Doctors in Zimbabwe say there is a marked increase in cases of stroke in the country due to high stress levels fueled by a spike in non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension.
Official statistics indicate that Zimbabwe recorded 592 cases of stroke in 2009 and two years later the figure had risen to 1,134. Though the Ministry of Health has not released latest figures, doctors say stroke is affecting a large number of Zimbabweans.
Rutendo Bonde, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, attributes the increase to what she says is a stressful life in the country.
“There has been an increase in all NCDs in Zimbabwe. It’s related with the lifestyle, living a highly stressful life. The life pressures cause people to spend less on health care. Undiagnosed hypertension is a major cause. In public there is nowhere someone can go for routine checks so you have to go to private health care providers where costs are unaffordable.”
Bonde says Zimbabwe’s health institutions are struggling to rehabilitate stroke patients.
“When someone has experienced stroke it’s not just the event, it’s the rehabilitation afterwards which can be over a long period of time. Where do people go, it’s the private sector because in public health people get sent home and there are not any rehabilitation services there for such patients, speech, physiotherapy and occupational therapy to try and restore the brain.
“It shows that there are certain elements of the right to health which are not being met. The obligation of the state to fulfill the right to health of such patients is not being met. As the country becomes more difficult to live in it means that more and more such cases will be recorded and more violations too.”
Lydia Takawira, who suffered a stroke early this year, says she is now living a miserable life.
“I suffered hemorrhagic stroke in January this year. Since then my life has changed in many ways. I need to see many different specialists every week for different therapies including speech, muscles and occupational rehabilitation. That is a lot of money for me. I cannot work now and we all have to rely on my husband’s meager salary for food and treatment. I end up skipping some sessions.”
According to specialist physician, Andrew Mataruse, stroke is affecting all age groups.
“Generally what we have noted with stroke which is loss of function due to lack of blood to the brain, diabetes and hypertension are the major causes and also old age. It used to be common in Caucasians but now common in Africa.
“In the 90s, Professor Matenga did a study in Harare they were lesser than what we are seeing now. Because of funding we have not been able to do community based studies but hospital-based trends have shown a steep escalation of cases now also involving younger patients. In 2012-2013 we compiled a stroke registry at Parirenyatwa, stroke prevalence showed that out of 11,000 admissions, four percent are actually new strokes.”
PRIMARY HEALTH CARE
Mataruse says the current harsh economic environment in Zimbabwe is worsening the situation.
“Apart from how we eat, we haven’t been able to maintain our primary health so for someone to discover that they have stroke, they actually have to go and see a doctor and that the doctor may require an extra dollar which someone may not afford. The melt-down of the economy limits access to health care and triggers these problems.”
It costs up to $100 per session for stroke patients to undergo physiotherapy sessions in private hospitals as most state health institutions do not have appropriate manpower and proper equipment.
Health authorities acknowledged that there is an increase in cases of stroke in Zimbabwe but were not at liberty to discuss this issue without being cleared by Health Minister David Parirenyatwa, who was also not available for comment.