MANATSE Kapindamoyo (47) from Chawarura village in Muzarabani has been repeatedly infected with malaria alongside other family members. A tobacco farmer and part-time artisinal gold miner, he is caught in a dilemma which many other villagers in the district are also faced with.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
The hunger stalking villages has forced the community to throw all caution to the wind and take its chances out in the open with the malaria-causing anopheles mosquito as they seek to feed their families.
Narrating his ordeal recently to NewsDay Weekender, the soft-spoken Kapindamoyo said he had resigned himself to fate.
As the rest of the country grapples to understand why there are so many cases of malaria like never before — particularly at a time the coronavirus (COVID-19) whose symptoms mirror those of malaria — Kapindamoyo casually explained that exposure to the anopheles mosquito had increased in recent times.
“We are forced to stay out late in the open because we are faced with severe hunger,” he said.
Recently recovered from another bout of malaria, he said he was ready to go back to the fields, where he left his family guarding their few crops.
“When I became sick, I rushed to see our local village health worker (VHW), but she did not have the testing kit, so I went to Chawarura Clinic, which is far from where I stay,” he recalled.
Because of the delays, Kapindamoyo’s condition was complicated and he struggled with treatment. However, he has since recovered and said he was rearing to go back and face the pesky mosquitos.
“I stay at the fields with my whole family. I have eight children. We need to guard our crops from baboons and other animals,” he said.
The villagers work mostly at night, loading their tobacco and staying up as late as 11pm, fighting off the raging mosquitoes.
“That is how we get bitten by the mosquito. We were given mosquito nets, but we are mostly outdoors. We also do not have storage barns, so we even put the tobacco inside our houses,” he said.
Another huge challenge this year was the delayed opening of the tobacco auction floors due to the COVID-19 threat.
“We are now hungry and stuck with our crop. Tobacco is a better crop and fetches more than maize but the delays have left us with nothing. We have nothing to live on,” he said, his face clouding with emotion, before determination quickly took over.
“I will go back to the fields, otherwise my family will perish from hunger.”
To supplement their eroded income, Kapindamoyo joined the large trek of illegal gold panners.
“This has forced me and other villagers to try out our luck with illegal mining,” he said.
Because some of the areas they operate from have no water, he is forced to drag his family so they can help in fetching the water.
“I have no choice, but to once again risk my family so that at least they have a fair chance at life,” he said.
While it bothers Kapindamoyo that they would still get malaria from all their outdoor activities, his options were limited.
“At the mines, we cannot pitch mosquito nets because we have heard that police and the army are out in full force, so we risk being spotted if we use nets,” he said.
So they sleep out in the open braving the mosquito bites.
“I will do this over and over again because there is just no way out for us right now,” he said, adding that government should provide a subsidised or even free repellent that he and his family can use.
“Repellents would go a long way in preventing us from being bitten, but how can we afford them when we do not even have food?”
The nurse-in-charge at Chawarura Clinic, Bertha Humire, said indeed, most of the cases resulted from the mushrooming of illegal gold mining as well as tobacco farming.
“There has been increased illegal mining along the Msengezi River. People camp along the river banks, exposing themselves to mosquitoes,” she said.
Humire also confirmed that many villagers slept outside tending to their tobacco and underscored that in some instances, the malaria cases were also imported.
“We also have challenges with imported cases of malaria from other areas because of the illegal mining. People come from all over the country and some will be infected with malaria,” she explained.
Humire said there has been a marked increase in malaria cases compared to last year’s figures.
“For example, in week 16 last year, we had 180 cases but same period this year, we had 220 cases,” she said.
Speaking on COVID-19 preparedness, she said they had conducted trainings of health workers and any person outside Centenary district was treated as a suspect.
“In terms of facilities, we have set aside a room for isolating suspected cases,” she said.
On personal protective equipment, she said they had received some, but it was not enough.
“We have received a few donations and some from the ministry, but we could use some more,” she said.
At least 131 people have died and more than 135 000 infected in the malaria outbreak which has emerged alongside the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe.
Four people have died due to COVID-19, while 34 cases have been recorded with five recoveries as of last Thursday.
According to the Health and Child Care ministry, by end of April, the cumulative malaria figures were at 135 585, with 131 deaths against the backdrop of a total of 201 malaria outbreaks reported across the country, with Manicaland, Masvingo and Mashonaland East provinces accounting for the highest figures.
Zimbabwe had previously seen a marked reduction in malaria cases from 155 per 1 000 people to 22 per 1 000 between 2003 and 2013, because of strong government funding.
But as the country continues to grapple with serious economic challenges that have brought the health sector to its knees, malaria outbreaks have been on a steadily ascent.
The outbreaks are taking place amid a COVID-19 pandemic that has infected 34 and killed four in Zimbabwe.
Globally, COVID-19 has infected more than 2,3 million and killed nearly 161 000 people.