Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Remember Zimbabwe? - An update on the continuing catastrophe

The focus of the world's attention has moved away from Zimbabwe for the past month and a half, but that doesn't mean that the crisis there has gone away. A piece from the British Medical Journal, passed on by Norman Geras, highlights one of the major human dimensions of this very long-term crisis.
Zimbabwe's health system - once among sub-Saharan Africa's finest - is in shambles. [....] [P]ublic health facilities have effectively been gutted and reduced to ghost institutions. Most public health programmes have ground to a halt.
And that's in addition to
state sponsored atrocities and human rights abuses perpetrated by the army, police, and bands of youth militia against the people of Zimbabwe in the run-up to the flawed presidential elections of 27 June [including] abductions, beatings, mutilations, other forms of torture, and political assassinations, all occurring within a short space of three months. [....] The country's National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped reported that "limbs have been severed and mutilated... people have been subjected to such brutal head injuries that their sight and hearing have been affected," thus adding to the country's burden of disabilities. [....] The people of Zimbabwe deserve the support of those who claim to uphold the traditions of healing and caring inherent in the medical profession.
--Jeff Weintraub
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normblog: The weblog of Norman Geras
August 18, 2008
The health situation in Zimbabwe

As the talks to get an agreement between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai run aground, an editorial in the BMJ (subscription required) reminds us of the handiwork of one of the parties to these talks:
Zimbabwe has become a living hell for ordinary Zimbabweans, who have had to endure horrific punishment for voting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to victory in the presidential and parliamentary elections of March 2008. In a comprehensive and meticulously researched report published on 29 July, the faith based, non-profit organisation Solidarity Peace Trust presents a chilling account of state sponsored atrocities and human rights abuses perpetrated by the army, police, and bands of youth militia against the people of Zimbabwe in the run-up to the flawed presidential elections of 27 June. The report documents many abductions, beatings, mutilations, other forms of torture, and political assassinations, all occurring within a short space of three months.

In a plea for an end to political violence, the group known as Specialist Doctors in Zimbabwe noted that some 2900 victims of political violence, some of whom subsequently died from their injuries, had been treated in the nation's hospitals. The country's National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped reported that "limbs have been severed and mutilated... people have been subjected to such brutal head injuries that their sight and hearing have been affected," thus adding to the country's burden of disabilities. Zimbabwe's health system - once among sub-Saharan Africa's finest - is in shambles.

Already in 2007, Zimbabwe was ranked by Médecins Sans Frontières as one of its "top ten" underreported humanitarian crises in the world. Hamstrung by dire shortages of medical supplies and equipment - from sutures and intravenous fluids to HIV testing kits and chemicals for renal dialysis - public health facilities have effectively been gutted and reduced to ghost institutions. Most public health programmes have ground to a halt. In the midst of this mayhem one organisation, the Zimbabwean Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), has served as the moral conscience of the medical profession, braving the wrath of the Mugabe regime to wage an unequal battle with an autocratic government contemptuous of basic human rights. ZADHR has investigated and documented cases of gross human rights abuses and has consistently raised the alarm to what sometimes seems to be an indifferent or impotent world, particularly in the southern African region. On 26 June 2008, ZADHR issued a statement "to record again the startling brutality of the violence used on increasing number of victims" and to note the "harassment from government agencies or those acting in the name of the government" against the association in an effort to frustrate its campaign.
.....
Even if the current negotiations result in a satisfactory political dispensation, Zimbabwe will still be confronted with the arduous task of rebuilding its moribund health system. Zimbabwe will need money and expertise to recoup even a shred of normality in its health services. The international medical fraternity can support this endeavour through advocacy and, where possible, by individuals volunteering their time and technical expertise to help alleviate the skills gap in the reconstruction of health systems and institutions. The people of Zimbabwe deserve the support of those who claim to uphold the traditions of healing and caring inherent in the medical profession. [footnotes omitted - NG.]

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