In Zimbabwe, state
hospitals in Harare and the town
of Chitungwiza have been closed
since October from a walkout by health workers. Today, many of those seeking
medical care are going to rural mission hospitals that still offer basic
health care. But the influx of city-dwellers has pushed some mission clinics to
the brink of collapse.
In times past when the
Zimbabwean health sector was one of the best in Africa, patients from rural
areas were referred to hospitals in Harare for advanced treatment. But now the
flow of the sick is in the opposite direction as those who cannot afford
private medical care in the city turn to mission hospitals as a survival
Mission hospitals are
supported by international donors through churches abroad, and in general are
better managed than state institutions.
Nurses at Howard Mission Hospital say overcrowding in their wards reminds them
of the post-election period last year when they had to accommodate many victims
of political violence.
Howard hospital is located about 60 kilometers from Harare, in Chiweshe, Mashonaland
Central Province - still a stronghold of the ruling party, ZANU-PF. The area
recorded the highest number of politically motivated deaths in the terror
campaign allegedly waged by the ruling party. But now the patients flocking to
the doors of the mission hospital are smartly dressed Harare residents unable to get medical care in state
hospitals which remain largely shuttered.
One nurse speaking on condition of anonymity
said that although the 35-bed church hospital is overflowing, no patients are
turned away as the clinic, operated by the salvation
army, is run on Christian principles and would never
abandon anyone in their time of greatest need.
She said the overcrowding of wards showed
that the hospital is faithful to those principles. A women's ward with 12 beds
had about two dozen patients sleeping on the floor on foam mattresses. Hospital staff said the men's ward had at least 25 patients; its capacity is
usually 15. The eight-bed children's ward was occupied by
16 people, including mothers.
The nurse said most of those seeking
treatment are often very ill and have to be admitted. Accompanying relatives
often have to sleep on the hospital grounds for lack of any other accommodation
because they cannot afford round-trip transport to Harare.
Elizabeth Murwira of Glen View said
she came to Howard with her
two-year-old daughter after being turned away from Harare and Parirenyatwa
hospitals. She was referred to the mission by a hospital guard who felt sorry
for her. When she arrived, her daughter could barely breathe.
Dr. Douglas Gwatidzo, chairman of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights,
said the exodus to mission hospitals shows that the state health care system is
badly broken. Other mission hospitals drawing
urban patients include Karanda in Mashonaland central province and All Souls and Nyadire Mission Hospital in Mutoko, Mashonaland East.