BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
IT is now exactly 17 years since the construction of the long-awaited Lupane Provincial Hospital began, with annual budgetary allocations and deadlines set but on the ground the project remains a dream.
In January 2018, the government set an overly ambitious 100-day target to complete the hospital, with then Health ministry permanent secretary Gerald Gwinji adding that $100 million had been set aside for the project.
Gwinji said part of the $100 million was earmarked for refurbishment works at Harare Central Hospital.
The project was first mooted in 2004, the same year Lupane State University (LSU) was established, to cater for patients from the whole Matabeleland region.
Construction of the LSU is yet to be completed several years on.
A number of planned projects in the wildlife rich province also remain incomplete.
Matabeleland North patients have to be ferried to Bulawayo for specialist care as the region’s provincial hospital remains incomplete.
In Binga, some patients’ canoe to neighbouring Zambia for special health care services as Bulawayo is several kilometres away, a costly journey coupled with the poor state of roads there.
“The construction of the Lupane provincial hospital, which is supposed to serve the entire Matabeleland North province has taken way too long, and this has greatly affected the health delivery system in the province as most people in the province from the seven districts have some challenges in accessing health services,” commented Vumani Ndlovu, the coordinator of the Rural Communities Empowerment Trust – a Lupane-based independent Non-Governmental Organisation.
“Nothing significant has been done for the past 17 years.
“It would be prudent for the government to consider public private partnerships to speed up the project.”
Lupane district is heavily endowed with prime teak wood, gravel, gas and wildlife but there is little economic development benefiting villagers.
Timber logging is a multi-billion dollar business, but the district has little to show for the timber riches with poor social services.
Matabeleland Provincial Affairs minister Richard Moyo on Friday, however, said the government is committed towards ensuring that some units of the planned hospital become operational by year-end.
“We were there last week,” Moyo said.
“Contractors are on site and happy they are being paid on time. I am certain that some wings can start being operational by year end,” Moyo said as he brushed aside questions about the government’s lack of commitment to ensure the completion of the project.
In April, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga who doubles up as Health and Child Care minister toured the construction site of the Lupane Provincial Hospital where he set an 18-moth deadline for the construction of the hospital.
“Matabeleland North is the only province without a provincial hospital with a population of over 700 000 people, we can’t afford this. It is this particular thing that has driven us to come here and we shall continue coming,” Chiwena said then.
In his mid-term fiscal policy statement last week, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said: “The construction of Lupane Provincial Hospital is now on course following the payment of $46 million owed to the contractor.”
The first phase of works cover construction of outpatient department, pharmacy and administration buildings, staff accommodation and casualty unit while central stores are expected to be completed during 2021.