The clinic at Zavora in Mozambique stemmed out of Doctors for Life’s mobile clinic ministry to African countries. We had always dreamed of having a permanent clinic in an African country and Mozambique is the first country where it has been realized.
Doctors for Life were invited by a missionary already working in Mozambique to start a permanent clinic. We were not sure of how to respond to this offer as it can be a major administrative task to apply for, and run a clinic in a foreign country. One also needs to own the land that the clinic is established on because of the investment made by the donors who fund and support the clinic.
We thought that we had put the missionary off the idea, but three weeks later he contacted us and officially donated land to Doctors for Life to build a clinic. The registration only took three months.
Initially the work was carried out in tents and there was a large contingent of volunteers. A certain organization donated a helicopter and provided a pilot and the maintenance of the craft if we could cover the costs of the fuel. At that time we had a large group of volunteer medical students from the University of Kwazulu Natal who were willing to sponsor the fuel.
Suddenly, we received a message from the new administrator of the area who knew nothing about the prior arrangements. They wanted to know who we were and what we were doing flying a helicopter in the area doing medical work? We tried our best to keep the clinical work going using the helicopter but we were prevented from doing so, although we were still allowed to use the helicopter for health education programmes.
We were not sure anymore as to whether we should have a clinic in Mozambique and so we stopped any major activities in the area for about a year. Eventually we decided that we should get final clarity as to whether we would be allowed to run a clinic or not, and so we contacted the government and arranged a meeting with the Minister of Health.
Contact with the missionary was very difficult at that time because of poor reception in the remote areas and so we weren’t able to speak to him for about three weeks. When we arrived in Mozambique to meet him and go to the Minister together, we noticed that he was smiling broadly and was very happy. As it turned out, the Health Department, the police and the security police had arrived at the Doctors for Life property to arrest and deport everybody. There had apparently been rumours that we were flying patients out of the country to South Africa, and that they were dying here. They demanded to see the clinic! After everything had been explained to them and the misunderstandings were cleared up, they left.
That afternoon the Department of Health phoned and apologized profusely for the misunderstanding. They said that we would have an answer in two weeks but that unfortunately, we would not be allowed to work in tents but would have to have a proper clinic! This was all very good news but building, equipping, staffing and running a clinic is a costly undertaking and we didn’t have the resources to do it.
We then returned to South Africa. After we arrived back, we were informed that a donation had been made by a Dutch gentleman to Doctors for Life, especially for building a clinic, and that the donation was enough to cover the costs of establishing it. What good news!