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Mon 7 Jan 2013 11:00 BBC Radio 4

28 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 07 January 2013

Laverne Antrobus visits rural South Africa to tell the story of the extraordinary Phelophepa Health Train.

The Phelophepa (meaning good, clean health) is a mobile clinic which weaves its way through rural South Africa bringing doctors, nurses and psychologists to a population which has approximately one doctor for every five thousand people. Owned and operated by South Africa's state freight rail company, Transnet, and funded by a variety of organisations and companies, the Phelophepa has twenty permanent staff who live on the train and up to forty medical students who come and go on placements.

Every week the train moves to a different location; as it pulls into a station hundreds of people are waiting, desperate to be seen. There are simple solutions like glasses which cure years of 'blindness', hearing-aids, walking-sticks, as well as psychological counselling. Often, because the queues are so long and the journey home too expensive, patients will sit outside the train all night so they are first in the queue the following day.

Several years ago Laverne - who works as a psychologist in London - volunteered on the train. She returned in 2012 as part of this documentary for Radio 4.

For the programme Laverne caught up with the Phelophepa in Alice, a small town in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. She met doctors, student doctors, and of course the patients; many leave having received the treatment they need, however the painful truth is that not everyone can be seen. Often the train has to pull away for the next town, leaving patients (who had travelled miles to be there) behind.

Producer: Karen Gregor.


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