Zimbabwe: In Binga Dangerous Canoe Trips Ensure Access to Healthcare

This article was originally published by The Citizen Bulletin, a nonprofit news organisation that produces hard-hitting, hyperlocal reporting and analysis for the southwestern region of Matabeleland.

With a population of about 200 000 according to the last 2012 census results, Binga is on the shores of the Zambezi River, which means lots of water.

There is a lot of boating activity for tourists and villagers, who were cut off from their folks in Zambia following their displacement from their ancestral lands in the Zambezi River banks to pave the way of the construction of Kariba Dam.

While the boats, mostly single dinghies inflated before being propelled using pedals, carry people for visits, they also serve as couriers and mini-ambulances for villagers seeking health services in the neighbouring country.

According to Section 76 of the country's constitution, every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has the right to access basic health care services, including reproductive health.

However, it is a right that many Binga villagers do not usually enjoy as the district has few clinics, with the available ones several kilometres away, lacking basic medications and drugs and battling shortages of nurses and doctors.

Private pharmacies price their drugs beyond the reach of many and in United States dollars, forcing villagers to canoe to the neighbouring country to buy medication for a fraction of what is charged in the country.

"It's a disaster. I still remember at one time at Binga District Hospital; they were transferring every case to either St Lukes' in Lupane or Bulawayo because they could not handle cases because of several challenges facing the institution," said Prince Dubeko Sibanda, the former legislator for Binga North.

"The highest point of health care owned and government-run in Binga starts with Binga District Hospital.

"To be very honest, Binga District Hospital faces several challenges from human capital to lack of drugs and medicines.

"That is why you find most people finding it better to travel to Zambia for health services."

Several wards such as Siachilaba, Chinonge and Lubu in Binga do not have clinics, The Citizen Bulletin established.

Chinonge ward brings together 11 villages such as Kamwabulede, Sanungu, Tobwe, Gwatagwata, Kampandu, Musazi, Sikomena 1, Sikomena centre, Muunde, Malokota and Kamalundu.

"Then we have Manjolo clinic, which we constructed as citizens, about 25 kilometres from Binga centre that is not functional," Sibanda added, highlighting the sorry state of Binga's health care facilities.

Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being at all ages is essential to sustainable development, the United Nations says.

The right to health care also falls under the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, which speaks to the need to "ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages."

"Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all," reads one of the SDG goals.

The SDGs or Global Goals are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals adopted by member states in 2015 designed to be a "blueprint to achieving a better and more sustainable future for all".

However, for Binga villagers, its health care system's poor state shows the district is far-off from meeting the SDG 3.

Binga Rural District Council CEO Joshua Muzamba bemoaned the poor state of health facilities in the district. He recently sent out an appeal to build new clinics, particularly for wards without any.

The Binga council runs four clinics, namely Nsenga, Sinansengwe, Pashu and Chipale clinics and they are located at Sinakoma, Sinansengwe, Pashu and Sinamagonde wards, respectively.

"We will continue to mobilise resources to support the health institutions from our resources and support from partner agencies and development stakeholders operating in the district," Muzamba said.

Currently, Binga RDC is constructing two clinics at Malaliya (Pashu ward) and Zambezi (Siansundu ward) using devolution funds.

Farai Marinyame, the Binga district development coordinator, added: "The health facilities we have are inadequate to cater for the whole district; very much inadequate in terms of reach as people are forced to walk long distances to cross the border.

"We still need more health centres in Binga."

While Muzamba and Marinyame were coy on the number of clinics needed for the district, Sibanda made it clear that they need "at least 30 clinics constructed; that's two clinics per ward".

However, as resources do not permit, villagers have to continue risking their lives crossing the Zambezi River in small boats to access health care services.

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