Friday, 8 May 2009


By Gershom Ndhlovu


For anyone who has been to Zambia’s rural areas, whether in Western Province or Eastern Province, North-Western Province or Southern Province, the concept of mobile hospitals does not make sense at all. People living in those areas have for many years been served by the existing infrastructure there which needs a lot in terms of equipment, drugs and, crucially, personnel.

As someone who has been to outlying hospitals such as Sichili Mission Hospital in Sesheke, Luampa Mission Hospital in Kaoma, Chilonga Mission Hospital in Mpika, Chitambo Mission Hospital in Serenje and government-run hospitals such as Nyimba and Lundazi, I have seen for myself how the people running these institutions have tried to do their best with limited resources.

The challenges that these hospitals face range from the lack of a constant supply of electricity, to lack of necessary laboratory equipment if they have laboratories in the first place, and even communication equipment for seeking assistance in case of an evacuation which in itself is a far cry.

Forlorn is written on the faces of not only the patients that seek medical services from these hospitals, but also on the faces of the members of staff who are equally helpless in the circumstances.

Granted, people cover long distances to go to these hospitals, but certainly, there is no guarantee that the mobile hospitals will cover every village along the way, and if they will do, what will they do with the cases that need hospitalisation? Will there be beds on which the patients will be dragged all over the place? These are just some of the questions that need answers.

Most of the hospitals in the rural areas are run by missionaries and as such they are kept going, thankfully, by their faith and the support from mother churches in their countries of origin where support is also dwindling with declining church attendance. If these were local doctors and nurses, they would have left long ago to seek greener pastures either in urban areas or foreign countries.

Instead of spending US$53 million on mobile hospitals which would obviously be in form of containers, government would do well to spend this money on existing infrastructure and putting up new hospitals where they do not exist. Who can imagine that Chongwe residents still have to go to the UTH, over 50 km away, for some services?

Government could even buy equipment for which politicians are sent to South Africa when they are ill but which the majority of the people in Mwinilunga, Gwembe and Kaputa come nowhere near to. Ironically, the rural hospitals are even shunned by District Administrators who would rather be treated in bigger and better hospitals!

Practically speaking, these mobile hospitals say in the case of Central Province, will probably not reach Ching’ombe in Mkushi or Ngabwe in Kapiri Mposhi because of the poor road network to these parts. It is no use parking at Mkushi boma or Kapiri Mposhi town centre and asking the ailing to visit these hospitals. The same is true for outlying areas such as Kazembe in Lundazi, Chiawa in Lusaka Province and Mumbezhi in North-Western Province.

I am not a medical person, but I am sure that the dynamics of diseases in Zambia are very different from those in China. Whereas malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are some of the common afflictions in Zambia most of which require hospitalisation at some point, the Chinese probably suffer from different ailments altogether for which a one off appointment with the doctor is enough. In other words, the Chinese are trying to sell Zambia snake oil in terms of these hospitals knowing fully well that they will not work.

In the first couple of years, these hospitals on wheels will be in spick and span condition, and everyone, most probably the Chinese medical crew manning them, will be enthusiastic as funding from the US$53 million will still be flowing, but in the third year when funding dries up, there will be no fuel, no tyres, the engines will need servicing, and then, kaput.

There will no longer be subsistence allowances, and staff will start selling off the on-board equipment and so on and so forth. But even grimmer, Zambians for generations to come, will be saddled with a huge debt which they will be struggling to pay back to the Chinese government.

This is no rocket science, it is simple common sense.


The other week I could not believe what I read about Works and Supply Minister Mike Mulongoti saying democracy in Zambia had been hijacked by some “strange journalists” and non-governmental organisations.

Not to mention the fact that Mulongoti has no constituency apart from the fact that he was elected by about 5,000 MMD members at the party convention as chairman for elections and subsequently nominated by the late President Mwanawasa and later President Banda, he certainly missed his secondary school Civics lessons on democracy.

His attempt to quote Abraham Lincoln’s government of the people, for the people by the people speech was quite clearly misplaced.

The following is the quote from the Gettysburg speech “[We must] be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth.”

On the contrary, Mulongoti wants to curtail the freedom that this great man envisaged for America and the rest of the free world. He wants to take us back to the feudal and monarchical days where only kings and their appointees had any say in matters of governance.

Please, Sir, revisit your Civics note books, if you still have them, for they may help you understand democracy and what it entails. You just have to learn to live with the “strange journalists” and NGOs.

*The format of the blog will soon be changing because the newspaper for which the column was written has been liquidated by its owners, the Zambia Episcopal Conference and the Christian Council of Zambia. I wish to thank the readers who keenly followed the column, and the editors with whom I worked for the last three years when every week, save for one when I did not have an internet connection because of moving house, I unfailingly submitted the column. I thank particularly Mulenga Chomba who initiated the column, Brenda Zulu and Simon Mwanza, both of whom continued to have faith in me. Hats off and good wishes for the future, mates.

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