THOUSANDS of residents seeking medical attention defied the hostile weather over the weekend and slept outside the “train of hope” at Mount Ruth station.
Despite the long queues, the mostly elderly patients from Potsdam, Bhisho and Mdantsane said they were happy that the Phelophepa train had returned to East London after two years.
Moffat Nkilankila, 72, could not contain his excitement yesterday when he received new spectacles.
“I arrived here on Sunday and there was already a long queue but it was worth the wait,” he said. “We are unemployed so we can’t afford going up and down and spending money seeking such services.”
The train, in town since last Monday, offers services which include eye care, dental, health and psychological services. It is a Transnet sponsored initiative aimed at taking healthcare to “under-served” areas.
With a dedicated team of doctors supported by students, 2369 patients were attended to last week and the numbers are expected to double this week as the train only leaves for Queenstown on Saturday.
Dr Deepa Bhudai from the dental clinic said: “We start work at 7.30am, some patients get here around 4am and we only stop working after the last patient [is seen]. Sometimes that is until 8pm but other busy clinics go beyond that.”
Zolisa Makalima said he sought care at the Phelophepa after years of struggling to see. “All I want is to see properly. I’ve been going to the clinic but I never got any help. It’s my first time here and I hope I get help,” the 89-year-old said.
To get a pair of spectacles patients pay R30, for dental services R10, R5 for general sickness medication and psychology consultation is free. In 2012 Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba unveiled a new 18-coach train, Phelophepa II.
Phelophepa I is responsible for the Eastern Cape, Free State, Northern Cape and Western Cape. Train manager Anna Mokwena said the unveiling of Phelophepa II was to decrease the workload and to make visits to the most needy areas more frequent.
“Communities have high expectations from us and sometimes we can’t attend to all of them in one day.
“The problem tends to be that they often rush to the train in the last two days while they had enough time to come,” Mokwena said.