7 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Howard Hospital Facing Bleak Future As Funding Runs Dry

The once revered Howard Hospital in Chiweshe is facing a bleak and unsure future, with critical funding beginning to run dry.

The situation at the Salvation Army run hospital has deteriorated consistently since its chief doctor, Paul Thistle, was dismissed from the facility last year after raising concerns about financial mismanagement. It's understood the claims implicated the head of the Salvation Army in Zimbabwe, Vinece Chigariro, who led the campaign to remove Dr. Thistle.

The doctor's removal caused outcry, because of the work he had done to turn the Howard mission into a highly respected medical facility. He was also considered a valued member of the community, after living there for more than 16 years.

His dismissal, which the Salvation Army has insisted is a standard 'reassignment', prompted a violent backlash from community members who protested his removal in August. That protest turned violent, leading to the police arresting scores of residents, as well as eight hospital nurses. They were all forced to stand trial over two months.

The Salvation Army has remained steadfast that nothing out of the ordinary led to Dr. Thistle's dismissal, and also insisted his claims of financial mismanagement at the Zimbabwe chapter of the church were unfounded.

Commissioner Amos Makina, representing the International Headquarters, said in a statement last year that "any allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Territorial Commander Vinece Chigariro are proven to be unfounded. The Commissioner has not used donated funds for personal use or for the day to day running of Zimbabwe Territorial Headquarters."

Chigariro was later reassigned to a mission in Kenya, but the Salvation Army also insisted this was above board.

"The Salvation Army is pleased to confirm that the decision to appoint the present head of the Salvation Army in Zimbabwe, Commissioner Vinece Chigariro, as leader in the Kenya East Territory, was taken some months before any concerns about the Howard Hospital were raised. These matters are not related," a statement from the Salvation Army said.

The Church has also insisted it is fully committed to the Howard Mission, but SW Radio Africa has been told that the hospital is in a desperate situation, mainly because key international donors have withheld money since Dr. Thistle's removal. The doctor, a Canadian citizen, was instrumental in securing hundreds of thousands of dollars in donated cash from different charity groups across Canada and elsewhere. Without him, the money is drying up.

One source who visited the hospital recently, said there are only two doctors at the facility, but no chief surgeon, meaning most cases are being referred to Harare's Pariyenyatwa Hospital. Only up to 200 cases are being seen to a day compared to the estimated 600 that used to be seen, while financial shortages mean the staff there is often paid weeks late.

Chiweshe residents also told SW Radio Africa that many people now travelling to Karanda Mission Hospital, where Dr. Thistle started working late last year.

Local police meanwhile have clamped down on the community itself, stopping them from protesting, speaking to the media, or even signing a petition that was started last year. That petition was set to be delivered to government urging them to intervene, but never saw the light of day.

Fund raised for Howard Hospital to go to another facility.

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