No more merry Christmases

IT is December 2002 another year has just gone by. Scores of farm workers are gathered at the farmhouse waiting for the lorry to take them to Marondera, the provincial capital of Mashonaland East, about 72km east of Harare.

Finally everyone is seated on the back of the truck and they leave ONeil Farm situated South West of the province in Chikomba District and arrive in Marondera at noon. Everyone scrambles out of the truck and rushes towards SAV Supermarket owned by Hare Krishna, a local businessman of Indian origin. Men, women and children jostle and push each other as they grab trolleys to fill up with groceries. It is Christmas time and they cannot hide their excitement. It is time to meet old friends and relatives from other farms in the area, to eat, drink and be merry.

Chenai Matake is among the children caught up in the wave of excitement. Her dreams are no different. She pictures herself growing up, earning her own money and coming back to SAV one day and shopping for goodies. Growing up at the ONeil farm in the 90s, Chenai dreamt of a life as a farm worker in one of the several fields at the farm, home to more than 50 families that resided in the compound.

A decade later, 23-year-old Chenais dreams have been shattered. She is now a pale figure that is struggling to make ends meet, living with her sick mother and brother Tatenda who is 16 and her three year old son.

In 2000 the government embarked on a fast track land reform exercise which displaced about two million people, many of them farm workers and their families. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), this migration was primarily rural to rural, followed by rural to urban while the rest of the population crossed borders.

Chenais family is one of several families that were affected. They were forced off the ONeill farm taken to Calais farm in Featherstone, about 90km from the capital along the Harare-Masvingo highway. They were first moved to Calais as farm workers and only allocated 35 hectares of prime land through the land reform exercise after some time. The displacement of the farm workers had a huge impact on their health particularly those who had been diagnosed HIV positive and were on anti-retroviral treatment.

Farm workers at Calais and other surrounding farms used to access health services through the Farm Health Worker (FHW) scheme but the new farmers said the facility no longer existed. Chenais father was diagnosed with HIV in 2002 and regularly received free ARVs at a clinic located on the farm before it was taken over by indigenous farmers in 2004. This treatment was disrupted when the Matake family was relocated to Calais Farm.

Chenais father had two choices to continue with his treatment. He would have to travel to either Chivhu, a farming town 50km away or to Beatrice, a satellite town about 4Okm away to find health facilities to enable him to access his monthly supply of ARVs. He was unable to travel to either of the health facilities and started skipping on his medication and eventually he stopped altogether and later he died.

HIV is now considered a chronic long term disease for many patients, and it requires them to adhere to their medications. Adherence to treatment is vital in suppressing the viral load and curbing resistance. Missed doses can lead to drug resistance and poor prognosis, said Dr Fortune Nyamande. Chenai cannot find work on the farms in the vicinity. There is no money to farm the land which the family was allocated. Her mother only discovered she was HIV positive in 2008 after falling ill and taken to hospital for treatment. She too has no regular supply of ARV drugs.

Most of the times she goes to bed without taking her drugs…We do not have money for her to travel to the clinic to get her monthly supply. There is often no food to take the drugs with, said Chenai. Newly resettled farmers at Calais said the situation had been made worse by the absence of farm health workers who used to bridge the gap between the clinics and the people.

The role of the farm health worker was multi faceted because she was responsible for pre-school activities, dispensed drugs for minor ailments and educated communities on health and hygiene, said Givemore Mutero. The General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) said it was worried at the unavailability of drugs. The Farm Health Programme is one of those services that must come back to life,said Health Minister Henry Madzorera in an interview.

He said that in the short term, the ministry planned to reintroduce mobile clinics and village health workers to provide farm communities with basic health services and health education. Eventually we must have a clinic within a 5km radius of every settlement.

Josephine Kachidza who used to be a health worker at the farm is now working at a clinic in Chivhu. It is a pity that we are no longer able to serve the community, she said. She said the displacement of people and the economic hardships had forced many to engage in risky sexual behaviour. Chenai and her family now depend on the generosity of humanitarian organisations which assist with food handouts. I am feeling better now because Chenai was able to get some healthy food that I have been taking for some time now, said her mother.

Editors note: Francis Rwodzi is a freelance journalist and a media relations consultant.

Post published in: Opinions

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