DEDICATED: The head of St John’s emergency medical services department, Owen Manhire, with Tholithemba Nyembe at Abraham Kriel Bambanani Children’s Home.
The head of St John's emergency medical services department, Owen Manhire, is making great strides in providing healthcare services to the needy.

Manhire, who was born in Harare, moved to South Africa in the early 1990s with his parents, seeking better opportunities.

In 2006, Manhire enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand to study medicine, before his father, a prominent businessman, asked him to pursue business studies.

The 35-year-old, who has a degree in business studies, said he had always had a passion for medical services.

“In 1999 our family relocated to South Africa. I also lived in the UK, where I opened my first company in Liverpool - an ambulance service. My father had done his own forecast, which showed him that our home country would have economic hardships in the next four to five years. That was the main reason we emigrated. I was 16 years old when I left Zimbabwe.

“I initially went the medical route, but my father, being in business, said he would prefer me to purse business studies. So I studied business. I intend doing a doctorate in business like my father,” Manhire said.

After completing his studies and working for his father’s company, Ralman Management Consultants, as a director, Manhire decided to pursue what he loves and to help people who are less fortunate get better medical care.

In 2015, Manhire contacted St John International, which provides community-based first aid, healthcare and support services around the world.

“My heart always called me to go back and do something that is medically related; that is how I ended up sitting down and having a word with St John International.

“St John has always had the ambulances, but they were doing events. What I did was to take a step further to say there are people who are involved in accidents and don’t have medical aid. We need to come in and fill the gap.

“We came up with the strategy and the direction that they should take as the St John Emergency Medical Services Department. We agreed to have this great department.

“It took us several months to brainstorm and create a suitable model. The department was opened in March 2016.

“That was after six months of planning how we were going to roll it out. The department deals with medical emergencies,” he said.

Manhire, who heads the department with the support of his staff, said they had made a difference since St John started offering ambulance services to the less privilege.

“If we are fortunate to get a call with a medical aid, we make proceeds from that and we use those proceeds to subsidise the next two or three free calls. With the funding model that we are using, if you are not employed we will help for free.

“The passion for medical services has always been there. I attribute it to being born to parents who are a business expert and in the medical field, respectively. So I have always managed to integrate the two professions. I have been practising and getting a lot of business expertise and experience in my father’s advisory company,” he said.

Manhire, who is studying for an MBA, condemned the recent attacks on paramedics.

Emergency Medical Services personnel live in fear of being attacked or killed following a spate of attacks on paramedics. They have become prey to criminals and gangs.

Gauteng Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa last month met the staff and management of Odi EMS, which is based in Mabopane, to discuss the problem.

She aimed to assess the impact of attacks on emergency personnel and services. She also paid tribute to slain paramedic Chris Kekana, who was shot dead in March.

“Paramedics are there to help, and it is important to respect them. Shooting or robbing a paramedic might lead to 100 deaths because you removed an essential service in the community,” Manhire said.

Although St John has not had any such incidents, Manhire said they had a put a strategy in place.

“We have been lucky. Whenever we receive a call that is suspicious, the SAPS and a private security company accompany us. We know the hotspots,” Manhire said.