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Canadian doctor won't abandon hospital staff imprisoned for him in Zimbabwe

 Dr. Paul Thistle (left) was abruptly fired and told to leave Zimbabwe by the leaders of the Salvation Army in the African country. Here he stands with Langley Rotarian Katy Loewen and her son who visited the hospital last year. - submitted
Dr. Paul Thistle (left) was abruptly fired and told to leave Zimbabwe by the leaders of the Salvation Army in the African country. Here he stands with Langley Rotarian Katy Loewen and her son who visited the hospital last year.
— image credit: submitted

The nearly $30,000 raised by Langley residents to help a hospital in Zimbabwe have been put on hold after the main doctor was abruptly fired and told to leave the country by the leadership of the Salvation Army there.

“We have not sent a penny to the hospital so now we will meet and talk with our donors to see where the funds should go,” said Langley Rotarian Brendan Martin who founded International Health Langley — a fundraising arm of the Rotary Clubs that help hospitals in poor nations.

“I think the only way our project would go ahead is if Dr. Thistle was reinstated at Howard Hospital,” said Martin.

Martin, who visited the African hospital in 2010 and had planned to go back this year, said he was shocked to see on the TV news what had happened to Thistle.

On June 27,  Paul Thistle spoke to Langleyites at the Salvation Army Gateway of Hope to raise funds for his mission work.

It has been terribly tense at  times for Thistle who has worked as the chief medical officer at the Howard Hospital for 16 years.

A Salvation Army officer himself, Thistle recently clashed with the leaders of the SA church in Zimbabwe over fundraising dollars and where the  money was going.

“The Salvation Army leadership wants all the money raised to pass through their bank accounts in Harare, (Zimbabwe). There was a pattern of the money not arriving at the hospital or arriving late,” said Martin.

“Dr. Thistle is being punished for being a good steward of those funds.

“He met with the Commissioner of Salvation Army about it last Friday and they told him he had 24 hours to get out of his place and 48 hours to get out of Harare.”

Around 5,000 villagers demonstrated in support of Thistle. At least a dozen of those were arrested. Martin got word on Monday that Thistle had not taken his ordered flight back to Canada.

He didn’t want to abandon hospital staff who have been imprisoned for supporting him.

“From what we understand the hospital is not functioning without him,” said Martin.

“There are no doctors, many of the staff have left or been arrested and the volunteers are scared to go in. Patients are being sacrificed for the ends of this Salvation Army leadership.”

In July, Martin said the four Rotary Clubs of Aldergrove/Langley were 55 per cent of the way towards reaching their goal of $105,000 for medical equipment for the Howard Hospital.

One of the purchases would have been an X-ray machine that will help mothers through their pregnancies from detecting breeches to other problems.

Thistle, who married a Zimbabwean nurse, told the Associated Press he worries for the hospital and all the people in need of health care now.

The average life expectancy is around 44 years of age and birth mortality is epidemic as is HIV.

Thistle, dubbed a bush doctor, had dedicated his life to helping and treating tens of thousands of Zimbabweans.

More than 70 Langley people came out to hear his stories and  see pictures from one Aldergrove Rotarian’s recent trip to the Howard Hospital.

“Dr. Thistle has this incredible calm among the busyness of that hospital,” said Katy Loewen, who made her latest trip to Zimbabwe with her husband and two teenagers last March.

She said the doctor  takes only one week off a year to come home to Canada and visit his family.

Often, Thistle is the only doctor to serve the more than 270,000 people who live in and around the area.

In a July newsletter Thistle sent out, he said there had been some issues of concern and political unrest, but was grateful for a number of fundraising efforts that results in new construction and projects and medical supplies getting to them.

He said he looked forward to getting back into work and had an eye clinic set up for this month.

Martin said the funds will most likely go to another hospital in need.

Funds raised in Langley in 2010 did go to purchase an ambulance which was to be delivered to the Howard hospital this week, said Martin.

That ambulance will now go to a different hospital, he said.

Martin has written to the head of Salvation Army to ask for a response regarding his concerns with what has happened with Dr. Thistle but has so far not received a reply.

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