3 500 children in Zimbabwe have muscular dystrophy

By Kenias Chivuzhe

AN estimated 3 500 children in Zimbabwe are believed to be suffering from muscular dystrophy, a condition where muscles become weak, owing to gene mutation.

The rare condition has been receiving less support over the years, with the only centre in country at Odzi in Manicaland Province having closed in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19 before re-opening this year.

20-year-old Onius Ngwenya is one of the patients suffering from muscular dystrophy which has since claimed his two brothers.

“The closure of this institution had painful memories on my life. When we returned home during the lockdown, my two brothers with a similar condition passed on. When I returned home, I was able to walk, but now I cannot. I am very happy that I am here again where we get assistance,” said he said.

Reverend Togara Mapingure, whose organisation is running the muscular dystrophy centre in Odzi, is convinced the situation can improve for the better if support comes through.

“Muscular dystrophy has very little support from donors and government because it is rare. We are appealing for grants from government through per-capita grants so that we can pay the voluntary care givers who have volunteered for more than ten years now. At any given time, there should be over 3 500 people with muscular dystrophy in Zimbabwe. Due to lack of awareness, they are hidden as they are identified with evil spirits as it only affects the male children,” said Rev Mapingure.

In some communities, the rare condition, which affects males only, is associated with evil spirits and curses hence the need for more awareness campaigns.

“There is need to raise awareness on the condition and we need to demystify this condition as people think that this condition is a result of demonic attacks and curses on certain families. We feel that this centre requires support to carry out its mandate. This impairment is not common, hence persons with such conditions are left out by organizations in their interventions,” said Leonard Marange, director of Federation of Organizations of Disabled People in Zimbabwe.

Christian Blind Mission Country Director, Deborah Tigere, who handed over a donation at the dystrophy centre says support towards people with such a condition should be a national priority.

“This is a very rare condition and requires a lot of support and rehabilitation services where communities need to be capacitated and raise awareness on such a condition. Now that we have seen the national disability policy being endorsed by President Mnangagwa, the onus is now on us as communities and stakeholders to rally behind the policy and ensure that such conditions are supported,” she said.

The dystrophy centre has 24 patients and will have an additional 20 when schools open, with medical and nutritional interventions expected to improve life expectancy from less than 20 to up to 40 years.