The Sunday News
Vincent Gono, Features Editor
SEVENTY TWO-year-old Sihle Jani* wriggles and whimpers in pain in a dim-lit kitchen hut where a cloud of smoke belches out in no particular order through the grass thatch giving evidence of life at a homestead, with two small huts, whose unkempt yard has a sprawling graveyard.
She speaks in gasps as if she is choking. On bad weather days one could hear her breath even when a few metres from the kitchen hut but that has not been so much of a worry to her. The medication for asthma has always been available at Nkayi District Hospital but her health has slowly been fading after she started having a bulging stomach.
“I have gone to the district hospital several times but they no longer have asthma pills. They keep telling me to come back and check. As for this swelling, they have often referred me to Bulawayo but I cannot afford the cost. There is no medication here. They only gave me painkillers,” she pitifully said in between heavy breathing efforts and sobs.
“I have already resigned to death but I do not know why God is taking long to join me with my children and my husband in heaps of earth outside. I want to rest from this torture I am experiencing,” she said, fighting stubborn tears.
She is obviously oblivious to the complexities of politics and the economic problems facing the country and to try and explain to her would be a waste of time. She simply doesn’t know who to blame for the conspiracy of fate and poverty on her life.
Ms Jani is not the only one affected by the quick motion deterioration of healthcare in the country. Even those that are in urban areas are affected. The cost of healthcare has over the years been skyrocketing beyond the reach of many, medical drugs have become scarce, health personnel exodus has continued unabated.
Those countries that used to help Zimbabwe in its quest for better health have abruptly ended their olive branch under the instigation of United States and European Union (EU) sanctions.
Although the EU tried to semantically deodorise the sanctions by calling them restrictive measures it is there for all to see that they have impacted negatively on the overall health of the country’s population, bringing more misery to the ordinary and poor citizens.
For example, the Swedish Government health initiative founded in 1997 and funded to the tune of 50 million SEK, sought to improve water and sanitation, education, the living condition of disabled people in Zimbabwean society.
It also sought to mitigate the spread of HIV and other related diseases, but it was later suspended by the Swedish government following EU sanctions.
The Danish International Development Agency (Danida) also suspended its Health Sector Support Programme to Zimbabwe valued at 235 million DKK. The programme was established to support healthcare services in rural areas of Zimbabwe through the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
These programmes were suspended, not because the governments of the donor countries (Sweden and Denmark) were no longer interested in funding the projects, but rather because they adhered to the EU sanctions directives, which urged member states to desist from making funds available to the Government of Zimbabwe.
Sanctions have denied the population the health benefits they initially enjoyed from healthcare programmes sponsored by donor agencies at a time when the Zimbabwean Government is unable to provide a replacement or alternative.
Not only are sanctions affecting the healthcare of the population of Zimbabwe, they have affected all other sectors such as education, tourism, agriculture and even mining, suffice to say these are sectors where the economy of the country is grounded.
Although research and advice from various think-tanks points to the fact that sanctions are not the smartest way of achieving the targeted objectives whatever they may be, US has remained deaf to the calls renewing the economic embargo at every turn.
Professor Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University submitted that; “Sanctions should be dropped immediately. Sanctions don’t work,” argued Hanke, adding that, “the history of economic and financial sanctions is one failure after another, the production of all kinds of negative, unintended consequences,” said Hanke.
Hanke advised the US and the international community to adopt a different strategy that excludes sanctions and foreign aid.
Hanke’s sentiments were echoed by W Gyude Moore of the Centre for Global Development, who reinforced the point that sanctions were affecting the poor.
“Sanctions that target the people of Zimbabwe ordinarily are not going to work and in the long term this is not going to help resolve the issues in Zimbabwe,” Moore said.
There is consensus from the researchers and economists that the sanctions have proved more hurtful to the ordinary people of Zimbabwe than they are to the ruling elite who can afford healthcare and other services abroad.
Through the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) of 2001 Zimbabwe is prevented from accessing lines of credit from the International Monetory Fund and the International Development Association among other International Financial Institutions.
Both Sadc and African Union have loudly been denouncing sanctions which they say serve no one than to impoverish the masses of Zimbabwe by bringing the country’s economy to its knees in what has become a political chess game where ordinary people are being used as pawns.
Sadc has renewed its calls for the removal of the economic embargo with 25 October declared a day where the region will be in solidarity with Zimbabwe for the unconditional lifting of sanctions by America and the European Union.
Sanctions, it has been argued, are meant to push a regime change agenda given the new dispensation’s propensity for re-engagement where it has been paying debts to international lending institutions, tackling corruption and working on such reforms as electoral as well as respecting property rights.
All that effort has not been met with encouraging attitude from the US, leaving progressive minds thinking that the sanctions are not about rule of law and human rights but have an ulterior political motive.
Economic researchers have argued that the sanctions are hurting the ordinary citizens that the US is purporting to be protecting and calls are daily getting louder for the US and its EU partners to lift the sanctions and give Zimbabweans a chance to develop its institutions.