Transnet-Phelophepa Healthcare Train in South Africa

Partnership Objectives

  1. Provide general healthcare, disease awareness, health education and counseling in rural areas of South Africa.
  2. Help train local student doctors and nurses.

Literally translated, ‘Phelophepa’ means ‘good, clean health’ Literally translated, ‘Phelophepa’ means ‘good, clean health’ Copyright Roche

What are the health needs and challenges?

In rural communities in resource-limited countries where there is usually a very poor doctor-to-patient ratio, people travel long distances to receive even basic healthcare provision. The Transnet-Phelophepa train aims to address this challenge by travelling to up to 70 remote communities per year to bring healthcare services directly to the patients.

Description of partnership activities and how they address needs and challenges

Transnet-Phelophepa is a free, mobile healthcare clinic that travels to areas of rural South Africa, where there is just one doctor for every 5,000 patients. Phelophepa is owned and operated by Transnet Foundation with Roche being Phelophepa’s main external sponsor, providing funding since the train took its first journey in 1994.

There are two trains (Phelophepa I and Phelophepa II), each comprised of 18 coaches providing facilities to conduct general health, dental and eye checks in rural communities, and dispense treatments for diagnosed conditions. In addition to these general health services, individual counselling sessions and group workshops to help people cope with psychological issues such as stress and depression are offered.

The trains also house special coaches for education, where members of the local communities can participate in classes on general health issues such as nutrition, hygiene and dental health. More specialist services have been introduced, including diabetes prevention, hypertension and cancer screening, with free pap smears and prostate screening now being provided in a tent set up on the train’s platform at some stops.

The result of the broad reach of Phelophepa is better awareness of common health issues within these remote and often poorly educated communities. There is an increased likelihood of people presenting for examination, and consequently more chance that patients can receive appropriate treatment. Ultimately the outcomes of Phelophepa are driven by the focus on ‘good, clean health’. Health inspires productivity, productivity generates growth and growth inspires prosperity.

Summary of impact and forward looking information

Since the first train started its journey more than 20 years ago, the trains have touched the lives of approximately 12 million people, dispensed more than half a million pairs of spectacles and provided medication to over 650,000 people. Since the trains’ inception, more than 15,000 volunteers have participated in a basic healthcare education programme, and over three million people have participated in HIV/AIDS and first aid training. On average, the Phelophepa I and Phelophepa II trains reach more than 375,000 people a year and serves as a training opportunity for student doctors and nurses and job opportunity for hundreds of unemployed or retired health professionals. 


Phelophepa Train of Hope

Phelophepa - Visiting the train of Hope

BBC Radio 4: Phelophepa Health Train

Partnership information

Company(ies) Roche

Partner(s) Colgate, Transnet Foundation

Type of Partner(s) NGOs, Other Business

Therapeutic Focus Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, Other, Women and Children's Health, Non-Communicable Diseases, Infectious Diseases, Mental and Neurological Disorders

Disease(s) Addictive Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, Breast Cancer, Cancer, Cervical Cancer, Childhood Cancers, Children's Health, Depression, Diabetes, General Health, Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Mental Disorders, Mental Health, Ophthalmology, Oral Health, Respiratory Diseases, Tuberculosis, Urology, Women's Health

Program Type(s) Health System Infrastructure - Development of Physical Infrastructure, Health System Infrastructure - Outreach & Medical Services, Health System Infrastructure - Training, Prevention Programs - Awareness & Outreach

Targeted Population(s) Children, Elderly, General population, Health professionals, Marginalised / Indigenous People, Men, Mothers, Patients in needs of treatment, People with low income, Women, Youth

Region(s) Sub-Saharan Africa

Number of Countries 1

Country(ies) South Africa

Start Date 1994

More information Phelophepa Transnet Foundation

Anticipated completion date Ongoing

« Roche came on board with gusto, with passion, and with a commitment to say ‘what can we do to help?’ The relationship between Roche and Transnet is probably one of the best examples of a sustainable public-private partnership that I can think of. »

Dr Lynette Coetzee, Transnet Foundation’s Senior Manager for Health