The horror of a stricken nation waiting to die
As the people of Zimbabwe are ground down by poverty and brutality, Robert Mugabe is offered a welcome at the international table
We knew Sarudzai Gumbo was still sick, but nothing prepared us for what we found. The seven-year-old was lying alone and neglected in a dirty sideroom in a Harare hospital.
Her head was a mass of septic wounds. Two large cancers were devouring the right side of her face. She had lost the sight of one eye and the other was gummed up. A filthy, blood-stained hat concealed untold horrors on her scalp – she screamed with pain when we tried to remove it. Flies hovered around her lesions. The stench of her putrefying flesh was overpowering. She weighed only 36lb (16.3kg).
The Times highlighted Sarudzai’s plight in March after discovering her in Mbare, a Harare slum. Her family was living on wasteland because its home had been destroyed by President Mugabe’s Operation Murambatsvina (“Clean Up Trash”). Her parents’ livelihoods had been ruined by the regime’s ban on street vendors. They both had Aids, as did Sarudzai, whose face was disfigured by open sores.
Readers sent in £7,500 to try to help her – funds forwarded to the Jesuit mission in Mbare – and Sarudzai was sent to an Aids clinic. But her mother died in April and her father took her away to the ancestral village and – fatally – interrupted her treatment. Sarudzai was transferred to Parirenyatwa Hospital just as Zimbabwe’s healthcare system was imploding.
As with every other hospital, the doctors and nurses who were there have left in droves for better-paid jobs abroad, their salaries at home rendered almost worthless by hyperinflation. There are no anaesthetics, drips, painkillers, antiretroviral drugs, blood for transfusions or even bandages. This is a shell of a hospital – a place where patients are left to die.
Sarudzai, whose father is also close to death, is a lovely, brave, affectionate girl. She never cries. She claps her hands when given something, waves when you leave. We brought two teddy bears that she instantly named Rudzai and Rudo – Shona for “Praise” and “Love”. Her condition was heartbreaking. We had her examined by a private doctor, who said it was the most shocking case he had seen. Within hours she was admitted to a private hospital. She has now been adopted by Kidzcan, a charity that helps Zimbabwean children with cancer, but her chances of survival are slim....
Read it and weep...