Transnet-Phelophepa Healthcare Train in South Africa

Roche and Transnet, the main freight logistics company in South Africa, came together in 1994 to establish Phelophepa, the world’s first comprehensive primary healthcare facility on rail.
Private Foundation or Development Organization 1

To provide comprehensive, flexible and cost-effective health care services, to rural population of South Africa; whilst supporting, empowering, developing and educating students and communities. The trains bring “Health Equity”, and deliver measurable social and economic impact in South Africa.

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.

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. The partnership is sustained by over 50 supporters.

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 counseling 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.

"Roche came on board 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
Phelophepa Co-Founder
Results and milestones

In July 2019, Roche renewed its commitment to the Phelophepa trains, marking the 25th anniversary of the partnership.

Since the journey first started 25 years ago, the trains have touched the lives of over 14 million people, providing essential primary healthcare services including health screenings and medicines to millions of South Africans.

Since the trains’ inception, Phelophepa has dispensed more than half a million pairs of spectacles and provided medication to over 650,000 people.  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. In 2018 the Phelophepa I and Phelophepa II trains reached more than 460,000 patients. On average the trains serves as a training opportunity for student doctors and nurses and a job opportunity for hundreds of unemployed or retired health professionals. 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 has received the United Nations Public Service Award for its excellence in public service delivery.

Geographic Reach
Disease Area
  • Infectious and Parasitic Disease
  • Other
  • Non-communicable Diseases
See Disease Areas
Target Population
  • Children
  • Youth
  • Women
  • Men
  • Elderly
  • People with low incomes
  • Marginalized/indigenous people
SGDs the partnership contributes to
SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing
  1. 3.8: Achieve universal health coverage
  2. 3.C: Health workforce
SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals 
Partner organizations
Private Foundation or Development Organization

Transnet Foundation