Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
It is a Saturday, around 2PM and there are about 10 pregnant women at a maternity wing at Gokwe South District Hospital.
The facility caters for about 300 000 people, mostly from Bomba, Njelele and Nemangwe among other villages in the district who cannot afford to pay for private health care.
Other women are lying on the floor amid shortages of bedding and linen.
The women, two of whom were due to give birth at any time, were anxious about giving birth at the hospital because in the event that complications arose and they were supposed to give birth through caesarean section, they would have to be ferried to Kwekwe District Hospital, 140km away.
In case of more complications which need health specialists, they would be ferried about 60km further to Gweru Provincial Hospital and chances of patients surviving the long, bumpy and fatiguing road trips are always slim.
This is because the theatre at Gokwe South Provincial Hospital has not been functional since last year.
The anaesthesia machine in the operating room which has tubes that connect to the patient to assist them in breathing during surgery, and built-in monitors that help control the mixture of gases in the breathing circuit is out of service. The machine was manufactured in Germany in the 1970s and it can no longer be repaired as the spares are no longer being manufactured.
The anaesthesia cart is next to the anaesthesia machine.
At the same time, the autoclave machine that is used to sterilise linen and other surgical tools is also down because the rubber that is used to close the door is worn out.
An autoclave is a machine that uses steam under pressure to kill harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, and spores on items that are placed inside a pressure vessel.
Maggots feed on bodies in the mortuary since its air condition system rarely works.
Being at the hospital is not by choice for the pregnant women and other patients from this district but as fate would have it — this is the only health institution they have, the only one whose services they can afford.
The hospital’s problems came out during a tour of the institution by Zanu-PF Midlands provincial leadership on Saturday, July 25.
The party leadership included Politburo members Cdes Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and Jorum Gumbo and the Minister of State Security Owen Ncube.
The provincial chairperson, Engineer Daniel Mackenzie Ncube handed over rice, washing soap and hand sanitiser donated by President Mnangagwa and took the opportunity to tour the facility following an outcry from Gokwe Centre residents and Gokwe-Mapfungautsi MP Cde Victor Matemadanda.
A patient, Mrs Nyaradzai Makoni from Njelele village — 20km from the hospital said she was worried that she could lose her baby because she had been told that she needs to give birth through caesarean section.
“My worry now is that there’s no ambulance. It went to Kwekwe District Hospital with some patients and is not yet back. The theatre I’m told is not functioning and so it appears like I’m doomed. I’m putting my trust in the Lord,” she said.
The hospital, she said, does not have enough linen, forcing patients to bring their own from home.
“The beds are broken. Nothing works here. Toilets are not functioning and it’s smelly. We pray that the Government intervenes and make this hospital work again,” said Mrs Makoni.
Ms Claire Katiyo, popularly known as Munhu waMwari, who is Gokwe South District Hospital administrator said patients were surviving by the grace of the Lord.
She said they did not have enough ambulances and other service vehicles as most broke down.
Ms Katiyo said the theatre is not functional just like every other aspect at the hospital including equipment, beds and chairs.
“We’re in a lot of trouble at this hospital, we are the walking dead literally because nothing seems to be working. We’re taking pregnant women for caesarean section to Kwekwe. We’re taking surgical equipment as well as linen to Kwekwe for sterilisation. Three times a week we make trips to Kwekwe District Hospital and the road is not easy for patients in pain or in labour. Roughly in a week, we have about 20 births and those with complications we take them to Kwekwe as I have said and therefore the need for reliable ambulances,” she said.
“The theatre is not functional because the machines are old and can no longer be repaired. The machines are from Germany and are said to be outdated. We even sent one staff member to Germany to look for spare parts to no avail. We tried improvising with some equipment like the anaesthetic machine which needed a part which we bought for $17 000 but it could not fit on the old machine.”
District Medical Officer Dr Austin Mashoko said Gokwe District Hospital is slowly turning into a run-down institution.
He said there was need for a total rehabilitation of the hospital so that they stop ferrying patients to Kwekwe District Hospital and in worst cases to Gweru Provincial Hospital.
“The Ministry is aware of the challenges we are facing and I believe something will be done and very soon. This is a big hospital that needs to be fully equipped,” said Dr Mashoko.
Cde Matemadanda said the state of affairs at Gokwe South District Hospital was another sad indication of the challenges facing the health sector. He said the hospital used to train nurses until around 2016 when the Ministry of Health and Child Care said it no longer met the nursing training standards.
“Instead of improving what we have, they decided to close it. It used to train at least 17 nurses at a time and our children are now being forced to look for places elsewhere. The state of affairs here is sad.
“I have reached out to the Ministry so that they do something and we’re still waiting to see what happens,” he said.
Cde Gumbo said Gokwe District Hospital was bigger than Mnene District Hospital in Mberengwa in terms of infrastructure and the population it serves.
“Gokwe South District is relatively big and we need to see this hospital working so that it serves its purpose,” he said.
District Development Coordinator Mrs Netsai Mushauri said the district had more than 300 000 people who relied on the hospital.
She said the hospital which has also been identified as a Covid-19 isolation centre was still to be rehabilitated to cater for patients.
Midlands Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution Larry Mavima said plans were underway to rehabilitate the hospital.
He said already over $2 million had been allocated to the hospital to rehabilitate one wing into a Covid-19 isolation wing.
“As a province, we want to see this hospital functioning well and efforts are being put in place like rehabilitation works,” he said.