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Editor’s Memo

Vital statistics
Vincent Kahiya

THE World Health Organisation’s revelation last week that Zimbabwe’s life expectancy for women had dropped to 34 was immediately seized on by government which dismissed the statistics but did not give the nati

on the correct figures on the  lifespan of an ordinary Zimbabwean. What a shame!

The statistics from the WHO are emblematic, especially coming on the eve of the country’s 26th Independence anniversary.

No matter how much our government tries to deny the fact that Zimbabweans are now living shorter lives largely due to poverty, stress and disease, the evidence abounds in the high mortality rate from HIV and Aids and other communicable diseases due to a failing health delivery system.

Health minister David Parirenyatwa could have done government a great service by telling us what the life expectancy is at the moment.

He did not and I will therefore rely on figures produced from international research to prove that human development in Zimbabwe has degenerated significantly during the tenure of President Mugabe’s government.

The United Nations Development Programme in its 2004 Human Development report said life expectancy at birth for Zimbabweans was 33,9 years, representing an index of 0,15. The country with the highest index was Norway with 0,99. The report said there was a 74,8%  probability of an average Zimbabwean not reaching the age of 40.

According to the report, between 1970 and 1975 life expectancy for the then Rhodesia was 56. The report also records an increase in child mortality of up to 1 100 per 100 000 live births. The number of health personnel has continued to decline with the report revealing that there are six physicians per 100 000 Zimbabweans. The figure could be lower now with the continued emigration of doctors.

I am sure the Health minister is familiar with the chaos at the casualty sections of Parirenyatwa and Harare Hospitals where junior doctors manning these crucial points are evidently overwhelmed by the throng of sick patients. I have seen patients dying on stretchers before being attended to and others, barely breathing, being bundled into cars by relatives because there is nothing the hospital can do to assist.

There are the more familiar statistics of HIV and Aids infection at 24%, unemployment is above 75% and inflation at 913,6%. All these factors subtract large portions of our lives.

It is undeniable that Zimbabweans are getting poorer by the day. Independence Day on Tuesday should be a time for the national leadership to reflect on the country’s human development instead of the banal rhetoric on sacrifices, dedication and commitment of three decades ago.

We will always be reminded of the “great strides” made in the first 10 years of Independence in health, education and infrastructural development.

This is all there is now as hospitals built after Independence do not have nurses, doctors or drugs; schools do no have furniture and books while roads and other key infrastructure are in a state of decay.

But our government, entombed in crocodilian political dogma, has chosen to sing about past glory and in the process demonstrating a stunning paucity of ideas to bring the glory days back when teachers could afford to buy cars and houses. A teacher’s salary today cannot buy a full tank of fuel.

Parirenyatwa’s denial that life expectancy has plummeted is consistent with government’s handling of the current woes. The strategy is to convince the world, including impoverished rural and urban dwellers, that there is no crisis in Zimbabwe. “What crisis?” government apologists have asked tongue in cheek.

Then there is another futile exercise to portray Zimbabweans as a happy lot because the land reform programme resolved all our problems. President Mugabe on Independence Day last year reminded us of how happy we are as a nation.

“We have resolved the long outstanding land question and the land has now come to its rightful owners, and with it, our sovereignty as well,” he said. “Our people are happy and contented and that is all that matters.”

No, what matters at the moment is survival. Can I challenge our dear leader to go shopping on a teacher’s salary after the poor tutor has paid his rent and put aside cash for bus fare. Happy shopping for our Independence anniversary.

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