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migrants head south
For almost a
decade Zimbabwe's main international bus station, Roadport, in the
capital, Harare, has been a bustling hive of people travelling to
neighbouring South Africa: informal cross-border traders going to
buy goods, others leaving in search of work and a better life. Now
they have a new travelling companion - anyone in need of reliable,
affordable medical attention.
"I'm going to deliver
my first-born child in Pretoria [South Africa] because it is no
longer possible to do it here," said Sophia Chibondo, 25, sitting
on a bench next to her anxious husband.
and with my husband struggling to keep the family going, we found
it wiser to go and seek help from a South African [public] hospital,"
she told IRIN. "Maternal costs at local clinics and hospitals
are just too much, and we cannot afford them."
Thousands have fled Zimbabwe's
economic meltdown, food insecurity and political turmoil, but the
almost total collapse of the national health system has seen standards
plummet and prices rocket, and the Chibondos are now part of a growing
group of migrants looking for better, more affordable health care.
South Africa's Department
of Home Affairs (DHA) announced in April 2009 that it would introduce
a special dispensation permit allowing Zimbabwean nationals to remain
in the country legally for up to 12 months, but this is still being
considered by cabinet.
In the meantime, a 90-day
'visa-free entry' into South Africa for Zimbabweans is already in
In June 2009 a report
by international relief NGO Médecins Sans Frontières
(MSF) warned that the adoption of a more "liberal immigration
policy" for Zimbabweans was placing greater burdens on South
Africa's already stretched health care system.
our Johannesburg clinic have almost tripled in the last year, a
telling sign of the extent to which Zimbabweans are consistently
denied access to even the most basic health care services necessary
for their survival," Eric Goemaere, Medical Coordinator at
MSF in South Africa, said at the launch of the report.
Private hospitals in
Zimbabwe still maintain high standards, but at a premium: a pregnant
woman would be expected to fork out well over US3,500 for gynaecologists,
paediatricians and anaesthetists, besides money for food, drugs
and accommodation for mother and child.
Government health institutions
are far cheaper but lack trained staff, drugs and equipment. In
South Africa, Chibondo said, she would pay less than US$70 for all
the services up to delivery, and she could shop for baby care products
and clothes at a fraction of what they cost in Zimbabwe.
prefer to cross the border [to South Africa] because it is cheaper
there, and there are higher levels of care," said Primrose
Matambanadzo, director of the Zimbabwe
Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR).
"People also still
don't have confidence in [Zimbabwean] public health institutions
due to the health crisis that ... has affected the country for many
years," she commented.
"It is the responsibility
of government to ensure a reliable health system, and as long as
signs of the crisis linger, Zimbabweans will continue trekking to
other countries to get medical attention; a situation that is regrettable."
Most of Zimbabwe's public
health centres closed last year as employees protested over poor
salaries and working conditions during a severe cholera epidemic
that began in August 2008 and claimed the lives of more than 4,200
people out of about 100,000 known cases.
Public health facilities
reopened in February 2009, when donors made money available for
allowances that brought striking nurses and doctors back to work.
Health minister Paul
Madzore recently admitted that a lot needed to be done to kick-start
a health system severely affected by the migration of thousands
of doctors, nurses and other skilled personnel.
"You often hear
of doctors causing the deaths of patients due to negligence. It
is therefore not surprising that our patients are avoiding local
hospitals," said Matambanadzo.
Chibondo had visited
the facility where she would be having her baby several times for
prenatal examinations. "I am encouraged by the quality of service
at the hospital and the professionalism of the staff - rare things
to find in Zimbabwe," she said. Her elder sister had also given
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