In many South African rural communities, there is often only a single doctor servicing the healthcare needs of up to 5 000 people. To address this critical need, the Transnet Foundation launched the Phelophepa Health Trains in 1994. These two trains are the first primary healthcare providers of their kind in the world; they use the existing rail network to make quality medical care an accessible reality for many in the remote communities across the country.
The name Phelophepa combines elements of Sotho and Tswana and means “good, clean health”. Each “miracle train” has 18 coaches and carries the most modern medical equipment.
The trains travel for 35 to 36 weeks each year (from January to September), visiting a different rural community every week. The main objective is prevention and early detection of medical conditions as well as screening and education. More than 40 permanent staff and numerous volunteers work on the trains.
Putting healthcare on track
Advance teams of community social mobilisers are sent out at least two months before the trains’ arrival to alert the community of when the trains will be in town, and to inform people about the availability of screening.
The health-based activities offered by the trains are two-fold — providing on-board health services through its five clinics, and outreach programmes that take their services to the wider community. The latter provides screening and educational services to schools, early childhood development centres, institutions for older or frail persons, and prisons within a 70km radius of the railway stations.
As the project custodian, Transnet Foundation is the key financial sponsor. Other sponsors provide voluntary support through financial and other contributions as part of private-public-civil society partnership model. Training institutions provide the human capacity to support the healthcare and humanities professionals employed on each train.
Transnet Foundation further supports the Phelophepa team by handling strategic planning, administrative logistics, financial management, dissemination of health sector data, and marketing and communications.
Joint operations between Transnet Engineering and Freight Rail divisions ensure that the trains are maintained and safely hauled across the country.