Karanda Hospital: Oasis of hope and faith

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The rains have been erratic this year and driving in the savannah grasslands of Mt Darwin, one couldn’t help but notice the wilting grass, wilting maize crop and acacia trees looking up to the skies, as if with a begging look.

If, for whatever reason, one could not feel sorry for the plants standing eerily longing for a lashing of the rains, one could not ignore the long and sullen faces on the community – they last saw a dry spell of this magnitude in 1992, they collectively moaned.

“And the last rains we received was on December 26 last year,” added another farmer, sitting by the tree shade. The temperatures had not been forgiving, such highs that, as much it was a contradiction of common sense and logic that some opted to hoe their fields, it was also a sign of faith – that the heavens will finally open up.

And the heavens did open up that week. But it might have been a little bit too late. At least the grazing animals will have something to munch on.

Ironically, whilst the prolonged dry spell has been a bit of a bother for the Mt Darwin community, there has been a plus to it – they can easily navigate Ruya River to get to Karanda Hospital – their ever-present oasis of hope – in dry or wet times.

If the heavens had generously opened up this year, as has been the case in the previous uncountable years, Karanda Hospital would not be easily navigable as Ruya River will be teeming at its banks. Leaving patients and their relatives to opt for the longer route through Mudzengerere, if they are coming from the Mt Darwin direction or through Nhoro, that will be from the Rushinga direction.

But accessing Karanda Hospital is not just a dilemma for Mt Darwin residents. In fact, to apportion Karanda Hospital to Mt Darwin will be a bit heretic for its reputation goes beyond the confines of the Mavuradonha mountains.

Orita Matope gets close assistance from sister Netsai Moyo to attend to her twins, Delan and Deyon, in the ante-natal section
Orita Matope gets close assistance from sister Netsai Moyo to attend to her twins, Delan and Deyon, in the ante-natal section

Sister Charity Jawona, the assistant nursing officer at the hospital, during a guided tour of the medical facility, said they have since stopped looking at themselves as just a hospital in Mt Darwin, for Mt Darwin.

“Yes, Mt Darwin might be our physical location but we see ourselves beyond just a geographical location. Besides occasionally having patients from the sub-region, a casual check in our wards at any given moment yields addresses like Beitbridge, Victoria Falls, Karoi, Gokwe, Masvingo and Mutare.”

Though interactions and interviews at the hospital could not positively pinpoint to the one characteristic that makes Karanda Hospital tick and be a beacon of hope, what could not be missed is the work ethic of the medical staff, irrespective of station and occupation.

Even getting a chance to talk to Dr Paul Thistle was quite a nightmare.

In the five minutes that we managed to squeeze into his consulting room, he openly said it was unfair to have an interview with reporters when he had patients waiting to see him.

Earlier on, it had been hinted that the best time to see him was to gate-crash him during lunch hour, to which he later laughed us off: “I don’t have lunch, I don’t go for lunch. I have my lunch whilst working, what is the point in having lunch when someone is suffering?”

Even a request for a family photo shoot (interestingly Dr Thistle found love a stone’s throw away from the hospital and his wife is a nurse at the same hospital) was laughed off. “We don’t even have time to brush our teeth, let alone a photo shoot.”

Probably it is such dedication to duty, from Dr Thistle and those around him,  that make Karanda tick. But the fame and reputation of the hospital precedes Dr Thistle, whose departure from the Salvation Army-run Howard Hospital in 2012 grabbed national news headlines as the Chiweshe community, where Howard lies, wanted him to stay. According to Sister Jawona, Karanda has been performing ground-breaking surgical operations for as long back as the 70s.

“I have been here for 14 years but I have heard stories about this hospital that date back decades ago.

“One that I can easily relate is that of a child who was operated on around 2000, she is now 17 years. And just a fortnight ago she was here for a routine check-up and I saw her.

“Then she had hydrocephalus (a condition in which there is an accumulation of fluid within the brain), and seeing her today, almost an adult, one gets an appreciation of how life-changing this institution has been.

“And she is not the only one to have received this kind of operation. I have heard of another whose operation was done in 1978, he is a grown up man now.”

Surgical operations on hydrocephalus seem not to be the only speciality of the hospital, as the tour of the male ward revealed. “As you can see for yourself, the male ward is over-subscribed. This is because we have taken a special interest in prostatectomy.”

Prostatectomy is the surgical removal of all or part of the prostate gland. This operation is done for benign conditions that cause urinary retention, as well as for prostate cancer and for other cancers of the pelvis.

Leonard Zhenjeni in the fishery which feeds manure to the nutritional garden, which in turn supplies the hospital with supplementary vegetables
Leonard Zhenjeni in the fishery which feeds manure to the nutritional garden, which in turn supplies the hospital with supplementary vegetables

Besides a round-the-clock work ethic, the hospital also prides itself in combining spirituality with medicine. Every morning, 15-minute church services are held in the chapel, before the start of medical consultations.

To buttress the services, the hospital also runs a 24-hour Karanda Radio, a radio broadcast service. Every day between 2pm and 4pm, live broadcasts of testimonies, greetings and sermons are delivered, alternately by chaplains Gibmon Chari and Samuel Kadiwa.

“We also use the broadcasts to teach our patients healthy living tips as well as run informercials from agencies like the Environmental Management Agency, on how to live sustainably with the environment,” explained Pastor Kadiwa.

Probably amongst a handful of medical facilities in the country that run their own nutritional gardens to supplement food requirements for patients, Karanda’s Fish for Life project has been a milestone in more than one way.

Explained Joshua Masunga, one of the gardeners, “The fish project is central to our gardening as the manure from the fish feeds into the vegetables. Every part of the garden feeds off one another such that the garden has to sustain itself, in the process producing organic food for our patients.”

Established in 1961 by the Evangelical Church, which also runs the nearby Mavuradonha High School, the hospital is now being managed by The Evangelical Alliance Missions (TEAM), whose goal is to “partner with the local church to send missionaries and establish reproducing churches among the nations, going where the most people have the most need and proclaiming the gospel in both word and action”.

Senior Nursing Officer Friday Chimukangara said besides the lack of easy access to the hospital due to the Ruya River, the other challenge that the hospital faces is sitting in the midst of Mt Darwin, a community that is mostly food-insecure.

“Every day we have to deal with hundreds of villagers who come looking for work, especially those who want to be paid with food. But our resources are limited and at times stretched, we cannot meet their expectations as well as deliver a sound health delivery service to the same community.

“Then we have the problem of under-staffing. Whilst we should be running with four doctors, we only have three – Drs Thistle, Dan Stephens and Takudzwa Sasa. Where we are supposed to have 51 nurses, we are operating with 48 and we don’t have a pharmacy technician, a position which a hospital of this stature should have.

“Then we have the challenge of procuring drugs. Usually NatPharm does not have stocks and therefore we have to source our drugs from the open market and given the foreign currency constraints obtaining, this means we have to acquire our drugs at a higher price.”