The Dossier of Hope #2 | People of Prieska build their own...


The Dossier of Hope #2 | People of Prieska build their own medical centre

Farmer Henry Coetzee has an ‘unquenchable desire' to make a difference on the merciless plains of the Northern Cape. ANNELIESE BURGESS tells how he took the lead in building a private clinic so the community no longer has to drive hundreds of kilometres to hospitals in Kimberley and Bloemfontein.


PRIESKA'S nearest hospital is in Kimberley, 250km away. For serious cases, it's 400km to Bloemfontein.

In 2017, a young man who worked for farmer Henry Coetzee had a serious motorcycle accident. “Our youngest son and daughter-in-law rushed to the scene. When they got there, the local doctor was already there but there was no ambulance available," says Henry.

“They took his shirt and tore it into strips to bind his fractures, then they hoisted him onto the back of a bakkie. Eventually, an ambulance came from Kimberley to pick him up, and today Jaco is back on the job and doing well. But the situation bothered me.

“I wondered, why do we have to live in such conditions? We see all around us how everything is deteriorating and we should not allow it. This idea began to develop in me to set up a type of field hospital in Prieska where we could assist and stabilise people in their hour of need, then get them to a hospital alive and in good condition."

He began discussing the idea with other community members. A committee was formed and they wrestled with it for four years. “We just couldn't get it off the ground. Each time we came up against a brick wall," says Henry.

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Two weeks before Covid-19, the people of Prieska were increasingly concerned about the lack of medical facilities. Henry and his committee called a community meeting. There was a big turnout.

“I'm a nature person, so I used this image of a bird found in the Northern Cape and the south of Namibia," says Henry. “They fly in large flocks and work together to build nests. And so I told the people, let's see what nature teaches us — these little birds are happy with where they live.

“They use the resources they have and build themselves a nest with grass in a tree, and that's how they ensure their survival. And we must do the same. Let's stop whining and complaining about what's going on in the Northern Cape. Let's use our resources, our perseverance and our knowledge, and build a medical facility for our community.

“We did the sums. We needed R4 million. And we opened a trust account with a lawyer. Twelve hours after we disclosed the account number, R800,000 had already been deposited."

Some people struggled to see the bigger picture of the do-it-yourself plan.

“People asked, ‘but where are we going to find a doctor who will want to come and live here? Where are you going to get a building? How are you going to pay a doctor? Where are you going to find a house for him or her to live in?' Now, as a committee, we didn't know either," Henry laughs.

“But we knew the need was high enough and that we had to implement the plan. It is driven by the farmers and the local businesses, agricultural suppliers who supported us very well, and advisers in the medical industry such as ER24 and Boeta Dippenaar's Rocket air ambulance service."

Henry believes a higher hand finally made the plan work.

“The things we are unable to see or measure make a bigger difference than the things we are unable to know," says Henry.

Even before they could place an advertisement for a doctor, someone raised a hand.

“Steffan Raubenheimer was a young doctor who wanted to spend more time with his family, so we'd found the perfect candidate. You know, in the city you refer people, in the countryside a doctor has to be a gynaecologist and a surgeon and a psychologist to boot. And this doctor also specialised in cardiology, and knowing something about hearts is a big bonus in the countryside."

In that same week, a building came on the market and they rented it. Just after that, a man who didn't feel up to living in Prieska any longer because of the medical uncertainty decided to sell his house. Henry bought it. The plan was working.

“Within 60 days of signing all the contracts, I could proudly state that the people of Prieska had done it. On June 23, 2021, the doors of our medical facility opened," says Henry. “A place that belonged to our community and that meant we were no longer at the mercy of government services that didn't work. Thus, the things we weren't able to see turned into reality.

“The initial idea was to create a type of field hospital where emergencies could be treated and patients stabilised, but also with a general practitioner who could diagnose patients and treat injuries while on duty, because that was a large lack in the town."

In the end, Prieska Medical Centre is so much more.

“We just told ourselves that second best was not good enough. It had to be the best."

There's a doctor and a nurse, an emergency room, a pharmacy, an optometrist and an occupational therapist.

“We serve the entire community. Everyone who comes is helped. The cases that do not have medical funds are treated by the same doctor and the same sister and then referred to the state for further treatment.

“One of the first people who crossed our threshold was a man with a serious heart problem. It was 3.15pm. We diagnosed him, stabilised him and at 7.20 that evening he was wheeled into the theatre in Bloemfontein for emergency surgery. Without our own facility this would not have happened.

“Finances  are a challenge, and we have to think out of the box a little, but our funds have not run out, nor will they run out. The business must be economically viable, and the community has to be involved so that there can be a succession in management, because this was not for today. We did it as a legacy for the community."

His advice for other communities?

“If something is burning in your heart that you want to do, talk about it and ask for advice. You'll be surprised how many people have helped us out of the blue and provided us with advice. And if you finally want to do something, do it in humility and to the best of your ability. And set your sails, because in his time the Lord will provide the wind. I can testify to that. "

♦ VWB ♦

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