Batho Pele health units provide critical health services in an area affected with high rates of infant mortality, maternal death and HIV/AIDS.
Batho Pele health units
The John Taolo Gaetsewe district in South Africa’s Northern Cape province faces serious health challenges. The area has the highest infant mortality and maternal death rate in the country, and one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection.
Despite the urgent need, access to healthcare is severely limited. For those who can afford it, there is a taxi prepared to drive patients along the 130km of dirt road to the nearest hospital. The rest must make the journey by donkey cart, if at all.
The team at Anglo American Kumba Iron Ore (Kumba) had been thinking about how to improve health in the area. If patients couldn’t travel to hospital, could hospital somehow be brought to the patients? From the seed of that idea grew the Batho Pele health units, a fleet of mobile clinics taking critical health services to the heart of remote communities.
“This project has come out of wanting to make a difference - to restore the dignity of the poorest of the poor communities,” explains Yvonne Mfolo, Kumba’s head of public affairs.
The nine units are transported by off-road vehicles to four sites on a rotation basis. A free bus brings patients from nearby villages to the units, which are stationed on site for a week. Health services include screening for diseases and infections, eye testing, dental care and surgery, all provided free of charge.
Working with the Department of Health, the team at Kumba have played a fundamental role in delivering the project. Kumba will carry the operational cost for two years and then gradually hand over the project to the Department of Health, ensuring the long-term viability of the initiative.
The units went into operation in September 2011. In the first month alone, 1,948 patients made use of the service. Chris Griffith, former Kumba Iron Ore CEO, now CEO of Anglo American’s platinum business, says: “This project is the first of its kind – it is health care with long arms, capable of reaching out and touching those who would not normally have access to it.”
The project was praised by South Africa’s National Minister for Health, who said that the concept would play a key part in government plans to overhaul the country’s healthcare system.