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29.05.2004 General News

US doctors swap whites for Ghanaian cloth

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Most patients expect their doctors to wear a white coat, with a stethoscope around their neck. But this could soon be a thing of the past in the US state of New Mexico - if a company in South Africa has its way. The small company - based in the impoverished township of Uitsig some 30km north of Cape Town - is producing medical uniforms made from brightly colourful Ghanaian cloth.

The idea is the brainchild of an American doctor who is helping Cape Town communities affected by Aids and tuberculosis.

Dr Theresa de Cherif Smith saw the business as an opportunity to enable women in the region to become financially independent.

She told the BBC's Mohammed Allie that, although there is still some scepticism among some doctors about the new-style uniforms, a growing number are seeing the benefits for the women employed in producing them.

"Some people still think we're a bit mad having these bright West African colours in the desert of New Mexico, but others see it as a way of expressing a unique style and an arms across the Atlantic picture," she said.

Employment boost

The company provides much need employment for the region It is then sent to a converted shipping container outside Cape Town to be made into uniforms.

Housewife Leonie Geldenhuys is one of six permanent workers employed by the project.

Mrs Geldenhuys said the regular influx of bigger orders has proved to be a major boost for her community where unemployment is rife.

"The community of Uitsig are very glad that we're able to provide them with some work too because when a big order comes in we sometimes take on 20-30 people to help us," she said.

Small scale

The project has already branched out into making duvet covers and beaded ornaments for local companies and the orders keep streaming in.

The coats have become so popular that orders are being received from as far afield as Canada.

But James Dormehl, an Afrikaner who was instrumental in starting the project with Dr Smith, has rejected the possibility of mass producing the uniforms.

"It is nothing for a big company to push out hundreds of these things but who would benefit at the end of the day - not the people themselves," he said.

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