By Calvin Manika
The construction of 5 Miles Hospital in Hwange, five kilometres away from the mining town’s Central Business District (CBD), was meant to ensure easy access to primary health care for residents in urban and rural settlements.
But years later, the hospital located in Hwange Rural District Council’s Ward 12, is now a white elephant with construction having stopped.
With few hospitals in the district, the majority of residents are forced to walk long distances or travel to neighbouring Zambia to access treatment.
Pamela Sibanda, a resident in Hwange who recently went to Zambia to buy drugs, said it is cheaper to travel to Zambia than Bulawayo.
“I chose Zambia because it is near compared to Bulawayo. I managed to buy tablets to last a whole month with the money I had. Otherwise, with the same amount, I could have purchased tablets to last only a week if I had gone to our local pharmacies” said Sibanda.
The distance between Hwange and Zambia’s Livingstone is 100 kilometres, and 295 kilometres from Hwange to Bulawayo.
According to Ward 12 Councilor Jowani Chuma, the nearest health facility from where he stays, St Mary’s Clinic, is 12 kilometres away.
“5 Miles seems to be failing to come to fruition,” Chuma said.
Mbonisi Ncube, a villager, said they were tired of false promises by government officials and other politicians over the incomplete hospital project.
“It is not certain if it will see the light of day. We usually see government officials visiting the facility but no meaningful progress has been made,” said Ncube.
Former Deputy Prime Minister during the government of national unity, Thokozani Khupe officiated at the groundbreaking ceremony of the hospital.
Greater Whange Residents Trust Coordinator Fidelis Chima said initial plans were to turn 5 Miles Hospital into a district hospital.
“To this date, there is nothing and it is unlikely to be operational anytime soon and it is a cause of concern because Hwange does not have a district hospital. People rely on Hwange Colliery Company Hospital. But it’s a private facility and very expensive,” said Chima.
An investigation by CITE revealed that the government condemned 5 Miles Hospital in 2018 before it was fully completed over substandard work.
Government through the Department of Public Works and other sub-contracted companies were in charge of construction.
Sources said many stakeholders keen to see the hospital complete donated funds to the Ministry of Health and Child Care towards the project.
Frank Mwawaya, a Human Rights Advocate, commented saying the project was being used as campaign fodder by politicians during elections.
“The hospital is used for political mileage as the authorities want to keep the hope in people that one day it will open. Yet, the whole structure needs to be worked on otherwise currently it is a risk structure for human use. Cracks are all over. It is the duty of the authorities to tell the people the truth and stop pretending all is well,” Mwawaya said.
Emmanuel Banda, a resident, said: “It’s better for them to turn it into a pigpen than to fool us milling around a condemned project.”
Greater Whange Residents Association said it was only during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 that the facility was partially opened to serve as an isolation centre.
“It was more like an isolation centre. There is no hope for residents anymore,” said Chima.
Hwange Central Member of Parliament (MP) Daniel Molokela expressed regret that the hospital has become a white elephant.
“It is definitely already a white elephant. From what I’m told, it was condemned due to structural issues,” Molokela said.
“So, I think as a way forward, the Minister of Health should consult with the local community stakeholders. As the office of the MP, we challenge the ministry to call for a meeting to discuss the way forward”.
Hwange District Medical Officer (DMO) Dr Fungai Musinami partially admitted that the hospital structure was condemned.
“…kind of Yes. But, we have an opportunistic infections (OI) antiretroviral therapy (ART) satellite there. It is not in the 5 Miles building itself, it’s those temporary structures that we have put there to run the OI clinic. We renovated one side of the hospital to use as an isolation centre at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Musinami.
OI clinic is a specialised clinic meant to offer health services to people living with HIV.
“Definitely, we have plans to construct a District Hospital to cater for the medical needs of Hwange people,” added Musinami.
Asked on what action was taken by the Ministry of Health and Child Care to contractors for shoddy work, Musinami said the question was beyond her office.
“The question is beyond my level of office, maybe I will refer you to the provincial medical officer.”
Victoria Falls, Hwange Colliery and St Patricks’ Hospital are the three major health facilities in the district.
With 2023 harmonised elections approaching, Mwawaya expressed fears that politicians may seek to win votes riding on the incomplete hospital project.
“This will continue until we educate our people that the structure was condemned and we must not expect anything from the project. Ultimately, we continue suffering as a district in terms of provision for health services,” said Mwawaya.