Flying doctor service getting new set of wings

Ready for liftoff of the new helicopter service: ZUMAT CEO Etienne Gerber (left) and two doctors from Msleni Hospital.

After 37 years of flying doctors to remote areas in fixed-wing aircraft, Zululand Mission Air Transport (ZUMAT) is introducing a helicopter service.

The new HeliClinics programme, which will start in the second week of July, is being introduced because of the deterioration of clinic runways. The helicopters will enable ZUMAT to continue its vital flying doctor service in the Unkhanyakude District in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

The HeliClinics service will make use of a leased 4-seater Robinson R44, and in keeping with ZUMAT tradition, will rely heavily on donor funding. ZUMAT was founded in 1975 by a Methodist Minister, Reverend Wesley Hunt and its first aircraft, a second-hand two seater Maule, was bought for R20 000 from funds raised by collecting stamps for 20 years.

In preparation for the new programme ZUMAT has cross-trained one of its fixed-wing pilots, who now also holds a commercial helicopter pilot’s license. The flying doctor service will hold a demonstration period during July, aimed at launching the HeliClinics programme and proving its impact on the district.

During the demonstration period, ZUMAT will carry out flights for Bethesda Hospital in Ubombo, KwaZulu Natal. The demonstration period will include one flight per week to two different clinics, ferrying three healthcare practitioners on each trip. Each doctor will be able to see 50 to 70 patients per clinic, reaching 150  to 210 patients daily and some 800 patients during July. The ability to travel straight-line routes between clinics enhances the capacity of the medical personnel as it drastically reduces time spent travelling by road, which are mainly dirt and in a state of severe disrepair.

The helicopter will fly the following route: Bethesda Hospital – Madonela Clinic – Ophansi Clinic – Bethesda Hospital. The driving time for this route is about four hours whereas the flying time (including the positioning flight from Hluhluwe to Ubombo and return) is one and a half hours. This will be the route for the initial demonstration period, based on limited funding. With more funding flights will be able to increase substantially, as Bethesda has clinic visits from Monday to Friday and it is possible to fly to all these clinics.

Anybody who would like to support the programme should contact Esther Labuschagne on or 0785192133, or ZUMAT’s Hluhluwe Office at or 087 8084790. The ZUMAT Mission Trust is a registered Non-Profit Organisation (065-424-NPO), a Public Benefit Organisation (IT35/2008/PMB) and is able to issue Tax Certificates in accordance with Section 18A of the Income Tax Act of 1962 (930-030-523), offering TAX Exemption and BEE rating opportunities for donor companies. Any support of the programme will make a huge impact on inhabitants of Umkhanyakude District, which is one of the two most deprived districts in South Africa according to the District Health Barometer. “Deprivation” is defined as a combination of indicators including unemployment rates, access to piped water and electricity, female-headed households with high numbers of children and low education levels, says the Health Systems Trust which produces the Barometer

Over the years, ZUMAT has continued to maintain close ties with the Methodist Church. Walmer Methodist Church in Port Elizabeth sends teams to ZUMAT each year on outreach missions in the community and to assist ZUMAT wherever possible. ZUMAT is also affiliated with many other Methodist Churches around South Africa, and numerous philatelists across the globe are involved in collecting stamps to raise funds for the flying ministry.

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