Reopening of Eastern Cape clinic shows what community can do

The Helenvale clinic
The Helenvale clinic

It was almost two years ago when the Eastern Cape department of health announced it could no longer continue to keep the Helenvale clinic open.

Rampant gang violence, which often spilt over onto clinic premises, had left nurses fearing for their lives and refusing to go to work.

It was a decision that hit the community hard — a community so poor that the majority cannot afford private health care.

The health department moved the services to the neighbouring clinic in Malabar, which is about 3km away.

What transpired in the months that followed was heartbreaking, as this meant that some would have to wake up very early and walk the distance to the Malabar clinic, even if they felt ill, or pay to have a taxi drive them there.

There was an overflow of patients at the facility, which meant some could not be treated.

Some residents were also robbed on their way to the Malabar clinic.

It was during this difficult period that the community organised themselves, formed an action committee and decided to start talks to reopen the clinic.

It took more than a year of trying to get it reopened, and finally this week the clinic’s doors were reopened.

The joy of those who queued at the clinic on Monday was palpable. 

Over the months, discussions with the police were held. Local businesses came on board to install CCTV cameras and repair the fence.

The residents cleaned up the rubbish around the clinic, and what we have seen is a community coming together to take ownership of a facility that serves them.

Working with the police, ward councillor, private sector and various political parties, the community has shown what is possible if all sectors work together to achieve a common objective, which is of benefit to the community.

We hope that in other areas, like Motherwell and New Brighton, which too are battling a crippling crime problem, will take ownership of their clinics and work with the government and police.

They cannot do it on their own.

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