Phelophepa Health Care train bridges health care divide in South Africa

JULY 15, 2016

Four out of five South Africans depend on the public health care system yet access to health services remains a challenge specifically in the rural areas of our country. A very special project is helping to bridge the gap between those who have access and those who are in desperate need of primary health care.

It's called the Phelophepa Health Care Train and it is coming to George! The train will be located at the George Train Station, Stasie Road from the 15th – 19th August 2016. Health care services are available from Monday to Friday 07:30 to 16:30.

For nine months every year, it cuts through South Africa's countryside to deliver low-cost, high quality medical care to the rural poor. Hundreds come to the train of hope for a place in line and an opportunity to see a doctor, dentist, optometrist or pharmacist.

On average, Phelophepa treats 1,500 patients a week. The Phelophepa Health Care Train is funded in large part by the national railway - Transnet.

"The train was given the moniker 'The Train of Hope' and 'The Train of Miracles,' says Lynette Flusk, manager of the Phelophepa Train in the Western Cape.  "I believe that says it all -- how people feel about the project and the services we offer to communities."

The Phelophepa train made its first journey in 1994, the same year Nelson Mandela was elected South Africa's first black president. He placed the right to access health care in the nation's new constitution.

Under apartheid rule, in rural areas, there was one doctor for every 40,000 black South Africans. Today, the numbers have improved to 1 in 5,000. But that doesn't mean everyone can afford a doctor's care.

The Phelophepa's Health Care affordability is possible thanks to volunteers and student doctors who live on the train. They travel to parts of their own country they've never seen. "It helps us to minimize that boundary between us and the people in these communities. We need to understand all the people's problems, even if you don't encounter those problems yourself," said Laurika du Bois the Western Cape Social mobilisation coordinator. A second train, Phelophepa II was launched in 2012 to join Phelophepa I on its endeavours to medically service those living in rural communities. The addition of the second train allows doctors to reach up to double the amount previously possible. Combined these trains reach up to 370 000 people a year.

Phelophepa means "good, clean health" -- and for those who receive its cargo of hope, it's lived up to its name.

The Phelophepa Health Care Train provides the following clinics on board:

  • The Health Clinic

 The Health Clinic sponsored by Roche.  The focus is on treating minor illnesses as well as on health education and cancer and diabetes screening and education.  Phelophepa has developed an outreach programme whereby a professional nurse and two nursing students visit surrounding primary schools that have been identified by the community as being particularly deprived and in need of assistance.   Learners are screened for health problems, and where possible, they receive medication for minor ailments.


 No examination fees are charged, but if medication for adults is dispensed, a R 5.00 charge is levied per prescription.

  • Edu-clinic programme.

The Edu-clinic is an educational programme in basic primary health care.  A five day accredited training course is offered to 16 volunteers identified by the coordinating committee, at a venue as arranged by the marketing/social mobilisation agent. Participation in this training programme is free of charge.


  • Eye clinic

Eye clinic.  The eye clinic consists of a pre-screening area outside the train.  Inside the train are refraction rooms, fully equipped with phoroptors, projection charts and bio-microscopes.  The eye clinic offers a same-day service and patient’s custom-made spectacles are made up while they wait in the workshop.


 Screening and Eye test     Free - Made-up glasses, per pair     R 30.00  

Readers       R 30.00 

Eye drops      R 5.00 

Children up to the age of 15     Free  

  • Dental clinic

Dental clinic partially sponsored by Colgate.  The dental clinic provides holistic oral treatment and the steps taken are not based on, or limited to the patient’s main complaint.  A full oral examination is done on each patient to determine the best treatment option.  A patient may come in for extraction of a painful tooth, but sometimes it is found that other treatment is required.  In this way, Phelophepa offers patients the best possible care.


 Screening and Education      Free

 Children up to the age of 18     Free 

 Adults       R 10.00

  • Psychology

 Psychology clinic partially sponsored by Air Liquide. Unemployment, poverty, violence and HIV/AIDS are just a few of the many daily challenges facing South Africa’s rural communities.  This clinic offers individuals a supportive and confidential environment in which they can talk openly about their problems, be listened to without judgment and be assisted by a counsellor who helps them to explore ways in which to deal with the problem.  In addition, psycho-education workshops are delivered at schools in order to address various emotional, mental, social and interpersonal aspects of life and also to empower them to start making positive lifestyle choices and changes.  

The service is provided free of charge.


Laurika du Bois

082 886 5583

[email protected]