Political Stability Eases Health Woes

NOVEMBER 2008 still remains a dark month for the Dziruni family in Glen Norah B.

It is now a year since they lost two daughters on the same day to a preventable and treatable water-borne disease –– cholera.

They still cannot come to terms with how cholera that is viewed by many as a minor disease took two family members in just a few hours of each other.

The family was engulfed in anguish mourning over the death of their two daughters Maria (24) and Bridget Dziruni (21).

Mike Dziruni, the deceased’s uncle, suspects the dirty water from their taps caused their sickness.

Glen Norah B, a heavily-populated low-income suburb about 15 km west of the capital Harare, last year had raw sewage flowing in the streets with heaps of uncollected rubbish posing a great health risk during the rainy season.

Maria was the first to fall sick and was taken to Budiriro Polyclinic near the suburb, Bridget a few hours later complained of stomach pains and was vomiting.

Unfortunately neither of them could fight on and succumbed to the disease the following day despite the efforts of the clinic staff.

Apart from the pain of losing their daughters the family –– for a while –– faced ostracism from the community as they were labelled “the cholera family”, as people feared that they would spread it.

This time last year 10 000 people had been affected by the cholera outbreak and by February this year almost 5 000 people had died nationwide.

Out of the 62 districts in the country 55 were affected with almost 100 000 cases being reported. To make matters worse doctors and nurses were on strike and there was a serious shortage of drugs. This prompted some patients to flee to the border town of Musina in South Africa to get medical assistance.

But this year things seem to have changed: the United Nations (UN) says this is because of the inclusive government that has led to greater co-operation between the international humanitarian community and the government of Zimbabwe. This has led to an improvement in the country’s socio-economic situation, in addition to improved humanitarian access to vulnerable populations.

Cholera for instance, the UN says, this year has only affected 145 people since September. Improvements have also been noted in hospitals nationwide; Shamva district hospital in Mashonaland Central and Zhombe district hospital in the Midlands are good examples.

UN assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator Catherine Bragg was quite pleased with what she said was an improvement in the humanitarian crisis as compared to last year though the situation was still very “fragile”.

Bragg said: “The past few months have seen a significant improvement in the humanitarian crisis. Challenges are still plenty; there is still a humanitarian situation in the country. Despite improvements 1,9 million people still need food aid at the peak of the 2010 hunger season (January-March).

“Cholera re-emerged in October and Zimbabwe’s HIV/Aids prevalence rate is one of the highest in the world despite a recent drop to 13,7%. Some 1,2 million live with the virus and 343 600 adults and 35 200 children under the age of 15 urgently need antiretroviral treatment. There are six million people without access to clean water and sanitation while 33% of children under five years are chronically malnourished.”

With the listed humanitarian problems faced by the country, the highest requirement in the Zimbabwe Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) 2010 launched this week, is for agriculture which required US$100 million to assist about 650 000 communal farmers.

The attention on the agriculture sector was CAP 2010’s aim to align itself with the government’s Short-Term Economic Recovery Programme (STERP) and include early recovery and humanitarian plus interventions.

The health sector requested US$63 million while the food requirement was US$58 million; and water and sanitation required US$46 million.

The total funding requested by 76 appealing agencies including UN agencies, inter-governmental organisations, international and local non-governmental organisations was close to US$380 million.

However, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights chairman Douglas Gwatidzo said it was a big mistake to give top priority to agriculture ahead of health as the latter still needed the greatest attention. Gwatidzo said: “The health sector as we speak right now is in the doldrums. It is one of those institutions that has not realised any meaningful assistance. There is a lot that is in dire need of attention, from infrastructure to equipment, drugs and even hospital staff.

“The country at the moment is not in a position to attract even a single specialist from outside the country. So who is going to run those hospitals to keep them functioning. People are making a big mistake sidelining this system.”

At $358 million, the Health ministry was allocated the highest amount of money in the 2010 budget.
Gwatidzo said for a nation to generate income there has to be a good investment in the health of the people.

“People are becoming obsessed with income generation of which for a good income there has to be a good investment in the human resource especially in the health of a person. For those fields to be ploughed and to produce a bumper harvest healthy people are needed.

“There are so many diseases affecting agricultural workers. The nation is full of sick people. How will we be able to make them work? We need healthy people to generate that income,” he said.

A political analyst who preferred anonymity was of the opinion that there was need for a positive improvement in the political framework to get more assistance from donor countries and for a successful shift from being dependent to being independent.

He said: “As long as the political framework is such that it does not inspire confidence then there is very little support coming through.”

Nango director Cephas Zihumwe at the launch bemoaned the inconsistencies that characterised some of the donor partners whom he accused of at times delaying the assistance.

“It is not good to continue begging; we want to do our own thing as a country and this requires full participation of the government and the NGOs,” he said.

Mark Harper, representing international NGOs, said he was displeased by the decreased amount of funding from last year’s appeal but raised an issue that programmes to fight gender-based violence were under-funded in the country.

Harper said: “We are moving forward as a country. The increased level of funding for development facilities is to enable Zimbabwe to stand on its own feet.”

According to UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs the 2009 CAP for Zimbabwe was for $719 million but it only received 64% of the requested funding, and the 2010 appeal remains aligned to government’s strategic plans for economic recovery.

Life has moved on for the Dziruni family though Mary and Bridget remain in their memories. Nobody wants to see a repetition of what happened last year.

 

Wongai Zhangazha

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