Dr Unben Pillay runs his own medical clinic in Halfway House, Gauteng, from where he and his associates offer a comprehensive range of medical services to the communities of Rabie Ridge, Tembisa and Halfway House.
For more than 20 years, the clinic’s 15 staff members have been serving a mostly lower socioeconomic patient base with services ranging from general practice and dermatology, vaccinations and a baby clinic to gynaecology, physiotherapy and a pathology lab. “We are a onestop shop for medical services with a focus on the major chronic diseases, such as HIV/Aids, TB, diabetes and hypertension,” says Dr Pillay, himself a GP. Dr Pillay also plays a leadership role in the Independent Practitioner Association (IPA), an NGO founded to represent the interests of GPs.
Although GPs were regarded as an essential service right from the start of lockdown, Pillay’s practice saw a 75% drop in turnover during April. Ironically, he says, the practice was probably the safest place people could be, given all the safety measures that had been implemented. In a further irony, these measures added significantly to the clinic’s expenses. “The initial costs were exorbitant and there was no way of recovering it with patients not coming in due to fear and misinformation. It was a massive shock to our system.”
Qualifying as a sole proprietor, Pillay applied for the Sukuma Fund survival grant to help foot the practice’s bills and keep the doors open. “The money allowed us to pay rent, sustain the practice and retain all our staff.”
Over the past three months, patient numbers have started to recover, but the clinic still only sees about 50% to 60% of normal patient volumes. These levels are sufficient to sustain the practice for now, but Pillay’s growing concern is for patients who are neglecting their chronic conditions by not coming in for check-ups “We are seeing a drop of about 30% in compliance with medication among chronic patients. In the long term this will be a big problem.”
The Covid-19 spike in Gauteng is also a reality at Dr Unben Pillay & Associates. One or two patients during April and May, has turned into 10 to 15 people testing positive for coronavirus every day. The clinic is doing all it can to employ technology in managing its chronic and Covid-19 patients alike. “I am a telemedicine advocate,” says Pillay. “Our protocols are in place, allowing us to manage patients, including those with mild COvid-19 symptoms, from home with the use of smart technologies.”
Thanks to the Sukuma Fund, Pillay’s clinic survived the revenue crunch of April, putting it in a position to continue providing an invaluable service to its surrounding communities.