‘MANTHUSENG Balakha (78) trudges along a rocky path with the aid of a walking stick.
Following behind her is Nkhono ‘Maleteba Qhoso who looks way older and uses a walking stick while also leaning on her grandchild for support.
The women’s feet are now dusty from the 10-kilometre journey that they have endured from Litsebe village across the Senqunyane River to access health services provided by the Indian Association in Lesotho (IAL) in Sankong village in the Maseru district on Sunday.
It is 10am and she and others had to wake up at 6am so that they can walk slowly with other older women.
Nkhono Balakha’s demeanour betrays fatigue yet there is an aura of urgency as she draws closer to the health camp conducted by the IAL.
For Nkhono Balakha and hundreds other villagers, the services provided at the camp are befitting of an early Christmas as they have not accessed primary health care for several months.
The closest clinic, Likalaneng, is 35 kilometres from Sankong where the one taxi that plies the route charges M100 for a return trip. If villagers miss the taxi, they have to wait for the next day as there are hardly any cars travelling on the road.
Fortunately for Nkhono Balakha and other elderly patients on the day, the medical practitioners gave preference to senior citizens and they did not have to wait in the queue.
After being attended to, she sits on a bench pondering. She has to endure the same distance she travelled on foot on her way home from Sankong.
She told the Lesotho Times that the last time that she visited the clinic early this year, she had to wake up at 4am to catch the taxi.
“The nearest clinic is in Likalaneng and for us to get there we have to wake up at around 4am, walk for more than an hour in order to get here at Sankong where we board a M50 taxi to the clinic,” Nkhono ‘Manthuseng said.
“However, to get here (Sankong) we have to cross the river as there is no bridge. We have to cross through the water even in the winter when the water is unbearably cold but we cannot cross in the rainy season.
“There are plenty of patients, some of whose conditions are so grave but they cannot travel to health facilities. When it comes to the worst men have to make stretchers from wood which they use to pull the patient to the bus stop. Some have even died on the way to the bus stop.
“Even expecting mothers have to endure the same experiences. Often, they are then forced to just seek shelter from the bushes and deliver their babies out in the open.”
Nkhono ‘Manthuseng had no kind words for politicians saying she had given up hope that any of them would ever deliver on their promises. She said she had voted diligently since the country’s first democratic elections 1965 but has never seen change.
“I have voted since 1965 and every politician we put in power has promised us roads, a bridge and a clinic but till this day we have not seen any progress. For instance, for how many years have we voted Mosisili (former Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili) into power but he has done nothing for us?
“I heard that the minister (Home Affairs, Tsukutlane Au) is coming today. I want to see him so that I can have a word with him, we are tired of the empty promises they make to us whenever it is time for elections,” she said.
Despite her vow to seek the commitment from Mr Au over the construction of roads, bridges and a clinic, she had to leave before he eventually arrived at 3pm.
‘Matefo Manong (65) urged the government to speedily construct a clinic in the area and proper road network. She however, showered praises on the IAL for their gesture.
“We direly need a clinic here. If they erect it here at Sankong at least it would be central to all Ha Mohale villages.
“I was due to go to Paray Hospital in Thaba Tseka next week to see an optician but I no longer have to go because I got assistance from the visiting doctors. We are greatly humbled by their visit and if only they could visit us at least once a month,” she said.
Mr Au engaged the IAL who travelled who the area with 10 doctors, eight pharmacists and over 40 volunteers. At least 500 villagers had registered to get medical attention although the number surpassed the mark on the day.
Some of the people travelled from villages such as Litsebe, Senqunyane, Ha Nyakane, Ha Khojane, Pae Pae, Ha Moqokoane, Ha Joele, Ha Motoko, Ha Mokhati and Molikoalikoane. The Home Affairs ministry provided vehicles which ferried some of the villagers to and from the health camp.
For his part, IAL president, Biju Abraham Korah, said that their aim is to assist to Basotho in any way possible. He however, said they often fail to visit the area due to budgetary constraints.
“Our objective is to uplift Basotho’s wellbeing through various ways which are not limited to medical services including education and donations to the vulnerable as well.
“We intend to host the medical camp in different areas around Lesotho to give people access to health services. However, we noted that there was a greater need in the rural areas like Sankong which is why we are focusing on it. Unfortunately, we cannot come back here every month like the people are asking, the medication on its own cost us around M40 000.
“If supported well, this could be one of the most sustainable resources of giving people quality life. We need to all work together to ensure we build the nation with healthy people,” Mr Korah said.
Also addressing the villagers on the day, Mr Au said that there was a great need of health facilities in his constituency. He however, said he was in talks with minister of Health, Nkaku Kabi to build a clinic there.
“People in this area have to travel long distances to Likalaneng to get health services. I am also aware of mothers who give birth on their way to the clinic and I remember a disheartening case where a mother died just after she gave birth on the way to the clinic.
“I am grateful to the IAL for the assistance they have given us today. I am still in talks with Ntate Kabi in line with the construction of a clinic here,” Mr Au said.