care. The on-board pharmacy dispenses medication. Its community outreach programme, led by the chief nurse, visit schools and communities in surrounding areas and equips people in remote communities with knowledge that will help them to correctly prevent and identify disease symptoms as well as show them how to take medication correctly. - Supplied.

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