Hundreds of thousands of people used to rely on the Salvation Army-run Howard Hospital in Chiweshe in Mashonaland Central Province. Many Zimbabweans remember the hospital as the only facility that remained functional when the political and economic crisis saw the collapse of the country’s medical sector.

Villagers that talked to reporter bemoaned the state of things at the hospital once highly regarded and trusted six months after the ousting of the top doctor Paul Thistle. He spent nearly two decades heading the hospital.

“Since the departure of the doctor, the hospital sometimes runs out of medicine and we are asked to go and buy [medical supplies] at the pharmacy. After Christmas, you could not even get painkillers. We now have to travel to Karanda Mission Hospital in Rushinga (almost 200 km away) to get help,” one villager commented the situation.

Religion in Zimbabwe managed to talk to a sister currently in charge of the troubled hospital who speaking on condition of anomity said that things have changed drastically.

“The inflow of patients, the general working conditions and the morale has changed. Patients are now very few. We used to have floor-beds but we are now admitting a maximum of 12 patients and not many of them are staying for many days. 

This is also affecting the incentives that we used to get when Dr Thistle was still here. The doctors that are still here do not do major operations. Even the working conditions are deteriorating. We don’t know where we will end up being. It’s unfair for us and it is also unfair for the patients,” she bewailed.

The sister in charge added that serious cases are being transferred to hospitals in Harare, while other patients are being discharged without receiving proper care. 

Another villager who had been admitted at the hospital said, “The hospital is no longer the same, even toilets are not being swept on a daily basis.”

Thou­sands of villagers last year thronged Howard Hospital to demonstrate their anger against the Salvation Army for removing Dr Thistle. 

The sister in charge said some senior officials in the church seem to suggest that the “dispute” between the church leadership and Dr Thistle emanated from the way donated funds are administered. This opinion was also suggested by other sources.

Dr. Paul Thistle, A Canadian doctor, trained in Toronto and originally from Scarborough, was ordered by the Salvation Army to return home from Zimbabwe in early August after spending 17 years working as a doctor at Howard.