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25 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 05 February 2013

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 5000 people. Twenty permanent staff live on the train and up to forty medical students 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 at the Tavistock Clinic in London - volunteered on the train and found the experience so intense and challenging that she swore she wouldn't go back. But eventually, she did agree to visit once more.

For this 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.

(Image: A queue waiting for the train's health clinic in Alice, a small town in South Africa)



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