One of the “underreported” stories in the world, according to Doctors without Borders, is the collapse of the medical system in Zimbabwe.

When I was there, between private donations, church related charities, international organizations, and the government paying our salaries, we managed to run a hospital, a clinic, and supervise another locally funded clinic. Was there good medical care? Heh. I was the only doctor in an area with over 20 000 people,  and my surgery experience was mainly limited to gynecology, but nevertheless, we did manage to save a lot of lives.

But now things are worse. HIV is widespread (partly due to the long time men spend away from home working to raise a bride price, partly due to promiscuity of the better educated who no longer have polygamy as an outlet, and partly due to native medical practices such as scarification and untrained people giving injections with unsterilized needles).

But now, the medical system is in collapse. Many of the public hospitals simply don’t pay enough: with inflation, the salary is essentially useless. So many doctors and nurses are still on strike. And many more have emigrated to other countries, including South Africa and the UK, where they can work for a higher salary.

Yet even when one can find a doctor, there is danger that without being able to pay, you won’t get seen.

KubatanaBlog has the story of a man whose wife developed stomach pain, but the public hospital had no lab, and because the banks had long lines, could not get her seen in a private clinic either.

Yet even if one is seen by a doctor, there is no guarantee that the needed medicines will be available. Things are especially desperate for those with HIV:

An April report by WHO and two other U.N. agencies said about 6 percent of children in need of treatment were getting it. The government says more than 2,200 Zimbabweans die every week of AIDS complications.

Zimbabwe’s delivery of ARVs is below average for low- and middle-income countries, according to the agencies’ report. In sub-Saharan Africa, an average 28 percent of the people in need of the drugs get them. In Zimbabwe, the percentage was about 24 percent.

Without enough money, medicine can’t be imported. Without money for seeds and fertilizer, there might not be enough food. Without decent salaries, the hardest working people will leave.

One alternative would be to allow locals to use foreign currancy. Actually, this is being done, but it is illegal. You are supposed to use official banks to exchange all foreign currancy, but since the exchange rate is so low, few wish to do so. Many locals are nevertheless supported by money sent by overseas relatives or friends. Yet much of this money is lost, either to the government (who exchanges it for a very low exchange rate or to the black market, where the exchange rate is higher but one risks arrest. When I sent money to one of my friends for her nephew’s school fees, not only did those dispensing the money take a huge percentage, but they gave it to her at the official exchange rate, which was one fifth of what she could get in the black market. Later I sent another friend some US cash via a friend traveling there; to prevent breaking the law, she took a bus to the South African border, exchanged the bills, and bought groceries. Alas, even that loophole is being made illegal. Perhaps this is why there are so many companies that offer to send groceries to one’ family in Zimbabwe.

So what should one do?

Perhaps if South Africa pressured people, things would improve. But so far that government hesitates to criticize a fellow revolutionary hero, never mind that he has gone megalomaniac in the past ten years.

Rev. Hove has started a petition ( alternate petition ) to encourage Europeans boycott the World Cup Games of 2010 when they are held in South Africa. Will this help? Sports is a religion in the region, and it might. But it says a lot about the state of political correct progressive activism that the petitions against killing whales has 40thousand signitures but those for Zimbabwe only a few hundred. LINK2
Whales are more important than black children for too many people, unless one can blame Bush for their deaths, and the dirty little secret is that thousands of Africans are alive because of Bush’s funding of health projects there.


But until then, all I can do is pray, and send my friend her blood pressure medicine monthly, since she cannot get it locally.

Every little bit helps.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket and she writes about Zimbabwe at MakaipaBlog 

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