HomeArticlesWhat we’ve learnt from half a decade of unanswered calls at clinics

What we’ve learnt from half a decade of unanswered calls at clinics

  • Bhekisisa has worked to create an updated database of telephone numbers for South Africa’s public sector abortion clinics since 2017. That project was called SizaMap.
  • Five years later, we are proud to have contributed to the only tool that gives people the healthcare information they need – without having to spend any money on transport or airtime.
  • The new map – called Where to Care – can be accessed online or through a data-free link that shows whoever opens it which services are available near them, and when.

2017 was a year that made people stop. And think. Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. The #MeToo movement had just kicked off. 

In South Africa, the Gupta Leaks got everyone talking about “state capture”. Cape Town nearly ran out of water.

And Bhekisisa started SizaMap, a project to create a database of up-to-date telephone numbers for South Africa’s public sector abortion clinics — because the health department doesn’t have an updated list of such facilities. 

Five years on we’re still at it. Because we know that access to information is crucial to people’s health.

People need the services that the map tracks, and there’s no other tool available that does the heavy lifting in helping people get information about the services they need without having to spend money on transport or airtime.

Teaming up with the TRIAD Trust

In 2021, Bhekisisa teamed up with the HIV health non-profit, TRIAD Trust, to work on their Where to Care map. This tool was based on our original map, but with all the kinks ironed out. Building the database from scratch was difficult – and an unsustainable task for a team as small as Bhekisisa. That’s because it’s so hard to get hold of facilities that it requires somebody on the team to be on telephone duty full-time. 

Working with the TRIAD Trust allowed the project to grow and flourish. Today the Where to Care map includes around 1 800 different facilities in six of the nine provinces in South Africa. We’re proud to say it’s a tool that we trust. 

The interactive map can be accessed online, or from a data-free link that shows the facilities nearest to a user when they click on it, and a list of services provided and the times that service is available. Services such as abortion may only be available when a particular nurse is on duty. 

The tool has been used more than 700 times since Bhekisisa started sharing the link on social media. We know that because each time we share a link to the map, the TRIAD Trust can see how many times it’s opened. 

And that’s just from the links we’re sharing. But the tool’s reach is growing in other ways, too. Several organisations now have “provider” access to the Where to Care map. 

That refers to everyone who has access to the Where to Care app, which allows them to share a discrete message with a link directly to somebody’s cell phone number. This link doesn’t require any mobile data to access it.

We’re excited to say that people who are struggling to access the map online can now call the SECTION27 Advice Centre, Right to Care and the Women’s Legal Centre for help.  

Bhekisisa also has a provider profile. So, if you need help, you can contact us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and by email

A data-free link to the map is also being used in a new sexual health campaign run by Sonke Gender Justice called “#Under the Blankets” and educational platform “Tseba Get To Know” now uses Where to Care in its health directory, too. 

“The number you dialled does not exist”

Despite the project’s increasing reach, getting to this point has been slow going. And keeping the tool updated asks for sheer determination: in some cases, data capturers have to make up to 50 calls to get hold of a clinic. Many numbers are simply never answered, and it’s hard to know whether they’re incorrect or ignored. 

But there’s also been some unexpected spin-offs. Since we started publishing stories about this project, we’ve heard from non-profits that support the health department but also battle a dearth of good information. As a result, the national health department got in touch with us to let us know we’ve drawn their attention to this problem and they’re working on it. 

And, some public sector doctors in Gauteng have been in touch to let us know that their facility also provides the services that Where to Care tracks, so we can add them to the list. That includes the availability of contraception, termination of pregnancy, voluntary male medical circumcision and care for gender-based violence survivors. 

Moreover, the data capturers of our project have extended their surveys to find out if facilities are welcoming to sex workers, the LGBTQIA+ community and people who inject drugs. 

If you work for a government facility that provides these services and you don’t see it on the map, let the Where to Care data team know here, and their data capturers will be in touch to verify the information. 

Here’s how to access the Where to Care map without mobile data

Joan van Dyk was a health journalist, senior health journalist and news editor at Bhekisisa between 2017 and 2023.