Stella Moyo lost her child three months after his birth in late 2007 because her local health facility in Chivu District, some 160km southeast of Harare, lacked antibiotics to treat the infant’s throat infection.
“When I visited a clinic close to my home, I was referred to Chivu Hospital [50km away] because there were no drugs at the clinic. Unfortunately, the hospital had long run out of antibiotics and I watched as my son’s condition deteriorated, until he died,” Moyo told IRIN.
She and her husband, who survive through farming and were experiencing a lean period due to drought, could not afford to buy the drugs from a private pharmacy. They resorted instead to traditional and faith healers who proved ineffective.
At the time Zimbabwe’s health system was experiencing a critical shortage of not only drugs, but equipment and trained staff, the result of an economic meltdown characterized by hyperinflation, shortages of basic commodities and a brain drain. The impact on the country’s social services was compounded by a political crisis which saw Zimbabwe isolated by many governments, international financial institutions and donors.
Moyo, 30, vowed not to have another child after the traumatic death of her son, but is expecting her third child in a few weeks.
“I told myself that it was pointless to fall pregnant when there was no guarantee that my child would survive due to poor service at clinics or hospitals,” she said. “However, I have changed my attitude because the situation at health centres has improved.”
An elderly nurse who works at a public clinic in Warren Park, a suburb about 6km west of Harare, agreed.
“During the period of critical shortages of drugs and staff, I witnessed many children, women and other people die because they could not get vital drugs and there was no one to attend to them. Those deaths could have been avoided and, gladly, we can avoid them now,” said the nurse, who identified herself as Gogo Matilda.
|It was pointless to fall pregnant when there was no guarantee that my child would survive due to poor service at clinics or hospitals|
She added that although there were still times when essential drugs, particularly antibiotics, ran out, patients could easily get them from other health centres and “replenishments do not take too long to come”.
The improved availability of essential medicines in Zimbabwe’s public health sector is largely due to a multi-donor programme started in 2008 through collaboration between the government, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Zimbabwe, the European Union (EU), the UK, Australia, Canada and Ireland.
To date, the Essential Medicines Supply Programme (EMSP) has received US$52 million in funding, according to UNICEF. The money is used to buy drugs and medical supplies which are distributed to health centres by Natpharm, the supply arm of the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare.
According to a survey carried out by the EU, 80 percent of essential medicines are now available at over 80 percent of health facilities compared to only 28 percent availability of vital drugs at public health institutions in 2008.
The programme recently received a shot in the arm through a $14 million grant from the EU.
“This will go a long way to ensuring that Zimbabwe stays on the path to full recovery of the health sector, in particular to ensuring that the poor and vulnerable members of society also have access to health services,” Peter Salama, UNICEF country representative said at the grant-signing ceremony.
Salama added that the essential medicines programme had “helped reduce the disparity in availability of essential medicines between rural and urban health facilities” and had the potential to improve the system for distributing drugs and medical supplies.
“Our health delivery system is on the road to recovery [and] we hope that soon, every Zimbabwean will be able to exercise the basic human right of access to quality health care,” said Health Minister Henry Madzorera.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions