I had the opportunity today to travel to four health centers in the Manicaland Province of Zimbabwe and support the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area and the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church to conduct small distributions of long-lasting insecticide treated nets to young children and pregnant women.
At each location we were met with an incredible need and desire for these nets – something that previously existed to me in facts and figures. But today, surrounded by hundreds of women and their children, orphans as well as doctors and nurses, the need was very, very real. At each site I asked those gathered to raise their hands if they had ever become sick from malaria. Nearly all hands would be raised. I began to ask the mothers how many of their children had become sick from malaria. And again, every hand was raised.
Even the hospitals and clinics themselves are in need. Mutambara Hospital has 120 beds, 3 doctors and 25 nurses. This district hospital saw 3,805 malaria cases in 2006 (malaria was the number one disease the hospital treated), yet does not have any insecticide-treated nets over its beds. I spoke with Dr. Emmanuel Mefor about the need in the community as well as in the hospital. It’s simply a matter of resources, he said. Provided the means, everyone would use the nets, for according to Dr. Mefor, malaria is no longer seasonal in this area and resistance to the drug Quinine has made it harder and harder to treat cases before they become acute.
Chitora Clinic, on the other hand, has 8 beds, one doctor, two nurses and a target population of 11,000. While giving me a tour of the clinic, the Head Nurse, Ms. Bhlakama showed me charts in one room which indicated the incidence of different diseases per month. In 2006, the clinic treated well over 2,000 malaria cases. And although Chitora Clinic received 8 insecticide treated nets from the District Health Officer last November, Ms. Bhlakama has only been able to cover two of the clinic’s beds as they do not have the hooks they need to hang the nets from the relatively high ceiling. In a country such as Zimbabwe, even the seemingly smallest things can prove to be an obstacle.
In spite of all this “need” there was clearly hope. The women at Chitora Clinic burst into song as they gathered together to greet us and to receive the lifesaving nets. The mothers at Chikowa Clinic began to sing and dance upon receiving nets for their children, holding the nets above their heads and singing “songs of praise” according to Reverend Nyarota from the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area of UMC. Their beautiful harmonious voices were met by the clapping of their hands and the occasional holler. I did not understand one word of their Shona language, but I listened and heard hope.
These moments and countless others, such as watching the young girl being carried home by her mother, waving with one hand and holding the net in her other, made the work that we are doing incredibly real. These are real people with real voices. We should all be so lucky as to hear them sing.