By Luke Tamborinyoka
THE country’s health crisis has been well documented.
In Zimbabwe at the moment, this key social services sector has virtually ground to a halt. The elite in urban areas may have experienced the tenuous health crisis in its various forms while many have read and heard about the legitimate grievances of the doctors, nurses and health staff to which our impervious government has paid no attention for the past three or so years.
But my piece this week is about ordinary Zimbabweans in the villages who are having a torrid time as they live through a palpable health calamity that manifests itself in dramatic and extraordinary ways: a very real health challenge being faced in its non-complex form, far removed from the fancy headlines and the complex mortality statistics which only the elite can comprehend.
In the village, the health crisis is real. It manifests in its palpable, simple and tangible form. It can be touched and felt. The crisis has tormented souls as basic services such as weight scales, blood pressure testing machines and even running water have all become luxuries — as I will soon illustrate through a living, village example.
A village experience
This week’s epistle is about the health crisis from a village perspective; the basic health provision challenges as lived by the ordinary, barefoot women who have to access this important service at the country’s clinics along the dusty pathways of our desolate rural communities.
This piece is about the shocking spectacle of our health crisis as seen and practically lived in a rural community, even as hopeful pregnant rural women make their numerous trips to the poorly equipped rural clinics to deliver the future leaders of our beloved country!
Forget the national scope of our health crisis; graphically illustrated at its apex by the soldier at the helm of our Health ministry; the military general who traded his gun for the syringe. The former weapon was to kill while the latter instrument is meant to save lives. I am not sure whether the man has really adapted to this contrast.
General Constantino Chiwenga is himself a chronic patient whose health challenges are a matter of public record. Yet the very same patient is running the country’s hospitals. We could be the only country in the world living the cruel irony of a Health minister who is himself a hospital case, literally. Much like the school pupil who gets appointed minister of Education! But that is a story for another day.
In the village, the health crisis manifests itself in various forms that make you twitch, that give your heart a frenetic throb and that make you think you are watching a movie.
Nyaure Clinic in my own rural hood of Domboshava graphically illustrates the sad predicament of the ordinary villager who wants to access basic health services. What strikes you as you get inside this rural infirmary is that you cannot even have your blood pressure (BP) checked because the small machine to test BP has no batteries.
This is the dire lived experience in the village. Yet in Harare, amid the glitz and grandeur of clicking cameras at a press conference with a fancy backdrop, the government through Finance minister Mthuli Ncube claimed the nation had a ZW$9.8 billion budget surplus in the first quarter of 2021!
But the same government claiming a budget surplus has no money to buy batteries to have the blood pressure of pregnant mothers checked at the rural medical outposts in the village.
One is bemused there are no batteries for the BP machine and decides to check his weight at the nearby digital scale while letting this shocking spectacle sink in. Another shocker awaits. The digital weight scale is not working. It has no batteries as well.
Diligent workers at the clinic, themselves smiling and highly affable hard workers toiling under pathetic working conditions with measly pay, courteously apologise for the parlous state of this rural infirmary.
They tell you that if possible, you may have to bring your own batteries from home, both for the BP machine and the weight scale.. One begins to imagine the prospect of two long queues at this rural clinic both at the weight scale and at the BP machine as individual patients insert their own batteries, retrieve them and allow the next patient to insert their own batteries which they will have to carry home for their next visit!
Welcome to Zimbabwe.
This drama experienced by a close relative of mine could be the same reality show unfolding at most rural clinics in our communities. Government officials are not even worried as they have a far much bigger priority to worry about: their priority appears to be the exhumation of a decomposed former president who was buried some two years ago.
In fact, I would surmise that what this regime needs to urgently exhume — from wherever it is buried — is their own conscience and common-sense.
The state of the average healthcare centre in most rural areas across the country is dispiriting. No basic consumables such as painkillers and bandages. Poor road network to access the rural heath centre, demotivated but smiling healthcare staff working under very taxing conditions.
No gloves and, in the case of Nyaure Clinic in my rural hood, no running water as the water tank was stolen. Also stolen was the solar pump at the clinic’s borehole.
We have no option but to strive to solve these immediate challenges ourselves as the residents of this community. Never mind the government. They certainly have better fish to fry. They have a decomposed body to exhume — a rotten cadaver on which they are investing their all!
Yet I am proud of my fellow villagers. In typical Zimbabwean hospitality, one lady in Dzawara village has taken it upon herself to lend her personal BP testing machine for free to others in the community in need of the service.
That is certainly what it means to be a good citizen particularly under an irresponsible, tax-collecting regime such as ours.
We have simply hit the basement under Mnangagwa. When you have ordinary villagers subsidising government healthcare, especially for a government that claims to have accumulated a budget surplus, then you know you have reached the flotsam at rock-bottom!
Church shrines: Welcome to the new hospitals
Indeed, the health crisis is manifesting itself in ponderous ways. Domboshava is the cradle of many Christian denominations, but mainly the Apostolic sects.
Now that hospitals and clinics have become institutions of a mere ritual, places where medical prescriptions are written and stamped for despondent citizens to procure on their own at the nearest pharmacy, the various church shrines have become the new health centres.
The average Zimbabwean family is surviving on less than US 35 cents a day and the church shrines have become the new affordable medical centres.
Those who fail to access medicines at the hospitals and clinics as well as the majority of the poor who have no money to procure their prescribed medication are now seeking recourse at the nearest Vapostori shrine.
Instead of the tablets and the assortment of medicines that are oftentimes not available at rural clinics across my rural hood, from Pote, to Mawanga, from Munyawiiri to Shumba ward, from Denda to Govera, the Vapostori-anointed stones and pebbles are now common items in the pockets and handbags of those seeking medical help, some from Harare and beyond.
The new medication of holy water and anointed pebbles are offered at the various shrines and some of them make audible, tinkling sounds as families with sickly members resort to the Christian faith for healing and salvation. These shrines have become the new health centres of repute.
Conventional pentecostal churches have also joined the fray. Prayer time for the sick has become a bustling experience as the various churches instantly calcify into a hospital ward, with patients suffering from all kinds of ailments coming forward for prayer so as to receive their healing dose from Holy Ghost!
The torrid experience of unaffordable and unavailable conventional health service has seen the majority of Zimbabweans taking to spiritual healthcare. It could be the same experience throughout the country as Zimbabwe aptly confirms Karl Marx’s much-vaunted dictum that religion is the opium of the people which gives them hope in hopeless situations.
At Pasipamire village in my rural neighbourhood, in the famed Gomo raGabhureni (Gabriel’s mountain) where apostolic folklore claims the angel Gabriel’s footprint was at one point visible on the molten granite, droves of people flock everyday to the mountain summit for healing from their various medical ailments. I have never tested the efficacy and utility of the famed mountain myself, despite the place being a mere six kilometres from my rural homestead.
But I know they come from all over the country to receive medical and spiritual salvation. The numbers have notably increased in light of the soaring cost of conventional health services, especially for the poor villagers who cannot even see the ends, let alone make them meet!
For the many members of apostolic sects and even non-believers who clamber up the presumed therapeutic mountain, it is clear spiritual healing has become the only choice.
The cost of medicines has gone up and, for many, only the angels from on high can provide the much-needed therapy. As ardent members of the vapostori sect sonorously sing the hymn “Chengeta mwana Enemia” while speaking in tongues and other incomprehensible glossolalia, it is clear that for the majority of them, the only trustworthy hospital is the free one presided over by the Almighty himself.
Health services have become unaffordable while hospitals and clinics do not even have basic medical consumables. The church in its various forms, but especially the apostolic faith, has stepped in to occupy the void. Some genuinely receive healing, some are duped, some are raped while others are simply fleeced of their little earnings as they are told to buy the odd grocery to facilitate their healing. Like any industry, these new health centres have also been infiltrated by rogue prophets and downright criminals who are tainting an otherwise chaste vocation.
Among these prophets that have become a new medical industry unto themselves are those who claim to cure mundane ailments normally associated with conventional health institutions: from cervical cancer to malaria, from puberty pimples to period pains, from headaches to Covid-19, from erectile dysfunction to sore throat.
These prophets, some of them false prophets, have in a big way latched onto the opportunities spawned by the burgeoning health crisis. Some are genuine while others have preyed upon innocent citizens in dire need of prudent healthcare which has simply become scarce at conventional health centres.
Instead of medical doctors and medical nursing sisters, this flourishing industry of prophets, most of them with doubtful religious credentials, are making both a killing and a name for themselves. It remains debatable whether this rising industry of healing “prophets” has come in for better or for worse!
In the meantime, as basic health services run aground and as sickly and infirm villagers take to the mountains to gaze into the sky to seek Godly intercession on their multiple medical challenges to which state institutions cannot cope even at the very basic level, the government is claiming a budget surplus in Harare. In other words, government officials are telling us they still have money to spare even as weight scales at rural health centres have run out of batteries!
Indeed, the heartless regime is shouting budget surplus when basic items such weight scales and BP machines have no batteries to serve pregnant women in our villages!
But as the health challenges mount in the country and elsewhere across the globe, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, it appears the government in Harare has a very important matter which has drawn all their attention: they want to exhume a decomposed former president either for rituals or for witchcraft. God save Zimbabwe.
The road that is not
The road that passes near the ill-equipped Nyaure Clinic is a state road, the same road that Mnangagwa pledged to tar at a rally in Domboshava in April 2018. The dusty road, now with jutting boulders on the steep ascent near Dzawara village, is now much worse off than it was when Mnangagwa’s lie was manufactured in broad daylight.
The road, nay the pathway, is now riddled with rocky outcrops right at the centre, huge boulders that would make you think you are at the Matopos and not on a road that serves human and vehicular traffic to the only clinic in this rural ward of 22 villages!
It appears this important road is urgently appealing for cure and healing too. Only there is no doctor to provide the requisite therapy as the “doctor” who promised to heal it has an honourary doctorate from Zambia. It could be a Doctorate in Lies and Fibs , given the yarns he has spun to all who have the guts and courage to listen to his usually dreary parody.
As the country’s health services sector painfully grinds to a virtual standstill, spare a thought for the villager for whom the only affordable syrup and tablets are the holy water and the anointed pebbles that are doled out by all shades of prophets — real and false — that now litter our countryside.
These prophets, domiciled either at their respective homes or at the litany of shrines across the country, have become the new health consultants as conventional health services have virtually collapsed. Welcome to Zimbabwe.
*About the writer: Luke Tamborinyoka is deputy secretary for presidential affairs in the MDC Alliance.
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