Coming out of the Phelopepa train with such enthusiasm, Thandeka Makalima, a 72 year old retired teacher exclaimed ‘’I have never received such tender care from a doctor in all my life’’. I had a thorough check up with special and individual attention. These youngsters are so good. Do you know she spent more than an hour and half just on me’’ Referring to a final year optometry student from Medunsa University, who was working on the train as part of an internship requirement.
‘’Can you believe that I only paid R30 for the service? Have you any idea how much the doctors in the city charge you for less than ten minutes in their consulting rooms? I have had to pay close to R2000 for the glasses I used to have, and where do they think I get the money from when I am just a pensioner’’ The affordable prices are as a result of Transnet Foundation providing the train with an estimated R30 million each year according to Dr Lynette Coetzee, an economist who is also the senior portfolio manager of the Phelopepa Health train. 75% of the funds are from Transnet while the remaining 25% is provided for by the partners and the sponsors of the initiative.
Talking to Mama Thandeka from Ermelo, a province in Mpumalanga where the health train was recently stationed. It was clear how overwhelmed she was by the respect and the dignity she says she was treated with by the student doctors. She kept on repeating that these kids have “Ubuntu” which is a South African term used for treating and dealing well with humanity. ‘’They are so kind, I felt totally loved and cared for’’ She went on further to explain as to how rare that is in most health centers she normally goes to. She was so grateful for the work that is done by the doctors. She was so happy to have been saved from taking a trip to an expensive optometrist in Johannesburg. The optometry coach, headed by Dr Terrence Giles has 2 qualified optometrists and houses about 12 final year optometry students in each station. Typically 130 patients are seen in each day over a period of one or two weeks, depending on the duration on that particular station. This coach has proven to be especially popular with the senior citizens, who usually have serious problems with their eye sights.
Speaking to the Psychology clinic manager Lynette Flusk, it was so clear as to how much emphasis was placed on treating the patients with dignity. Almost all the Phelopepa clinic managers repeated that the most important thing was treating people well. Lynette the Psychology clinic manager emphasized that despite the importance the physical help provided by the clinicians in the train, the human element which showed care and compassion was most vital. She further went on to explain that if the train could be loaded with the state of the arts equipment whilst it had staff that did not care for the people, the project would be a failure. People want to know that you care and understand their situation, without being patronizing, she said.
The Phelopepa Health Train is an initiative of Transnet, which is a freight rail company. Transnet Foundation is the Corporate Social Investment (CSI) branch of Transnet and the Phelophepa Health Care which falls under the Health Portfolio with Transnet Foundation. From the growing success of the project the Phelophepa Health Care Train has now become the flagship of Transnet’s CSI. It has 18 carriages, comprising of the Dental, Optometry, Pharmacy, Health and Psychology clinics, a Dining Car, Kitchen, Accommodation Coaches and Storage coaches. Servicing mostly South Africa’s rural poor, it operates for nine months around the country in all provinces excluding Gauteng. In 2008 the train won a prestigious UN award in the category of “Improving the Delivery of Services’’ The success of the project has now lead to a decision of investing R82 million to build a second train which will be called the Phelopepa II, it is expected to start operating in 2012.