One idea, many lives

The Imperial Group invested R37-million into the Unjani Clinic franchise network, becoming the first private sector organisation in South Africa to start a nurse-owned-and-operated primary healthcare solution. There are 18 Unjani Clinics currently operating successfully in South Africa, with more planned for the future. Each one plays an extraordinary role in supporting the health of people who battle with the country’s stretched and under-resourced public healthcare system, as well as developing entrepreneurial spirit and supporting local communities.

“We launched the Unjani Clinics three years ago on the principles of a social franchise which can be easily built in rural communities and which can provide quality healthcare and essential medicines to the poor at the point of need,” says Imperial Health Sciences managing director Dr Iain Barton. “It also empowers black women and creates jobs. When you consider that more than 84% of South Africans rely on the state for healthcare, but the system cannot adequately serve them, it is clear how valuable Unjani is.”

The Unjani Clinics allow patients access to quality and affordable primary healthcare. Each Unjani Clinic creates employment for four people — a professional nurse owner, a clinic assistant, a security guard and a cleaner. The clinics operate from customised 12m shipping containers and patients pay between R100 and R150 for a consultation, which includes the requisite medication. 

“These clinics empower nurses to play a much greater role in primary care and give people access to affordable healthcare in the community,” says Barton. “We have ensured that each one is run by a member of the community who can educate people around in basic wellness and primary healthcare. The Unjani model also creates a self-employed female entrepreneur who can act as a role model. The nurse owns her own business and we provide the skills framework, procurement structures, quality assurance, treatment guidelines, the box and more.”

Over the next year, Imperial has plans to roll out an additional seven Unjani Clinics in the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, Tshwane and  Ekurhuleni.  Each clinic is expected to serve around 300 patients each month at the start, with steady growth predicted over time. If the results are anything like those experienced by existing clinics, it is likely that they will show impressive numbers in the long term.


“We saw 5 500 patients in the month of June across our current clinics, with the most successful seeing 660 patients,” says Barton. “These are people who would have spent an entire day accessing the healthcare [system] and standing in lines, and these clinics have changed that. The patients voted with their feet and went to the Unjani Clinic, because here was a place where they could spend 15 minutes waiting to be seen with a good 15 minutes being attended to. This is vastly different from an all-day wait for a short and rushed appointment.”

Imperial has just received a mandate from the trustees to allow for client companies to participate in the establishment of further Unjani Clinics. The first of these is being done as part of a joint initiative with a petro-chemical partner; the clinic is serving employees and their families, and the company is providing co-funding for some of the costs.

“There have been a significant number of organisations wanting to get involved in the Unjani Clinic initiative, but we wanted to ensure we had ironed out all the wrinkles and created a solution that is 100% stable first,” concludes Barton. “Now that we have done so, the future looks very promising indeed.”

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Tamsin Oxford
Tamsin Oxford
I am a professional editor, journalist, blogger, wordsmith, social junkie and writer with over 19 years of experience in both magazine publishing and Public Relations.

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