Closing the health gap in Zimbabwe
20 April 2021
(c) Rachel Quick / Oak Foundation
As we live through a global health crisis, we are reminded that many people face barriers when it comes to accessing health services. To help close this healthcare gap, our partners, MiracleFeet and Council for the Blind Zimbabwe (ZCB), have been at the forefront of providing essential health treatments to people in Zimbabwe. MiracleFeet, with operations in 29 countries globally, aims to eradicate untreated clubfoot, and the Council for the Blind Zimbabwe works to prevent blindness, restore sight through surgery, and improve quality of life for those who are blind.
Like many other countries, in March 2020, medical services across Zimbabwe were impacted by a country-wide lockdown, interrupting healthcare for thousands. Despite the unprecedented challenges, MiracleFeet and ZCB found new, efficient, and creative ways of working.
While clubfoot clinics were closed, MiracleFeet and its local partner, the Zimbabwe Sustainable Clubfoot Program, stayed in close contact with patient through telephone calls and telehealth consultations. When clinics opened back up, MiracleFeet provided personal protective equipment, implemented social distancing protocols in the clinics, and increased travel subsidies for clinic visits.
By ensuring that more children have access to the treatment they need, MiracleFeet is reducing the number of children living with the many consequences of a physical disability, including stigma, discrimination, lower economic attainment, and limited mobility. MiracleFeet’s model empowers local partners through training programmes, expanding access to treatment, and integrating treatment into public health systems to create sustainable change.
Meanwhile ZCB works in collaboration with the government to provide quality eye care services at affordable prices to Zimbabwean communities. One of the services it offers is cataract surgery. A cataract is the clouding of the eye’s natural lens behind the iris and the pupil, causing blurred vision, and which, if left untreated, may lead to blindness. They can be removed with a very simple surgery that takes 15 minutes and costs about USD 80. However, the cost and medical equipment needed for this surgery puts it beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans.
The Richard Morris Eye Hospital is part of the United Bulawayo Hospital in the south of the country. With ZCB’s support, it is providing quality eye care services at affordable prices to people in Zimbabwe. The unit offers services that include screening, eye testing, and surgery.
Despite the focus of all hospitals on Covid-19-related illnesses, between January and September 2020, the Richard Morris Eye Hospital carried out 2,117 adult and 571 paediatric consultations. Four children were operated on for cataracts, as well as 451 adults.
In addition, to combat challenges presented by Covid-19, ZCB devised an infection control plan so that clients and staff could protect themselves from the virus. As well as supplying personal protective equipment, it launched a teleclinic system to provide medical guidance to patients virtually.
As inequalities deepen, the work of MiracleFeet and ZCB to ensure affordable and accessible medical treatment for people in Zimbabwe is especially important. Both clubfoot treatment and cataract surgery are relatively inexpensive and straightforward interventions which allow children and adults to thrive.
The country of Zimbabwe is important to Oak Foundation. Our Zimbabwe Programme provides grants to local organisations, and our Trustees provide additional support for the people of Zimbabwe through the Special Interest Programme. You can read more about the programme strategy here.