Medical care in South Africa: Mending people on the move

Mending people on the move

I’ve almost died twice. On one occasion, my brain was a few hours from shutting down. As the Plasmodium Falciparum (malaria) parasites wormed their way out of my liver and into my brain, in a near coma condition I vaguely remember the doctor administering the medication, informing my parents that there was about a 50% chance I would wake up in the morning, and that was living only a few minutes from a hospital and receiving some of the best medical care South Africa had to offer.

In spite of all the progress South Africa has made in 20 years, sadly many South Africans still live further than 5km from a clinic, most of them without their own transport. Even if they get to the clinic, they may still be referred to a hospital which means receiving the appropriate and necessary care for life threatening conditions may come too late for some.

Thankfully, mobile medical care in South Africa is growing. As Government shifts its focus to preventative care and keeping people healthy, many civil society organisations have developed new models for getting basic health care out to those who really need it and in so doing assist Government with their efforts.

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Sleeping a night at the train station typically wouldn’t be the way most would receive medical care, but for some South Africans, this is the best medical care they may receive all year. Lining up and expectant, the train loosely called ‘the train of hope’ by the locals and officially called ‘Phelophepa’ slowly pulls into the station.

Every week, this mobile hospital sees 1500 patients, treating people with general health, dental and eye care problems as well as providing access to its own psychological unit. Since its inception in 1994, the train has seen over 20 000 000 patients, delivering over 3 000 000 prescriptions, 500 000 pairs of glasses, 400 000 counselling sessions, and screening hundreds of thousands of children and adults for health, dental and eye problems.

Incorporating a similar model, the Starfish Foundation has recently launched their Wellness Wagon. A mobile clinic run from a local hospital in Durban which visits schools in the Marian Hill area, screening children for preventable diseases, HIV and other STD’s as well as providing immunisations, deworming and health care education. The wagon screens hundreds of children a week and has referred many children and adults to nearby hospitals for further treatment.

In our post-apartheid South Africa there are still huge disparities between those who have good health care and those who don’t, with over 80% of South Africans completely reliant on Government health care services. Innovations such as the mobile train ‘Phelophepa’ and the Wellness Wagon are saving lives by identifying easily preventable diseases and providing more South Africans with access to secondary medical attention. This form of health care, combined with mobile cellular technology, could slowly reduce the high rates of HIV and infant mortality this country is still experiencing.


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