Zimbabwe bush doctor, Rotarians raising hospital cash

Rotary Clubs of Aldergrove and Langley hosted a reception for Dr. Paul Thistle at the Gateway of Hope

Dr. Paul Thistle

Dr. Paul Thistle

While B.C.’s medical system has its faults, imagine trying to get health care in rural Zimbabwe, where the death rate of mothers in pregnancy or delivery is 790 per 100,000 deliveries, compared to six per 100,000 in Canada per year.

Canadian Dr. Paul Thistle, who has lived and worked as a bush doctor for 16 years at the Salvation Army’s Howard Hospital in Zimbabwe, came to Langley June 27 to advocate for his patients and their growing needs there.

The Rotary Clubs of Aldergrove and Langley hosted a reception for him at the Gateway of Hope. The public heard his stories and saw pictures from one Aldergrove Rotarian’s recent trip to Zimbabwe and the Howard Hospital.

“Dr. Thistle has this incredible calm among the busyness of that hospital,” said Katy Loewen, an Aldergrove Rotarian who made her latest trip to Zimbabwe with her husband and two teenagers in March.

“You and I would be overwhelmed if we saw how many people are needing medical attention every day, but he maintains his cool and just plugs away at it.”

She said he only takes one week off a year to come home to Canada and visit his family.

Often Thistle is the only doctor to serve the more than 270,000 people who live in and around the area.

Some of the sick walk 14 miles to seek medical treatment and then have to wait hours for help.

“The hospital is in desperate need of staff. They are desperate need of medical supplies,” said Loewen. “Even pharmaceuticals would be a huge help.”

That’s where Langley comes in, said Rotarian Brendan Martin who has been working hard to fundraise to help the Howard Hospital and Dr. Thistle.

“I’m happy to report that we, the four Rotary Clubs of Aldergrove/Langley, are now 55 per cent of the way towards reaching our goal of $105,000 for medical equipment for Salvation Army Howard Hospital in Zimbabwe,” said Martin, founder of International Health Langley, which is a fundraising arm of the Rotary Clubs that help hospitals in poor nations.

“The maternal mortality rate relating to pregnancy/childbirth is 100 times that of ours in Canada,” said Martin.

“This fact is enough to stop us in our tracks at least for a little while, to think of mothers so unfairly visited by death while giving life to another.”

One of the purchases that money in Langley will buy is an X-ray machine that will help mothers through their pregnancies from detecting breeches to other problems.

Most women in Zimbabwe have around four children each, said Loewen. But many of those women are infected with HIV, which brings many complications to pregnancy and post-birth.

Prostitution is rampant there, said Loewen, with woman selling their bodies to feed their babies. HIV and Tuberculosis are epidemic.

“The HIV rates among women is staggering which leads to the two million orphans that live in Zimbabwe,” she said.

When Loewen first visited Zimbabwe in 2009 to help in an orphanage, she brought many of her family, including her sister-in-law from Manitoba who is a registered nurse. They held a mini-clinic to clean up wounds, help with skin infections, treat worms and even hand out Aspirin she had brought.

“Even for that clinic, people walked miles to get to us and wait in line to seek help. Doing that gave them hope,” she said.

But for all the struggles, “there is this incredible sense of joy among people there,” she said.

She said Africa “gets into your blood” and her family has taken two trips, but those won’t be their last.

Hospital a lifeline for 270,000

Howard Mission Hospital has been administered by the Salvation Army since 1923, serving the medical, social and spiritual needs of the Chiweshe villages and surrounding farm areas.

Howard Hospital serves more than 270,000 people, predominantly comprised of economically vulnerable subsistence farmers.

To fulfill its mission, the hospital offers a full range of medical and surgical services, including in-patient care with 144 beds, outpatients, and maternity services with 2,700 deliveries per year. The hospital also operates nursing and midwifery schools.

Howard Hospital was one of the first hospitals in Zimbabwe chosen to implement HIV/AIDS treatment.

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