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Dear Family and Friends,
Zimbabwe’s 78 year old Vice President John Nkomo died of cancer this week. He was the fourth Zimbabwean Vice President to die in office after Joshua Nkomo aged 82 in 1999, Simon Muzenda aged 80 in 2003 and Joseph Msika aged 85 who died in 2009.
It was ironic that in the same week that Vice President Nkomo died whilst occupying the second most powerful position in the country, our Prime Minister made headlines by saying that Zimbabweans would soon start receiving free treatment for cancer. Free treatment for cancer – our eyebrows went up, we are country that can’t even feed ourselves. A country which is looking to the UN to give free emergency food aid to 1.6 million Zimbabweans in the next few months.
Speaking at the funeral of University Professor Gordon Chavhunduka who died of throat cancer, Prime Minister Tsvangirai said that there had been a cabinet decision taken to establish two centres for the early detection of cancer and people would be given free treatment.
Meanwhile closer to home a friend complained of a very stiff neck, shoulders and lower back. He had woken up in the morning with excruciating pain and found his lower lip bleeding and covered in raw wounds. A couple of days later, with the pain persisting, he went to the provincial government hospital. He is a known epileptic and entitled to receive free medication for epilepsy when he attends the outpatients clinic once a month. From 2005 to 2009 when the country was ravaged by multi-billion percent inflation, the government hospital could not supply the epilepsy drugs and he had to source them elsewhere and find the money to pay for them. Those were desperate times for everyone on all sorts of life sustaining medication, pharmacies everywhere were empty and everyone had to find friends or relations outside the country who could help. Prescriptions went across borders, drugs were collected by strangers in other countries, emergency packages travelled thousands of kilometres and were delivered by unknown legions of nameless volunteers who literally saved people’s lives.
For a couple of years after Zimbabwe’s politicians were forced to share power, the situation got easier, supplies in hospitals improved and the drugs were dispensed for free every month but for the last nine months things have inexplicably changed. Quietly and without any outcry from anyone in our bloated, double-sized power sharing government, things have started slipping backwards. Every month the pharmacy at the government hospital say they don’t have the epilepsy drugs and lines of outpatients are turned away, told to go and buy the drugs themselves at private pharmacies and its tough luck if they can’t afford them.
Nurses in the outpatients department gathered around my friend with the neck and back ache and bleeding mouth to see for themselves what happens when you don’t take the medication. They asked him if he had been buying and taking his tablets regularly. They said it looked like he had had an epileptic fit while he had been asleep, had bitten his lip and hurt his neck and back whilst shaking with spasms. Writing in his mandatory little exercise book they renewed the prescriptions for the two drugs he should take for his epilepsy and added an anti inflammatory for the neck and back pain. The outpatients pharmacy had no drugs in stock and there was no queue at the main hospital pharmacy but he went there anyway. A cursory glance at the names of the three common drugs that had been prescribed and the exercise book was handed back: sorry nothing here, go and buy them in town. Young or old, no exceptions, no one to turn to and just despair at a time when the government talks about giving free cancer treatment and yet can’t even supply basic life saving medicines. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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