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sad queue for the kidney machine
July 31, 2007
As medical facilities
decay, as equipment breaks and is not replaced, what hope for those
who must have treatment?
There are many ways to
die in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe today, starvation, riot, a visit
from your friendly neighbourhood policeman... But one of the saddest
now threatens a group of people already suffering from a life threatening
They are patients with
renal failure. In the past there have been sufficient dialysis machines
in the country to cope with demand, even though patients often had
to supply their own equipment and fluids bought for them by kind
family members in South Africa.
But now, like so much
of the infrastructure of this country, the machines have begun to
fail. Last week the machine at Bulawayo's Mpilo Central Hospital
broke down. This left one functioning machine in the country, here
at the Parirenyatwa hospital in Harare.
I visited the renal unit
at the hospital at the weekend and was shocked by what I saw - scores
of patients, many of them elderly, many from far away, waiting patiently
for a chance to undergo dialysis.
In pain, and with swollen
limbs and faces, they were clearly aware that their prospects are
grim. Each dialysis session lasts four hours, and patients normally
require dialysis three times a week. The queue at the unit was long,
and growing longer by the hour.
I spoke to one patient,
Kenneth Ncube, from Nkayi in Matabeleland far to the South. He told
me: "I travelled to Bulawayo to have my dialysis, but I was
told that the machine at Mpilo had just broken down. Knowing the
danger I was in, I took the train to Harare, but now we've been
told that the machine here has broken down too. No-one can tell
us when it will be repaired."
I understand that a lack
of foreign currency means the government cannot afford to import
spare parts for the machines. Desperate doctors and technicians
have resorted to cannibalising old machines for parts, but this
option is fast running out.
One doctor at the unit
told me: "All we can do is give the patients pain killers.
The future for these people is very uncertain. Once the urea and
potassium levels go up, a person can easily suffer a cardiac arrest,
and this can of course lead to death."
Next day I returned to
the hospital, to find the gate to the Renal Unit sealed, with no-one
allowed in. No-one was prepared to tell me why.
I called Health Minister
David Parirenyatwa for his comments. (The name is no coincidence.
The Parirenyatwa hospital was named after his father, the first
black Zimbabwean to qualify as a medical doctor.) I asked him to
comment on the fate of Zimbabwean kidney patients. This was his
statement to me:
"I do not discuss
these issues in the press, you are in the habit of fabricating stories.
In any case, this is an issue of national security and you should
send your questions in writing and copy them to Mutasa (State Security
minister). Make sure the questions are on official letterheads and
It is probably a good
thing that Kenneth Ncube and his fellow sufferers in that endless
queue will never know or hear the words of comfort and sympathy
offered by their so-called Health Minister.
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