Zimbabwe has the lowest life expectancy in the world; the average age is 34 years old. Approximately 90% of the popu- lation living in this rugged, beautiful country is HIV posi- tive. Frequent disease outbreaks, malaria, an agonizingly high infant and maternal mortality rate, tuberculosis, in ad- dition to inadequate access to both trained health care pro- fessionals and nearby hospital settings, have left Zimbabwe in a state of dire humanitarian need. While most Canadians are unable and unqualified to fly to South Africa in an effort to help, there are human beings among us with the skill and compassion to positively impact the world. However, these special people require support that is – in one case – now absent.
Recently, the international community has watched in muted horror as Salvation Army Officer Dr. Paul Thistle was asked to surrender his position as medical surgeon at the Howard Hospital in Chiweshe, Zimbabwe. The allegation is that Dr. Paul Thistle questioned the Salvation Army’s integ- rity pertaining to the securing of funds and donations al- located specifically for the Zimbabwe region. Following his suggestion that there was corruption within the administration level of the Salvation Army, Dr. Thistle was dismissed from his position at the Howard Hospital. He then received an unexpected message demanding that he, his wife Pedrinah, and their children must immediately pack their belongings, desert their home, and leave Zimbabwe within 48 hours.
It is being stated by the Church that the periodic reloca- tion of an officer is normal Salvation Army procedure. Yet, consider that Dr. Thistle has worked to treat the people of Zimbabwe for a jaw dropping sum of 17 years, he is well known and liked among the Zimbabwe civilians, has strived to improve education and nutrition of orphans, his pristine reputation in Canada ensures the continued flow of donor activity, and above all, that he is the area’s only qualified surgeon, providing lifesaving medical care to over 270, 000 villagers.
Thistle has refused the Salvation Army’s order to return to Canada, twice. The final date given for his absolute de- parture is October 5. The international outcry against the removal of Thistle continues to be voiced, with increasing volume. Upset by this news, and fearful of the effects that Thistle’s absence will have on the communities, forces have joined to create the Interfaith Friends of Howard Hospital (IFFH). This group has been working tirelessly, hoping to convince Salvation Army International to reappoint Thistle as chief medical officer at Howard Hospital.
As a result of the chaos, Howard Hospital is not fully functioning at this time, leaving thousands unable to receive appropriate medical care. A paper compiled and presented
by the Concerned Members of the Salvation Army and Friends of Howard Hospital stated that, “the eventual send- ing of another doctor to Howard [as a replacement] will not be a lasting solution as long as the Church authorities continue to operate with impunity to dismiss the likes of Dr. Thistle. We are deeply concerned by the way the handling of this matter has tarnished the image of our Church, not just in Chiweshe, or in Zimbabawe but the world over.”
Brian Nichols, a recent guest lecturer at Trent University, has made 7 trips to Howard Hospital as a volunteer. He commented: “When people anywhere in the world suffer unnec- essarily at the hands of governments or religious groups, we need to feel outrage and do what we can to bring attention to the injustices. I am concerned that ineffective leadership by the Salvation Army in Zimbabwe (and condoned by Canadian and British Salvation Army leaders) puts the entire continent of Africa in immediate jeopardy. Over 3000 peo- ple infected with AIDS are registered at Howard Hospital and over 7000 people in the Chiweshe region are infected.”
There is no simple solution to this complex problem. A thorough investigation of the allegations made must be undertaken. But two facts remain. Firstly, the vast majority of Salvationists are caring people who ought to be commended for the good work that they do. Secondly, the closure of Howard Hospital should not, in any way, be encouraged or even remotely considered.