Stanely Mushava Features Correspondent
Health-themed singing and high octane dancing suggest a resilient community, raring to cross over from the shadow of disaster to the sunny side of life. Chants about child nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene erupt from the stage, drawing familiar responses from the crowd during a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) tour of the area. This is Chingwizi two years on the alert against disease and desperately anticipating helping hands to survive poverty worsened by new stress factors like drought.
Health care infrastructure is an immediate concern but a make-do facility with tents for the maternity ward and the out patients department (OPD) serves the 2 400 households, now home in Mwenezi’s Nuanetsi Range following the destruction of their homes by floods in 2014.
New structures for a bigger clinic are nearing completion a stone’s throw from the current facility, with tanks to salvage the water situation, as boreholes are already running dry in the area.
One critical reinforcement for the Ecocash container which has been converted into a drug house at the new site will be micro-nutrient powder for fighting stunting, a condition of malnutrition in babies.
Meanwhile, health clubs are all the rage in the area and issues such as child nutrition, with drought already stalking villagers, sanitation and contraception are naturally top of the agenda.
“Cholera, you swaggered like a beast. Cholera, where is your swagger now? Diarrhoea, you distressed people. Diarrhoea, have you lost your sting now?” The singing goes call and answer fashion, led by a community health worker.
At least five cholera cases where reported in April 2015 but the community can now taunt diseases which once ravaged them this way because groups like Hurudziro Health Club are mobilising awareness for good health practices on a sustained basis.
More importantly, the clubs are coordinating villagers to work on sanitation projects meant to purge every last trace of vulnerability. A mood of life is in the air. Now and again the writer accosts a villager with a quarter-moon smile suggesting resilience and hope for better days.
For the agro-fed community, though, trying to pick up from loss and till the new land for survival, this season heavens have been steel and the earth iron underneath. Of the 36 boreholes sunk by UNICEF and other development partners in the area, four have run dry, one of them unfortunately at the clinic and another near a “mushandirapamwe” (joint enterprise) garden Hurudziro members are using for their nutrition projects.
Club members, spaced by performance breaks, brief delegates on how the community is bent down to fight disease, during the Unicef tour. Comprised of 20 women and five men, a ratio which roughly speaks to lukewarm male participation in donor-driven community projects, the club meets twice a month but members are constantly in touch with the health situation on the ground.
Hurudziro Health Club chairperson Jane Makambira shares an encouraging update on the decline of water-borne disease in the area. At least five cholera cases were recorded at the transitional camp last year while diarrhoea has been an enduring source of distress.
“When we first came here, cases of diarrhoea and dysentery were prevalent,” says Makambira. Cholera cases recorded in April 201 capitalised due to water and sanitation problems at the transitional camp before households were moved to their current station in Nuanetsi Range.
The club collaborates on health-inspired projects for members’ households. So far they have dug 50 pits, 60 tippy-taps, and five toilets. “People were suffer a lot from water-borne diseases when we came here. These days we rarely have any reports of diarrhoea. The message is getting to the people and we are doing our best to build toilets and dig pits,” Makambira says.
As the chairperson of the health club, Makambira is her village’s point for cases of disease. If cases of disease are reported in the village, she gives pills to the patients but if the problem is beyond her scope, patients are given referral slips to be attended at the nearby Chingwizi Clinic.
“Take someone coughing, these are cases we can deal with here in the village but if the coughing continues, say for three weeks, we know that it is something else and refer the patient to the nurses,” she says. A sister at Chingwizi Clinic reveals to Herald Review that unavailability of food jeopardised their health care work for the community.
“Our ability to attend to patients is weakened by lack of food for those who must be waited on for longer hours. “We also have a lot of children under the age of five in the area and who need to come here regularly and we also provide anti-retroviral therapy (ART) but there is no food to support these services. The only assistance we have received so far is grain,” she says.
She also said unavailability of food in Chingwizi meant that there clinic had to be more involved in fighting malnutrition, for example, through micro-nutrient powders, but said there was need to improve nutrition at community level.
Villagers themselves are doing their best with gardens to enable a “four-star” diet but rains have not been on their side and drying of water sources means they have to travel further to sources water for their gardens.
The Japanese government donated $10 050 000 to Zimbabwe, part of which has gone into post-disaster reconstruction work in Chingwizi, including education, food and health care assistance.
Japanese ambassador to Zimbabwe Yashi “Tendai” Hirisi, known to development workers by his adopted Shoko Mukanya totem, hazards a few Shona sentences before a few Soko daughter in-laws drown his words with the praise-poem for “his totem.”
“This is our own contribution to alleviate the plight affected people, especially women and children. Such a cause is with the collaboration of stakeholders,” Hirisi says. “The Zimbabwe government has declared a state of emergency in the face of adverse weather patterns. There is work to be done on the local and global level to help the vulnerable,” he says.
UNICEF representative Jane Muita says her there have been improvements but her organisation remains committed to working with other stakeholders to improve nutrition, child protection, education and health care in the area.
Cases of sexual abuse and child prostitution have also been a source of distress, being an impediment to a healthy and psychologically sound future for the children. Child care work with the Ministry of Social Welfare in Masvingo Tawanda Zimunga has both good and bad news with respect to the situation.
The bad news is that reports of child abuse have risen from 134 and 384 since the dispatching of a child protection team to the area, no light figure for such a small community. But this is also good news because the increase accounts for previously unreported cases surfacing and being turned with due to increased awareness.
“We are training volunteers from the community to spread awareness and take on cases of child abuse. Cases such as child prostitution are difficult to detect since they take place under the cover of the night but collaboration with local volunteers has helped to bring many abuses to light and we are taking action against offenders,” Zimunga says.
Having eyes and ears in the community around the clock has proven effective and there is hope that public examples of apprehension and punishment will discourage offenders.