About 60 elderly spend nights outside without food or shelter to get spectacles

Some elderly people desperate to receive medical eye care services had to spend up to three nights sleeping outside the Komani train station before they could be attended to by Phelophepa optometrists.

Only 30 people could be seen a day due to limited spectacles being available.

The Transnet health train, visiting rural communities in Chris Hani on Monday, provided general health, eye, dental, psychological and medical dispensary services free of charge.

Gervit Magqaza, 90, and his wife Nolitha, 80, from Phakamisa in Thornhill, and two other elderly people were among the group who arrived on Sunday afternoon, hoping to spend one night waiting to be seen on Monday.

However, Monday and Tuesday were already fully booked, and they had two spend another two nights sleeping out in the cold.

When The Rep arrived at the station to interview the residents on Monday afternoon, Magqaza was sitting next to his wife who was coughing uncontrollably. He said: “We had a consultation with a doctor today. I have a problem with my knees and my joints are painful. I received medication. We are now waiting to get eye care on Wednesday.”

Noluntu Sokhwebe, from Who Can Tell, was first in line for Wednesday’s list.

She said on Sunday evening there were about 60 elderly people sleeping on cardboard in the cold.

“There was no police visibility with the security guard inside the train, but we weren’t harmed as there were many of us,” she said.Lwandiso Sifumba, who brought his mother from Tsomo, said the train staff would not attend to anyone else after consultations were done by 10am.

“The train should have more doctors for eye care services as most of the people are here for that. They should also make sure they have sufficient spectacles.

”We were told the people would be contacted to come and fetch their glasses but from where?

”My mother cannot afford to pay R5,000 to private optometrists. The eye clinic which was at Frontier Hospital must be brought back.”

”We are risking our lives here as there’s no social distancing or hand sanitisers and it’s suffocating to wear masks all the time,” he said.

He added that the elderly were without food or other provisions and that having the train come at a time when people’s grants were exhausted was a disadvantage.

Phelophepa manager Bheki Mendlula said services had run smoothly but had been limited to comply with Covid-19 regulations. “We are proud the psychology section reached out to a number of cases and we were able to hold workshops which impacted positively on the community.

”We had a challenge to service people in the eye clinic where it is the norm for people to get glasses after their test, but this year we did not have enough glasses.

”Some of the procurement processes have not been concluded due to Covid disruptions.

”Other items are shipped from abroad so these logistics nightmares affected our service. In our normal operation we reach out to higher numbers,” he said, adding that Komani would be visited again next year to redress the issue.

Concerning people sleeping outside, Mendlula said: ”We do not encourage people to sleep outside.  It contradicts the regulations we are trying to promote.”

He said meal provision and police visibility were issues which should be addressed by the local organising committee which made arrangements for the train to visit.

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