A GUNSHOT echoes in the air just as the Handeni District Commissioner, Mr Muhingo Rweyemamu, inaugurates a newly built house for medical officers in Sindeni Village.
The gunshot had nothing to do with the occasion, whoever fired it was many metres from the new Doctors' house. Newcomers were rather shocked but villagers seemed to regard it as normal.
Mrs Zubeda Mganga who had just brought her child, Mwanamvua to attend clinic at the Sindeni Dispensary confided that the gunshot was actually fired by a person who had just been 'treated' at a 'traditional healer's' house located nearby. The village is highly superstitious, we learned, and that whenever rich persons get what they were seeking for at the traditional doctors' shrines, they tend to mark the occasion by shooting into the air.
But the house that the Handeni District Commissioner was officially inaugurating had nothing to do with traditional doctors. Built by World Vision Tanzania, the two-in-one structure will house real, professional medical workers. World Vision, whose core mission is to take care of children worldwide, had previously also helped the villagers to construct the Dispensary located adjacent to the new doctors' house.
The previous dispensary was located at Wedigunda area said to be very far from the local villages and it took the people nearly three hours to get there with their children on their back. Like many rural villages in Tanzania, those located within Sindeni, Misima, Kwamatukuy and Kiva wards of Sindeni Division in the Handeni District of Tanga region suffer poor means of communications. Ms Julian Miseiyeki and her sister Dorcas Miseiyeki said in most cases expectant mothers deliver at home relying on traditional midwives because once the labour pains begin to bite no one can endure a three-hour walk to the dispensary, especially during the night.
Julian and Dorcas who are residents of 'Kichwa Ng'ombe' village were holding rather healthy looking babies which just goes to show that even traditional midwives aren't exactly that bad at their job. But even these two Maasai ladies prefer to be able to deliver at the dispensary or a real hospital in future, because doing it at home was getting riskier as time went by. Ms Florence Semazuwa on the other hand, is lucky as a mother, because she lives near the Sindeni Dispensary and has been delivering all her babies there.
And now constructed at the cost of 40.2 million/-, the new Doctors' house enables medical workers to stay near the dispensary and serve the villagers at any time of the day and night. "I am glad that, in addition to funds by World Vision Tanzania, local people here have also contributed labour and this goes to show that they have a sense of ownership as well," said the Handeni DC.
The Handeni District Executive Director, Mr Hassan Omar Mwachibuzi, said there were plans to also construct a much larger medical facility in the area to meet health service requirements of local people. The Sindeni Village, according to the head of the Eastern Zone of WVT, Mr Sylvester Masanja, has nearly 36,000 residents but the Sindeni Division comprising of the four wards has 51,000 people, among them 27,612 females and 23,388 males.
The Sindeni Dispensary itself caters for an average of 100 patients per day, mostly women and children with Malaria being cited as the major health problem and leading disease. And even after shifting the Dispensary from its former area, there are some villages that are still located far from Sindeni and whose residents still have to cover up to five kilometres seeking medical services.
Long walk to get to health centres has thus caused Ms Sophia Kassim, whose 3-month old baby, Fatuma Ramadhan is swollen in her entire left side of the body. And with Malaria being the major problem in the area, the Artemisin-based Combined Therapy (ACT) pills being subsidized by the government in order to be sold to people at 1,000/- only are reported to be scarce in Sindeni. And when available the retailer demands 1,200/- instead per dose.
"We have plenty of ACTs at the District Hospital in Handeni," said the District Medical Officer, Dr Somoka Mwakapala, adding that maybe poor allocation and distribution caused Sindeni to suffer the shortages. The DMO also expressed gratitude to the new medical workers' house pointing out that in the past doctors and midwives posted in the area used to run away due to poor, or lack of proper accommodation. As the local villages brace to equip their locality with modern health services however, more gunshots continue to echo in air because there are still others who would rather heal themselves in traditional styles.