Villagers Mobilize to Construct Clinics to Address Healthcare Access Challenges
Mazunga clinic project is almost complete with only electricity connection remaining, bringing to an end long travels to nearby health facilities. Image by Lynnia Ngwenya
Residents of rural communities in Gwanda and Beitbridge have taken matters into their own hands by mobilizing resources and constructing clinics to address the lack of primary healthcare access in their areas.
GWANDA (The Citizen Bulletin) — A villager from one of Gwanda's rural areas, Simanga Ndlovu, is disappointed with the central government for failing to ensure that all rural clinics have fully equipped and accessible maternity services.
“Women are required to buy their own equipment for delivery, it's so disheartening, especially at a provincial hospital,” Ndlovu says.
“We don't have clinics at village levels, when we come to the Provincial Hospital we are forced to buy almost everything.”
In many parts of Matabeleland, accessing healthcare presents a significant challenge due to the scarcity of medical facilities. While a few clinics are scattered throughout the region, villagers have to travel long distances to reach them, often causing inconvenience and delays in treatment.
Sithule Ncube,* a villager from Mbila, Bulilima, narrates the pain she had to endure during her six-hour journey to Bezu clinic while pregnant with her first child.
“My parents are less privileged; we have no money, no cart but at the same time I had to travel to the clinic for checkups,” Ncube says.
“I couldn't walk fast, so I would walk for hours. Sometimes I would skip clinic visits due to tiredness and be rebuked by the nurses.”
Ncube is not alone.
Some pregnant women end up delivering their babies at home due to the arduous distance they must travel to attend routine check-ups at a clinic.
Several clinics in Bulilima lack adequate maternity services and suffer from poor sanitation, thereby exposing pregnant women to additional health risks.
Cathy Siziba, a local traditional midwife, says she used to assist pregnant women like Ncube with home based care deliveries until the Health ministry banned her from providing such as service.
“We only assist where we see that the expecting mother may end up dying,” says Siziba.
Siziba recalls an incident where she refused to help a local woman deliver her baby, resulting in her suffering a miscarriage on her way to Plumtree hospital.
“That incident really hurt me,” she says. “I wish I had assisted.”
According to the Zimstats 2022 report on mortality rates, the Maternal Mortality Ratio is higher in rural areas than in urban areas.
“Lifetime Risk (LTR) of Maternal Mortality was higher by almost double in rural (18.6) than urban (9.8),” the report reads.
In various communities throughout Matabeleland, the central government's consistent failure to address societal challenges has prompted a new wave of civic responsibility. Local communities have taken it upon themselves to tackle these issues independently.
To address the ongoing challenge of limited healthcare access, the community of Matshetsheni, located under the Gwanda Rural District Council (RDC), has banded together to construct their own clinic in Nkashe, which is situated in ward 1.
Currently, they depend on a clinic located in Silikwe, which is approximately 20 kilometers away.
Matshetsheni villagers are each contributing US$1 per month per household to raise funds for the purchase of building materials.
Once the construction is complete, their lack of access to primary healthcare services will be alleviated.
“Silikwe is very away far for us,” says Manyoni, a villager, as she revealed how some pregnant women have to barter trade their belongings to raise fees needed to hire carts to ferry them to Silikiwe.
“Sometimes we have situations where pregnant women trade farm products to hire carts.”
Some villagers from Matshetsheni and part of Matshiya walk over 20 km to Nyamimi Clinic in Insiza District.
Ward 1 Councilor, Stanford Nkala says having a nearby clinic is the answer.
“The construction of a clinic in Nkashe will relieve four villages of long distances for health access. When the project started, there were few villagers willing to contribute.”
In Beitbridge, villagers have also come up with innovative solutions to address the challenges caused by the shortage of health centers.
In Mazunga, villagers transformed a farmhouse into a clinic, and no longer have to travel long distances to access healthcare services at Mtetengwe Clinic, Madzini Clinic, or Beitbridge District Hospital while carrying their children on their backs.
Ruth Ndou, a local villager, says the completion of Mazunga clinic is a dream come true.
“We started contributions for the clinic in 2005. We are very happy that today it is complete. We will no longer need to walk kilometers to Mtetengwe with children on our backs,” Ndou says.
Pregnant women can now safely deliver their babies at Mazunga clinic. Image by Lynnia Ngwenya
Oratiloe Muleya adds: “The situation was most painful during the COVID-19 pandemic where travelers needed clearance from the health centers or police. In our case, there was no nearby health facility.”
During COVID-19 lockdowns, citizens were directed to stay at home unless for health emergencies or work for those in sectors deemed critical.
The Citizen Bulletin has established that resettled farmers in Mazunga, Makhado, and Zhovhe travel approximately 30 kilometers to reach Mtetengwe Clinic and around 60 kilometers to Beitbridge Hospital in order to access healthcare services.
According to the project chairperson, Alfred Makhomu, the construction of the Mazunga clinic is now complete, and as a result, villagers will no longer have to worry about access to healthcare services.
“What is remaining now is the connection of electricity only, otherwise it is done. It was a vision that villagers put into action and cooperated to the end. From financial and material to labor contributions, we say congratulations.”
Alfred Makhomu, project chairperson
Despite some progress, the construction of Mazunga and Nkashe clinics is being significantly hindered by a lack of funding, which is slowing down the pace of the work.
Due to the unavailability of funds, the construction of the Mazunga clinic took a staggering eighteen years to complete. This situation was exacerbated by the hyperinflationary economic conditions that the country has experienced in recent years.
“Our aim was to complete the project in the past years, but due to financial instabilities, the construction could not flow smoothly,” says Mukhomu.
According to Thobekile Ncube, one of the project coordinators, the villagers in Matshetsheni have only been able to gather five bags of cement and three shovels.
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“We have set subscription fees of $1 for every woman in the ward, from March 2023 going forward. However, not all members contribute timeously, resulting in cash flow constraints,” says Ncube.
However, there is a silver lining, as some villagers recently procured building materials, which has inspired others to also contribute to the project.
“At inception, the number of community members willing to support the idea was a handful, but it then grew as the project progressed, an indication of appreciation,” Nkala says.
Both communities have learned that collaborative efforts lead to increased productivity.
“Considering the number of villages in the ward, if every woman contributes the $1 subscription, we are likely to commence work soon,” says Ncube.
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SOJO2023, SOJO , Public health, Beitbridge, Matabeleland, Gwanda, COVID-19
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