Today the sky is turquoise blue with smiling white clouds floating around but all during last night it had been raining. I’m accompanying Georgina one of our MSF nurses. She is 32, pretty with an open smile and neat hairdo of raised cornrows and very determined. She wants to visit one of MSF’s most remote Harare ORPs (Oral Rehydration Points). We have set up 17 all over Harare; basically they are small cholera centers that help patients get access to treatment.
We have gotten to a point where the road just looks like one muddy river. Tinashe, our driver, just shakes his head good naturedly and he sets his cholera-ambulance converted minivan to splash through the mud – we are through! We all laugh relieved. We bob along the dirt road, through fields of maize and soya plantings. This is the summer season in Zimbabwe – everything is lush green, the air is crisp and warm and every other day it rains.
“There’s our ORP,” points out Georgina and in the middle of a field I distinguish a small tarpaulin-covered stand and two ladies sitting inside. When we approach they come out smiling to greet us.
Photo: Joanna Stavropoulou | Residents in high density townships set up small stands selling anything from cookies to soap. Their houses are makeshift shacks covered with tarpaulin.
Mary and Zodwa are in their late fifties and have lived in Hathcliff Extension for decades. They are very happy to see us. They are wearing the plastic aprons we have given them over their neat attire. They show Georgina their notebook where they have carefully recorded who visited their little center, what symptoms they had, how much Oral Rehydration Salts they administered. No visitor today had needed to be transfer to the cholera treatment center for more intense treatment.
Mary and Zodwa work at this little MSF cholera point from 8am to 5pm everyday. They proudly show me around their stand, point where the buckets of disinfecting water is to wash out cups, the ORS solution, where they store the satchels. The MSF stand is standing in the middle of a red-muddy field and yet the tarpaulin placed on the stand’s floor is spotless, everything orderly, clean. The ladies complain that they would like to have a mop, they use their own rags to clean every inch on their knees. They then explain the procedures they follow when a patient comes to their stand, what symptoms they check for, how many hours they keep them under observation, how they decide whether to transfer them or not.
Mary and Zodwa are volunteers; they do not even receive an allowance. I am amazed by their dedication and diligence and can only wonder at what difficulties they must have in their lives and how they are able to put that aside to come and help their fellow residents.
We stay a little bit just to talk to them, of their life, their difficulties. They tell me that now the biggest problem people face is that they can’t pay the fees that clinics and hospitals are demanding; Zimbabwe’s public health care system started charging this past month in US dollars.
“People here, they don’t even know the [US$] dollar,” says Mary with emphasis, “they don’t ever see it, don’t even know its color.”
“But, so what to the people do?” I ask.
“Aah,” she shakes her head, “they just die.”
They told me of one of their neighbors this past week who gave birth at home because she did not have the 50 US$ the clinics are charging for maternity fees. But her placenta didn’t come out and after three days she died.
“At least if they could educate some midwives,” says Mary. But the ones that are around, she explains, don’t know what they are doing. Zimbabwe had such a good health system that everybody had access to health care and local midwifery went largely disused.
We respectfully thank our ladies and Georgina and I jump back in the minivan.