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Johannesburg Church Opens Clinic for Zimbabwean Refugees


A Johannesburg church says it's been forced to establish a makeshift clinic, in order to treat a growing number of Zimbabweans who've migrated abroad in search of both jobs and medical attention. Most of the patients say the assistance they've received at the facility, set up by the Central Methodist Church, is better than that offered by short-staffed hospitals at home. Voice of America’s Zimbabwe Service Reporter Benedict Nhlapho tells us that Zimbabwe's economic meltdown has forced many locals to seek both work and expertise abroad, whether health related or otherwise.

Some Zimbabweans currently eking out an existence in eGoli - the popular Zulu name for Johannesburg, referring to the city’s mineral resources and wealth - admit they came here in droves to avoid the "hospital death beds" in their homeland. This, despite the fact that they knew their difficult journey south would result in their already fragile conditions further worsening. Many walked long distances, while others spent several cold nights in the bush in an attempt to avoid being nabbed by the South African police.

Thembi Sibanda is the coordinator of the Methodist Church's outreach program. He says, “After having discovered that there are some people who could not go to the hospital because of some legal papers, we managed to open a clinic, a primary health care at the building, where we are giving some treatment to most of the ailments and we refer for those who are serious.”

One of the patients, who identified herself only as Nomagugu, says she left Zimbabwe in critical condition. But she says she's been overwhelmed with joy, following the opportunity to regain her life here after she almost lost it while in Parirenyatwa hospital in Harare. She says the volunteers and staff working at the clinic surprise her daily: “They were following me, checking me now and again. It was wonderful. I have never seen such help." Her enthusiasm is echoed by Nyarai Chigumira who says the makeshift clinic is better than referral hospitals in Zimbabwe.

But the mini-clinic faces challenges. The church has only a single room to accommodate patients, including those with T-B and meningitis. There have been fatalities. Coordinator Sibanda acknowledges that while some are being helped, there's the continuous risk of recovering patients being infected by others, “…there are some people who have died and having discovered that meningitis and TB were the cause of the deaths, we managed to get some nurses -- people from the ministry of health -- to come and give some medication to most of the people who are living in the building to avoid cross contamination of the disease."

Most patients are unable to return to Zimbabwe. But a few, who've recuperated sufficiently, say they're tempted to extend their illegal stay… in order to find employment. They say they'd rather risk being deported than returning home to shortages, sky-high inflation, and no work. In the words of one patient, “I can't go back to Zimbabwe. I don't want to die. I'll stay here until I get well, then I'll go back to Zimbabwe.”

Although the clinic is by no means luxurious, it has received a lot of support from clerics and nearby doctors who offer their time and services free of charge.

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