Tsholotsho villagers wary of MSF pull out

HARARE - People living with HIV and tuberculosis (TB) patients in rural Tsholotsho who have been benefiting from the Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Spain programme are panicking over the imminent departure of the organisation that had transformed their lives.

MSF Spain which supplies HIV and TB drugs has indicated that it will pull out of Zimbabwe at the end of the year after 14 years of operation in the national response to the HIV pandemic and nutrition emergency.

More than 52 000 people are receiving the lifesaving anti-retroviral therapy (Art) under the project which has been covering such areas as Buhera, Chikomba, Epworth, Gokwe North, Gutu, and Mbare.

A recent visit by MSF to wind up operations in Tsholotsho where the organisation was working with 19 health facilities revealed that beneficiaries were worried about the development.

MSF has invested intensively in the district’s health sector ranging from infrastructure, training, mentorship and rolling out of equipment and medical supplies.

Jotsholo Benjamin a 67-year-old village head could not hide his feelings.

“I wish this organisation could stay for some more years. It really contributed positively to the lives of many families here,” he said adding that; “Now my main worry is will the government of today manage to takeover?

“The reason why I am saying this is before 2004 when MSF came here people were dying of HIV and TB like ants. Remember this is the same government we are talking about, we can only hope that they will.”

Judith Ncube, 46 of Sanqinyane village said her prayer was that government through the ministry of Health maintain the good work done by MSF.

“When I heard the news about MSF leaving us, for a moment I thought my life will never be the same again. Our hope is that the government will take up the good work and continue helping us. We are now banking on the training that we received from the organisation where we created support groups, mentor mothers and community art groups which have really proved worthwhile for us,” Ncube said.

Sithabile Moyo, 48 of ward 7 said; “Personally I don’t see any reason why people should panic with MSF’s departure because we were all empowered in many ways. From what the ministry said I am quite confident they (government) are going to handle this programme successfully.”

Medical team leader David Wachi told the Daily News on Sunday, the programme was designed in such a way that would allow an effective takeover by the government.

“The economy has revived and the government is now able to supply almost all health facilities with required medication. Our role was to come and support at a time the support was really needed. Now we can safely say our support and requirement is getting less and less so that is why we are leaving,” Wachi said.

He said while small gaps or a small decline in terms of quality service delivery may occur when government takes over, MSF remained confident that it will not be something drastic.

“As a result we don’t have any major disadvantage caused by the departure of MSF because we were working together with the ministry in collaboration as an integrated team where there was an interchange of ideas and everything,” Wachi added.
In Tsholotsho alone over 16 000 HIV/TB patients have been benefiting from the project.

MSF Spain says it has been preparing for its exit in Zimbabwe since October 2013 and had taken a number of steps for the transition, including skills transfer to the Heath and Child Care ministry personnel.

The complete handover of MSF activities in Tsholotsho to the ministry will be finalised at the end of this year.

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