By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
Dwindling funding opportunities due to COVID-19 and general donor fatigue have affected the health delivery system in Zimbabwe’s mission hospitals thereby prompting some health centres to find alternative means of maintaining their reputation in providing health services for the poor. St. Albert’s Hospital in Muzarabani is one such institution that has embarked on serious agriculture for purposes of sustaining its running costs. The International Medical Association (IMA) Sisters entered into commercial agriculture as a way of sustaining the hospital way back before the death of Dr. Elizabeth Tarira, the founding member of the institution.
After the demise of Dr. Tarira in 2012 and realising that the hospital relied only on one funding partner, Sister Doctor Julia Musariri engaged into high gear starting goats, chicken, fish, rabbit and piggery projects.
“I realised that there was only one funding partner left for the hospital when I took over its administration in 2012 and in 2014 CESVI discontinued their support for us. We were left struggling as we depended too much on donor funding,” Dr. Musariri said.
She said funding for procuring medicine and equipment was a nightmare. The hospital account was left with RTGS$258.00, completely next to nothing to do anything. According to Dr. Musariri, the situation was hopeless and she contemplated on the best way forward in meeting the health needs of the poor Muzarabani people. But as the Psalmist says: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man,” (Psalms 118:8). The Sisters’ trust in God paid back through their engagement with a Mutorashanga farmer who assisted them in establishing a poultry project with the help of their friends in the United States of America and Australia who provided funds for the birds and completion of the fowl run.
Speaking to Catholic Church News, Dr. Musariri said that is when their eyes were opened to more sustainable, complementary and profitable projects.
“We then resuscitated the piggery project and in no time started a fish project that is already producing fish for sale. With the help we received from CAFOD, we opened a second fish pond that is beaming with the Kariba Bream fish. We are very happy that the projects are doing pretty well and we are already reaping the fruits,” said Dr. Musariri.
In an effort to widen their spectrum in agriculture, the Sisters explored about goat farming which they also found to be lucrative and they boast of close to 50 goats of a mixed breed. Because of the Sisters’ efforts the hospital has 3000 layers’ chicken which produce more than 70 crates of eggs a day. However, St. Alberts’ Hospital is located in a very low income area that they have to travel to Mt. Darwin, Rushinga or Mary Mount to sell the eggs while some are sold to the local community.
Accompanied with animal husbandry and fishery, there is a booming vegetable production that also benefits the hospital and the surrounding communities. Fields of cabbages, tomatoes, sweet potato and onion bear testimony to the hard work of the Sisters who have committed themselves to transforming the hospital through land use. Dr. Musariri said the hospital was looking forward to establishing markets in urban areas such as Harare for the distribution of their farm produce.
She confirmed that the projects support the hospital by injecting income into the system.
She said: “Although the projects are not very big, they are good enough to sustain us. We are thinking about increasing the number of doctors at the hospital and these projects are important in facilitating a top up on their salaries. This is the only way to go than to over rely on donors who are also overwhelmed.”
Dr. Musariri shared that the scourge of Covid-19 heavily impacted on funding opportunities for the hospital as donors who usually support them from abroad were also affected. She challenged faith based hospitals and other church institutions to use local resources to fundraise and to improve their service delivery to the communities that they serve.