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Mobile health clinics reach underserved communities in South Africa

November 01, 2012

Four minivans outfitted by FHI 360 to serve as mobile clinics are going to provincial departments of health in South Africa so that they can continue to provide essential health services to people in remote areas.

The clinics have served more than 30,000 South Africans in four provinces during the past two years through the Mobile Services Unit (MSU) project, conducted by FHI 360’s Preventive Technologies Agreement (PTA) with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development/South Africa through the U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief.

At the beginning of the project, FHI 360 refurbished each minivan so that the space behind the front seat could be used as a mobile clinic for counseling and physical examinations. The windows were tinted and long curtains were added to help maintain privacy during consultations. The vans were also supplied with medical equipment, including blood pressure machines and scales.

These mobile clinics were originally designed to bring reproductive health services and voluntary HIV counseling and testing closer to underserved communities. But in response to requests from clients and district health offices, the project also provided treatment for minor illnesses and chronic conditions. It gradually added a range of primary health care services requested by the Department of Health.

Providing these services not only fulfilled a need, but also made clients feel more comfortable seeking care from the mobile clinics, explains Hector Rakhetsi, an FHI 360 senior program officer in South Africa. “Making the services more comprehensive removed the perceived stigma associated with seeking care at a facility that was initially thought to be for HIV/AIDS services only.”

In partnership with the Department of Health in South Africa, the project worked directly with the district health offices and communities to identify convenient locations, schedule visits and inform community members of the services available. The minivans were staffed with two professional nurses and a health promoter, who drove from one location to the next providing health education, screening, counseling, and treatment or referrals to local health facilities.

One of the mobile teams served as many as 50 people a day in an area in KwaZulu Natal’s Amajuba District that has only two government health clinics and no private health providers. In King Sabata Dalindyebo Subdistrict in Eastern Cape Province, the mobile services saved clients the often prohibitive time and expense of traveling 60 kilometers to the nearest health facility.

PTA’s experience showed that mobile clinics helped fill unmet needs for a range of health services in remote areas of Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. FHI 360’s Rakhetsi believes that they can now bolster the efforts of provincial health departments to implement the government’s new approach to primary health care.

“Family health teams, consisting of two professional nurses, a health promoter and community health workers, are going to be the link between the communities and the health services,” he says. “The MSU model would be ideal to support these family health teams as they go to each household to provide screening services, immunization, health education and referrals.”