A pair of conjoined twin boys in Zimbabwe were safely separated during a complicated and arduous surgery last month, overcoming a number of obstacles in the country’s healthcare system.

Kupakwashe and Tapiwanashe were born four months ago at a district hospital in Murehwa, Zimbabwe. The boys exited the womb of their mother, Agnes Mongoro, 25, connected from the pelvis to the breastbone.

The team that performed the surgery consisted of 50 nurses and doctors, all of those involved were from Zimbabwe. The surgery was completely free for the family, thanks to the donations of several charities and the generosity of the hospital.

Harare Hospital, where the surgery was performed, has struggled with drug shortages and “doctors at most state hospitals generally lack the tools of the trade,” according to health personnel.

The World Health Organization reports that between 2000 and 2010, Zimbabwe had fewer than two doctors for every 10,000 people. Zimbabwe natives commonly resort to traditional healers, herbal remedies and spirituality for their medical needs.

Zimbabwe’s nursing program has been frozen since 2009, thus, the 500 nursing graduates that leave school each year are unable to do their practical training. This freeze is due to the country’s high wage bill “that is gobbling up 73 percent of the national budget,” says Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

According to health experts, only about 25 percent of conjoined twins can be successfully separated. Oftentimes the surgery results in the death of one child, in order to save the vital organs of the other.

Itae Rusike, executive director of the Community Working Group on Health in Zimbabwe, believes that the success of the surgery could “signal a turning point for the health sector.”

Praise for the success of the separation “may result in a sustained political will that is urgently needed in reviving the fortunes of the public health system that has been on a decline for over a decade now,” says Rusike.

The doctors at Harare Hospital see no major health complications in the future of the babies, and with hope the hospital will be able to continue performing lifesaving surgeries like this in the years to come.

– Grace Flaherty 

Sources: Al Jazeera, World Bank, Our Africa
Photo: Al Jazeera