Only 18 percent of the South African population are served by private hospitals through health care insurance which are sold by medical schemes. Majority of the population rely on state facilities which are government funded but which are often poorly equipped, overcrowded, and having long waiting times.
The doctor to patient population ratio is under 1 to 1000, a figure which is below the world average. Despite the Cyril Ramaphosa-led country boasting of the highest standards of healthcare in Africa, access to healthcare for the poor who are majority still lags behind.
One Gladys Shiabambo, a South African citizen while speaking to Aljazeera described the condition in public hospitals as “terrible” adding that, “It’s not a place when you are sick you would want to go to. You think I should just die at home instead of dying there. Because you know when you are really really sick you are going to die there, you really going to die.”
Reportedly, a third of South Africa’s population live in abject poverty and most live in poor communities where sometimes putting food on the table can be a challenge.
While this is the sad reality for a number of people in South Africa, a Bloemfontein doctor is hoping to change the narrative by letting patients pay what they can afford.
Dr Paulo de Valdoleiros, 56, nicknamed the Walk-In Doctor opened his doors a few weeks ago but he is already making headlines with his selfless acts.
Patients have sought his services and were only asked to pay what they can afford. whether they can afford USD 0.71 or USD 35.
“My staff is well-instructed, and the only answer they will give you when a patient asks how much to pay is: ‘You pay what you can afford,'” Valdoleiros said.
“I don’t know where the influence for this idea came. I believe it must be an idea from God,” he said.
Thorough examination is done and the patients are offered with basic medicine which they are not required to pay for. Its not only the poor people who benefit from his services, he reveals that advocates seek his services as well.
“The purpose is to take care of people. The money will follow,” he said. His doors are open for both for patients on appointment and those without appointments.
The doctor was born in Portugal and moved to Mozambique during his formative years. Later in the 1970s, he relocated with his family to South Africa. His experience while growing up inspired him to study medicine. Valdoleiros narrates that he was hospitalised with hepatitis when he was only nine years old and since then he had this dream.
“I turned 45, and I said that’s it, I want to try at least to get in and study medicine so that I won’t die without having even tried, the rest is history,” he said.
De Valdoleiros said he will adjust his life according to how much money he is able to make. “The money will follow. I just have to adapt my life to the income,” he said. On being asked what he wants to be remembered for he said, “I never set out to be remembered, I just want to take care of people.”
He further stated that he wants to make people realise that they deserve to be alive.
The passionate medic’s self-sacrificing spirit has startled a Cape Town-based Uber driver who has decided to replicate the doctor’s philosophy of helping people at any cost. Inspired by his move, the cab driver has set up a crowdfunding campaign for Valdoleiros, so that he can continue with his work.
The 30-year-old driver, Samy Bala has referred to the doctor as ‘an angel’
“After reading this article, it really touched my heart, I almost broke down in tears. This is out of the ordinary. You don’t get doctors that do this kind of things,” Bala told News24.
“Since he is the one changing people’s lives, people paying USD 0.71, USD 35. Who pays USD 35 after seeing a doctor? Seriously, he cannot survive with this, but with our help and funding, we can make his dream come true.”
Valdoleiros, on hearing of the funding campaign organized by the Uber driver, he said, “I’m astonished, I didn’t set out for this. This guy comes along, I think he has taken what I started doing to a higher level, his actions are greater than mine.”
“I can’t describe the feeling. This defies logic,” he said.
The doctor, who is one of a kind hopes to grow his services and be able to offer crucial services like drips, X-rays and blood tests that many people can’t afford.
Featured Image Courtesy: Netwerk24