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Binga floods alienate women, children from key health services

By Nokuthaba Dlamini

Seven months after their lives were turned upside down by raging floods, some Binga women and children are still struggling to cope with limited access to health emerging as the biggest threat to their lives.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation with non-governmental organisation that initially came to the rescue of the affected families facing difficulties in accessing them.

Flooding hit the area around the confluence of Sibwambwa, Sikande, Namapande and Manyenyengwa rivers in February, destroying 181 homesteads within the flood plain.

The Nsungwale area under Chief Sinakoma was the hardest hit. Initially the government and non-governmental organisations rushed to the victims’ rescue, but a month later Covid-19 struck in Zimbabwe and the government imposed a lock down that restricted travel across the country.

The victims, including the women and girls cut off from health institutions in one of the remotest districts in Zimbabwe, say they feel abandoned.

Their children cannot access health facilities for immunisation and treatment of various ailments.

The children have already missed out on regular check-ups, leaving their mothers concerned about the danger of them contracting killer child diseases

Expecting mothers are also worried that they have not been able to go for check-ups for five months and fear they might encounter complications during childbirth.

Lingani Nyoni, a teenage mother from Chitete ward said she feared for her child’s health because he has not been immunised and is often sick.

 “My child is six months old and I have not been able to get him immunised,” said a distraught Nyoni.

“I tried to go the clinic early this week at Chunga clinic and I was told that there was no vaccination available.

“He was also having flue and fever symptoms but the nurse on duty advised me to breastfeed him and that was the only solution available for me.

“I only managed to get him weighed and vaccinated when he was born, and he is always crying and his body temperature often shoots up.

“I am worried that this will affect him as he grows up.”

Nyoni said most women in the area were now resorting to traditional medicine to treat their children when they felt sick, but she was not sure if it was safe.

She also fears that poor nutrition would adversely affect her son’s development.

 “I am still breastfeeding him, but due to our diet poor diet this year since we didn’t harvest much as a result of the floods, I am not producing enough milk,” Nyoni said. “I am also giving him traditional herbs like other mothers around.

“I am still worried though that his temperature often shoots up and the only thing I can give him are herbs.”

Nyoni said she often got help from a traditional midwife, who provides her with herbs that cost between $10 and $50.

Her child was introduced to herbs at the age of two months when the flood cut off the Chitete community from the rest of the district.

The Chitete area has no clinics and there is no communication infrastructure. Nyoni’s story resonated with that of several women displaced by the vicious floods.

Lephas Mwinde from Nsungwale village said his wife suffered a miscarriage after she failed to access pre-natal care.

Mwinde’s wife Babothelwa Dube (24) suffered the miscarriage in April, two months after the family was displaced by the floods.

“Our plan was to sell a cow and hire a truck that could take her to the main hospital, which is about 80 kilometres from our homestead because she had suffered another miscarriage in early 2019,” Mwinde said, narrating the family’s ordeal.

“Unfortunately, that did not happen as she went into labour at 37 weeks.

‘’She was in pain and the truck that we had hired from Manjolo business centre did not arrive on time due to the poor road network.

“My wife needed a nurse aid to help her because we could see the baby’s head but she couldn’t push as she was tired and weak.

“The child ended up dying and it is very painful for us.”

Mwinde urged the government to assist the flood victims, especially pregnant women, to access health care.

“We have seen many of them die upon delivery or losing their children,” he lamented. Dube has never received any medical help since the miscarriage.

Prince Dubeko Sibanda, the MP for Binga North, said the problem went beyond Covid-19 restrictions. Sibanda the area was inaccessible after roads were destroyed by the floods.

“This not about travel restrictions due to the lockdown to control the pandemic,” the MP said.

“The roads that were destroyed by the floods have never been fixed, there are no clinics in the area and villagers have had to rely on the one near Sinansengwe, which is far away from their villages and camps where government put some of them.

“It is a clinic by structure as there isn’t any medication and with nurses and doctors’ strikes going on, the situation has been made even more complicated.”

Sibanda said many people are dying due to lack of access to health facilities, which was worsened by the floods.

“In my constituency people rely on traditional herbalists for treatment of many ailments, and even pregnant women rely on traditional midwives for delivery,” he added.

“It is a situation where some survive in the process and some die and there is little or no care no matter how we appeal for intervention.”

Fungisai Dube from the Citizen Health Watch, which monitors health delivery services throughout the country, said they feared that many expecting mothers and children will die in other remote parts of the country due to the travel restrictions and on-going strikes by health workers.

 “Health care within the hospital system is at a catastrophic point,” Dube said.

“It is collapsing, and we haven’t even hit the needs for those with urgent assistance like expecting mothers, chronic diseases and Covid-19.

“Things are falling apart every day and babies are dying and so are the mothers, and the nurses haven’t got enough to live on.

“We are concerned, and we are appealing for new ideas and sound innovations to address this crisis.”

Matabeleland North acting provincial medical director, Munekayi Padingani said the government would soon deploy health workers to attend to the flood victims.

“We are putting measures in place for those Binga flood victims and other communities to provide health services to them after realising that due to the lockdown, our patients have not been able to travel to health facilities,” Padingani said.

“Plans are in the pipeline to send doctors and nurses to every district and villages country wide on weekly basis and even myself I will be going with my team to Binga to try and solve this crisis.

“Government plans to increase the number of doctors per district together with nursing staff and we have also asked every district to draft a budget they will need to make sure that this project succeeds and the deadline was (July 31).

“We are determined to integrate and help the people.”

According to United National maternal mortality figures on Zimbabwe, estimated 3 000 women die in every year in during childbirth.

The major causes are bacterial infections, uterine rapture, renal and cardiac failure, as well as hyperemesis gravidarum (a condition characterised by severe nausea, vomiting and weight loss during pregnancy.

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