Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Zimbabweans in Switzerland Respond to the Emergency Health Crisis

By Marlon Zakeyo

A group of ordinary Zimbabweans and Friends of Zimbabwe living in Switzerland gathered in Geneva towards the end of 2008 to discuss how they can address the plight of fellow Zimbabweans, hard-pressed by the collapse of the public health system and the rampant cholera outbreak. The emergency meeting jointly convened by the Europe Chapter of the Zimbabwe Health Access Trust (ZiHAT) and the Zimbabwe Advocacy Office was a direct response to a sobering report from the Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights concerning the dangers facing pregnant women in Zimbabwe as well as the rising cholera-related death toll. According to the ZADHR report the closure of the two remaining public maternity hospitals left the lives of thousands of expecting mothers in grave danger since most were not able to afford the exorbitant fees charged by private clinics. Some press reports are already citing cases of women delivering in open spaces or at home without proper medical care and otherwise healthy mothers or babies dying because of lack of the most basic obstetric care.

Dr Francis Ndowa, a Zimbabwean medical expert, informed the meeting of reports of church-run rural hospitals being virtually the only remaining option for ordinary people seeking to access health care since the mainstream public health system which was once the envy of Africa has collapsed. However it is also reported that many of these rural mission hospitals are becoming overwhelmed by patients flooding in from urban areas and are now turning away growing nunbers of such patients. The majority of nurses, doctors and other health workers cannot afford to raise enough money to get to work and even if they do most public health facilities do not have the basic drugs or medical supplies. Several participants spoke of the agony of being far away from home and seeing fellow Zimbabweans either suffering or dying from diseases or conditions that should not normally pose a danger to life. Others expressed the inadequacy of helping only their immediate families in Zimbabwe and the urgent need to address the broader failures of the collapse of the public essential services delivery system.

After impassioned discussions and testimonies from family and friends in Zimbabwe and partners working in the health sector on the ground, the meeting decided to mobilise additional funds and medical supplies to those already gathered by ZiHAT and channel them to public maternity care clinics that serve expecting mothers in high density townships and particular church-related rural clinics. Participants also agreed that all resources will be channeled through independent humanitarian agencies on the ground and be used for the direct benefit of women seeking care and treatment. ZiHAT and ZAO have now began engaging relevant Zimbabwean church agencies pursuant to these calls.

A follow up meeting will now be held in Geneva on January 24, 2009 to mobilise more Zimbabweans and friends of Zimbabwe throughout Switzerland into action and ensure that many more Zimbabweans abroad play their part in alleviating the suffering at home.

Those who would like to contribute to this initiative can do so through the account below.

Account Name: E- ZIHAT (European Chapter of Zimbabwe Health Access Trust)
Account No 0279-295834.40E (Please note full stop between 4 and 4)
IBAN: CH900027927929583440E
Bank name and Branch
Avenue Appia 20
1020 Geneva
Tel: +41 (0) 848 848 051

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