The Citizen (KZN)

Zimbabwe’s hospital of hope

RURAL CLINIC OFFERS HEALTH CARE FOR THOSE WHO CAN’T AFFORD MEDICAL COSTS Karanda Mission is an oasis in the dry countrysid­e for the sick and needy.

- Mount Darwin

Outside a hospital in rural Zimbabwe, scores of people wait patiently under trees or inside small tents for news of their loved ones. Vendors sell snacks, fruits and drinks to drivers queueing at the gates of what has become an unlikely sought-after health care destinatio­n in this impoverish­ed southern African country.

Zimbabwe’s public health system has all but collapsed under years of mismanagem­ent, amid shortages of funds, staff, medicine and equipment.

When in need, those who can afford it, including government ministers, fly overseas to seek treatment.

Others check into private, but relatively expensive clinics in Harare.

Many others make the trip to Mount Darwin, a small village in the parched countrysid­e about 200km north of the capital and home to the Karanda Mission Hospital.

“I lost all hope of having my aunt treated in Harare after we were asked to bring water for her to drink and bath, as well as to flush the toilet,” says an SUV-driving man, who gave his name as Gunira.

After a three-hour drive, nurses assist the aunt to move from the vehicle to a stretcher and take her inside the building.

Funded by the Evangelica­l Church of Zimbabwe and run by

three North American doctors, the hospital originally set up to cater to rural people has built a reputation as one of the best in the country.

The 150-bed clinic treats up to 100 000 people a year and is almost always full, says medical director Paul Thistle, a Canadian physician who is married to a Zimbabwean woman.

Charging affordable rates – a consultati­on costs about $15 (about R280) compared with the average $50 asked by private hospitals in Harare – it draws patients from well beyond its catchment area. Some come from as far as neighbouri­ng Zambia.

“We never turn any patient away,” says Thistle.

“Karanda has stood out not because we have the most modern medication, the highest technology in diagnostic and equipment but because we have the intangible­s,” he adds.

This means a caring staff, something that elsewhere is also in short supply, say some patients.

Zimbabwean doctors and nurses have moved abroad en masse in recent years, due to poor working conditions and pay amid runaway inflation.

To stem the outflow, authoritie­s have made it more difficult to obtain the necessary paperwork to prove their qualificat­ions – further frustratin­g medical staff.

And strikes are common.

“The sector has suffered from years of gross underfundi­ng and investment­s,” says Itai Rusike, who heads the Community Working Group on Health, an umbrella advocacy group.

“The depleted health personnel are also highly demotivate­d, owing to dwindling real incomes, poor working conditions and under-equipped health institutio­ns.”

The health ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

Ahead of elections in August last year, President Emmerson Mnangagwa opened a new “state-of-the-art” clinic in a battlegrou­nd district of Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, Bulawayo.

But critics say that for years, flashy ribbon-cutting exercises have not been followed by systemic reforms to salvage the health sector.

Many hospitals lack equipment for magnetic resonance, radiograph­y, cancer treatment and other procedures.

Collapsing infrastruc­ture sees them often go without electricit­y and water.

Even basic medication­s sometimes run low.

Tuberculos­is patient Regis Matinenga, 50, travelled 343km to be treated in Karanda.

Having been sick for more than one year, none of the hospitals he tried “offered him better service”, he adds as he shivers and coughs on his hospital bed.

Given its remoteness, relatives of the sick often camp outside, sometimes for days.

Entreprene­urial locals have carved out small rooms at the back of their shops and rent them out for up to $15 a night.

The hospital prides itself as having recorded no maternal deaths last year.

This comes against a high national mortality ratio of 363 per 100 000 live births. It is also looking to expand business.

It was the management’s “desire to have a hostel for relatives so they can also get decent accommodat­ion,” says Thistle. –

I lost hope of having my aunt treated in Harare

 ?? Picture: AFP ?? SEEKING HELP. A nurse chats to a relative of a male patient admitted to the men’s ward at Karanda Mission Hospital in Mount Darwin. Many people make the trip to the rural clinic for treatment.
Picture: AFP SEEKING HELP. A nurse chats to a relative of a male patient admitted to the men’s ward at Karanda Mission Hospital in Mount Darwin. Many people make the trip to the rural clinic for treatment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa