Two female patients wearing masks are waiting to be seen on Phelophepa healthcare train II when it was in KwaZulu-Natal province, SA, in June 2020.

Fighting COVID-19 with the #trainofhope

The Roche-sponsored Phelophepa healthcare trains have joined the COVID-19 response

Published 30 June 2020

As the main external sponsor of the Phelophepa Healthcare Trains for over 25 years, we are proud to continue supporting the trains as part of South Africa’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. The two healthcare trains are now dedicated to screening, testing and awareness for people living in rural communities.

Phiwokuhle Mhlongo, Nurse Practitioner, testing a patient for COVID-19 on Phelophepa II.
Phiwokuhle Mhlongo, Nurse Practitioner, testing a patient for COVID-19 on Phelophepa II.

In addition, Roche made a donation through the Friends of Phelophepa, an employee foundation, to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sanitizing equipment to keep the trains’ healthcare workers as safe as possible. We have also donated masks and hygiene campaign material for the staff to use in their community outreach efforts.

“Supporting communities where we live, work−and beyond−is part of Roche’s commitment to society. We are very proud that we have supported Phelophepa for so many years and that we can continue to help support communities in need during this unprecedented crisis,” said Peggy Grueninger, Head of Corporate Donations and Philanthropy.

Screening and testing

Since early May 2020, the South African Department of Health has leveraged the Phelophepa primary healthcare trains, sponsored by Roche and run by Transnet, the country’s main freight and logistics company, to help curb the spread of the virus in the country.

“The whole landscape has changed. We have severely downscaled all of our normal healthcare procedures and we are mainly focusing on massive screening and testing in the service of communities that could not otherwise reach healthcare facilities,” said Dr. Mathapelo Mashaphu, Train Manager on Phelophepa Healthcare Train II.

As of July 2020, the two Phephepa healthcare trains combined have screened 184,810 people for COVID-19. The number of symptomatic patients who were then tested for COVID-19 was 13,438 people.

Keeping the healthcare workers safe is a top priority and why the Friends of Phelophepa donation was so important to keep the trains running. “PPE is very important since there is COVID-19. This disease revolves around personal hygiene first. So it is important to protect me and to protect our patients. We have to maintain the trains as COVID-free,” said Phiwokuhle Mhlongo, a Nurse Practitioner who works on Phelophepa II.

Raising awareness

South Africa has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the world. In response, the government has issued a number of lockdown measures, curfews and restrictions on crowd gatherings. These rules have also impacted the trains’ operations and the number of people coming onto the trains.

“Obviously, we are seeing fewer walk-ins on the train compared to what we’re used to,” said Dr. Mathapelo Mashaphu, Train Manager on Phelophepa Healthcare Train II.

Therefore protected Phelophepa healthcare staff are going out into the communities to screen for the virus and raise awareness about how to stay safe. With school starting up again, the staff also organized health workshops for students with topics around physical distancing, taking precautions through hand sanitizing and mask-wearing, and how to protect their mental health and well-being.

Learn more about how Phelophepa is being used to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in South Africa

Journalist Cristina Karrer visited Phelophepa II when it was in KwaZulu-Natal province in June 2020. She interviewed the Train Manager, a Nurse Practitioner, and patients to find out how the trains have transformed to meet the needs of people living in rural South Africa during this global crisis.

Tags: Society, Philanthropy