Last October, Matebello Makhanya left her village of Ramabanta early in the morning and travelled 60 km to Maseru, Lesotho’s capital, in the hope of seeing a dentist at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, the largest in the country – only to be told that the hospital was about to be closed and dental services were no longer provided there. “I am very disappointed,” she said from her place in a queue outside a small private clinic in the city centre, explaining that she had initially been referred from her local clinic to a hospital about 20 km away. “Upon arriving at that hospital I was told that there is no dental anaesthesia and that the dentist is on leave.”
Makhanya’s story is echoed by many patients who have resorted to private clinics and pharmacies after struggling to get service at both government health facilities and those run by the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL), an organization comprising six Churches. CHAL provides 40% of health services in Lesotho. In 2007, the government and CHAL, which runs 75 health centres and eight hospitals, many of them in rural areas where government health workers are reluctant to work, agreed to make their services more accessible to the poor. The resulting influx of patients put a huge strain on health centres and their supply of drugs and many over-burdened health centres have taken to referring patients to private clinics and pharmacies. Head of pharmacy in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare ‘Masoko Nt’sekhe described the situation as “very unfortunate”, particularly in the context of a country where about 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Beyond CHAL, the Catholic Church is striving to help in this situation of widening poverty. Relebohile Mabote is the Secretary General of Charitas. She explains what the Church does. “We are currently involved in microfinance and a project of conservation and agriculture, in this we cooperate with the Catholic Relief Service (from the USA, editor’s note). We also work with the World Food Program to distribute food items to poorer families. We hope to open a program for the forestation and planting of orchards for family use. We are a faith based organization, yet we address people of every faith and interest”.
How does microfinance work?
In a typical location there are groups, we bring them together by our field staff. They are supported to form a new group. We help them to prepare a constitution, we train them in keeping good administration, and we help them develop the ability to save. We also offer some capital to start lending money to members. The group has to collect payment towards extinguishing the debt and pay interests. The profit is then shard by members. The project has proved successful through the years. There are now many groups ready to support the starting of small businesses which should help self reliance.
What is your role in all this?
I have been here a short time. I see my work as that of reviving many activities, of helping the establishment of structures and methodologies that will help us to be more efficient. I am also preparing an organizational development program. At the moment all our programs are financed from outside. Once this financing is phased out, we have to stop our activities. We really need to find resources within the country, to allow us to be self-reliant. Such a plan can work only if we will b able to set realistic goals before us, developing strategic objectives and strategies that are feasible. I am sure that Caritas Lesotho will be able to redefine its role and focus on the needs of our people. We already have a good impact in many households; it is now matter of focusing better on what we can do to be of service to the poorest.