As Health System Collapses, Zimbabwe Turns to Street Medicine

Farai Mutsaka, AP, November 6, 2016

Zimbabwe’s public health system is collapsing along with the economy, with some major hospitals suspending all non-emergency surgeries because painkillers are scarce.

Some in this southern African country are turning to the growing number of peddlers of traditional medicines, many of them young men occupying street corners in the capital, Harare.

“Faulty gear boxes, blown-out fuses . I can fix it all!” shouted Shepherd Mushore. He stood outside a now-closed garage, but he is no mechanic. He displayed tree barks, roots and leaves of all kinds.

“Gear boxes and fuses” are his euphemisms for sexual matters.

“I can treat all types of diseases that you know. I am not a herb seller. I am an African doctor,” the 34-year-old Mushore told The Associated Press.

His baseball cap and T-shirt were emblazoned with the U.S. flag. The beads around his neck and skinny jeans completed the picture of a hip-hop wannabe, not a herbalist.

Mushore admitted he is not trained in traditional medicine.

“I don’t have to. I get visions in my dreams,” he said.

The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe, the medicines regulatory body, said it was battling to control the “influx” of people selling herbs and other medicines.

“People need to be conscientious and try not to be so gullible,” said Richard Rukwata, the authority’s spokesman. “There all these inflated claims around a lot of these herbs and medicines that are being sold by lay persons. But members of the public, some of them actually believe that those things work.”

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Many people cannot afford the fees charged at hospitals. Hospital authorities often have resorted to detaining patients, including mothers who have just delivered babies, until they pay. This had forced some to seek alternatives.

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