A mega clinic operating on the sidelines of an evangelistic series in Zimbabwe has treated nearly 7,600 patients in its first five days as news about the free healthcare spreads like wildfire across the desert African country.
The Health Expo, patterned after three Adventist free clinics held in the U.S., opened in a shopping center in Chitungwiza on May 13, four days before the May 17 kickoff of the “Revelation of Hope” evangelistic series in an adjacent field.
About 18,000 people are attending the nightly Bible presentations by Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson in the field in Chitungwiza, located 36 kilometers south of the capital, Harare. Other evangelistic meetings are being held simultaneously at 86 other sites in 17 cities across Zimbabwe and will end with an anticipated 30,000 baptisms on Sabbath, May 30.
Dr. Alexis Llaguno, a key organizer of the free clinic, said more than 200 patients were already waiting in line at 5 a.m. Monday so they could be the first to receive treatment when the doors opened at 8:30 a.m. By midday, 1,200 people were waiting for treatment in a square at the center of the shopping center.
Patients have come as far away as Tsoholosho, about 520 kilometers south of Chitungwiza toward the Botswana border.
“Even though they have to pay for the bus fare to get here, the expenditure is worth the transportation money because they know they will get quality and caring service,” said Llaguno, health ministries director for the Adventist Church’s Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, which includes Zimbabwe.
More than 180 medical volunteers are working at the clinic, which runs through May 29 and is open every day except Sabbath. They had planned to treat up to 1,000 people a day but managed to see 2,475 on Monday alone, bringing the total for the first five days to 7,597 patients, Llaguno said.
The free clinic is offering a variety of services, including medical tests for diabetes and heart disease, cancer screening, eye exams, psychological evaluations, dental services, nutrition classes, a stop-smoking program, primary health care, minor surgeries including circumcision, and major surgeries at a nearby government hospital.
The number of patients has been growing daily, fed by news coverage on the radio and word-of-mouth as those who received treatment go home and tell their neighbors. A news report about the clinic is also scheduled to air on national television.
The huge demand from patients echoes an Adventist-organized free clinic in a stadium in San Antonio, Texas, that saw 1,700 volunteers treat about 6,100 patients in three days last month. About 3,000 patients received free healthcare at similar events in San Francisco and Oakland, California, in April 2014.
Llaguno said the Zimbabwean initiative had only grown so large thanks to the Adventist Church’s readiness to work with other agencies.
Seeing the magnitude of the impact of the free clinic, an ophthalmologist in private practice has contacted organizers to ask how he could become involved, he said. A cardio-thoracic surgeon is performing free surgeries.
In addition, Premier Service Medical Investment, a semi-private organization, sent its dental and eye mobile clinic to the shopping center, supplementing a service offered by Adventist volunteers onsite. Zimbabwe’s National Family Planning Council is providing women’s health services. The Women’s University in Africa, a private organization, has a dozen volunteers offering emotional and mental health services.
“This event would not have been as explosive as it is had it not been for the church networking and collaborating with other agencies,” Llaguno said.
The Health Expo is being managed by Dr. Masima Mwazha, a medical doctor and former missionary to the Kanye Adventist hospital in Botswana, and Linda Sibanda, a nutritionist and public health specialist. Overseeing the project from the Zimbabwe Union Conference is its health ministries director, Innocent Gwizo.
“They are the ones who are the heroes in this undertaking,” Llaguno said.