By Nhau Mangirazi
After serving for 40 years at Chidamoyo Mission Hospital in Hurungwe district in Mashonaland West, Sister Kathy McCarty breathed her last on May 26 in the United States.
She was 66.
Her memorial service was held in the United States on Friday and there are plans to repatriate her body to Zimbabwe to fulfil her wish to be buried near Chidamoyo Mission Hospital.
McCarty is said to have identified a place (anthill) near the hospital where she wanted her remains to be interred under local burial rites.
Although she had a home in Batanai village in Hurungwe’s ward 13, McCarty chose to be buried near the hospital where she served for four decades.
Hurungwe community lost a dedicated woman who helped locals to access medication during trying times.
Her death came as a shock to many people, including people whom she helped during her time while serving at Chidamoyo Mission Hospital, one of a handful rural health facilities that had stocks of medication and was well-equipped.
The hospital had a large catchment area, reaching all corners of the country.
McCarty was part of Hurungwe community leaders championing access to health for women with developmental approach on HIV and Aids. Her commitment was for social justice and women health empowerment.
Her love to assist local communities was a call that has been elusive for many, who no longer “work for peanuts” as they are always on strike over poor salaries.
Sometime in 2012, I visited Chidamoyo Mission Hospital where expecting mothers brought cow dung as payment for hospital fees.
She said it was improper for them to pay.
“We allow these women and any other patient to bring cow dung as payment as it will be used as manure for the garden so that patients get vegetables. Some of these women are from afar and we want them to be closer to the health facility.
“We don’t want to lose women dying while giving birth,’’ she said then.
McCarty had a dream of a mother’s shelter.
It has become a national reality where mother’s shelters have seen mostly expecting women staying near health facilities to reduce maternal deaths.
McCarty first came to Zimbabwe as a secretary to the missionary doctor, who was at Chidamoyo Christian Mission in 1972.
It was then when she got a call to work for the mostly remote community under Chief Dandawa after falling in love with the people of Hurungwe.
She went back to the US and in 1977, McCarty graduated from nursing school in California where she briefly worked as a nurse.
After graduating with a Master’s Degree in Midwifery, she returned to Zimbabwe in 1981 to re-open Chidamoyo Mission Hospital as it had been closed during the liberation war.
In 1981, McCarty established an immunisation programme that was tailored for mostly rural children that had not been vaccinated during the war.
She worked for several years without a stationed doctor at the hospital and had to rely on visiting medical practitioners.
McCarty never gave up as she remained the eyes, ears and voice of community needs through sourcing of medication from abroad.
It worked well for the communities here.
In 1991, Chidamoyo Mission Hospital became the first health facility in Hurungwe district offering home-based care to people living with HIV.
Her initiative came as the country was battling HIV and Aids, especially in rural areas.
In 2003, antiretroviral therapy (ART)treatment became available at Chidamoyo Mission Hospital.
Three years later, McCarty started outreach clinics for ART within Hurungwe that saw coverage going as far as Mudzimu, Deve, Batanai, St Boniface and Mzilawempi villages, among others.
With her supporting churches in the US, McCarty made the hospital fully functional by providing resources that sustained it.
McCarty also offered prayers to patients.
She has three siblings, who are living in the US.
Her unwavering support for access to health among rural communities has been part of an achievement that she will be remembered for.
“The home-based care programmes and support systems that McCarty started in 1991 were necessary as hospitals could not cope with the HIV and Aids pandemic by then. She became a support pillar for families taking care of their loved ones in rural communities and it needed someone that people had trust in,” said Catherine Murombedzi, steering committee chairperson of the Pan African Positive Women’s Coalition-Zimbabwe.
“She was the ideal person as people believed that she was doing it for their own good and it helped.
“Hurungwe remains indebted to McCarty who had patients travelling as far as Harare seeking treatment from Chidamoyo. Gone but never forgotten.’’ Sithembiso Madiro said: ‘‘Hurungwe is now poorer without McCarty. She was a torchbearer for women on health.’’
Dandawa Primary School teacher Shadreck Mapepa said the late McCarty was more of a mother to everyone, including teachers at both Dandawa primary and secondary schools.
‘‘This is a sad loss for us all including the education sector as she was there for us,” Mapepa said.
“She motivated us all and many of those that she assisted, who are now abroad were assisting the hospital.
“Chidamoyo Hospital and Hurungwe in general will never be the same without McCarty.’’
Go well Sister McCarty. You did well for Hurungwe and Zimbabwe at large in the health sector.