Most of Africa’s leaders seek their medical treatment abroad

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Confronted with failing, under-resourced and understaffed healthcare systems at home, most African leaders seek treatment abroad, writes Dr Chipo Dendere of Wellesley College writes in a Daily Maverick report.

Dr Chipo Dendere is an assistant professor of African studies at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts. He writes that unlike his countrymen who have fled into situations of grim discomfort, Robert Mugabe this year alone spent more than 150 days in Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore – paid for by Zimbabwe’s taxpayers. The minimum daily cost for his care in a private suite was an estimated US$900 to US$5,500.

Dendere writes that the average daily tariff at a Zimbabwean hospital is a small fraction of that.

He says the current vice president, Constantino Chiwenga, an army general under Mugabe and a leader of the anti-Mugabe coup, has also been on a three-country “tour” for his ongoing healthcare needs since April 2019. Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former vice-president and now president, was famously airlifted to South Africa in 2017 following an incident of ice-cream poisoning.

Dendere writes that the choice by Mugabe and his successors to seek medical care abroad goes against core promises they made at independence and in every election since then. Mugabe’s neglect of the healthcare system in Zimbabwe is a significant blemish on his legacy that should not be overlooked as attention is focused on his long record of political failure.

At independence, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party inherited a segregated but functional welfare system. In the 1980s the ruling party extended free health care access for children and the elderly in rural areas. With funding from the World Bank and the UN, it built local clinics and major hospitals in smaller towns – but such projects have long since ceased.

Since the mid-1990s, Zimbabwe’s healthcare systems have declined rapidly because of elite corruption and cronyism in the medical sectors. Corruption diverts much-needed resources from still-developing healthcare systems directly into the pockets of party officials

He writes that Zimbabwe is not alone; the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 15% to 20% of healthcare spending in Africa is lost to fraud. And the world as a whole loses more than $415bn to various forms of healthcare fraud.

His research shows that nearly 80% of Zimbabwe’s healthcare professionals left the country between 1999 and 2008. In real terms, by 2000, at least 18,000 Zimbabwean nurses were reported to be working abroad, mostly in South Africa, the UK and Australia.

Also, he writes, Zimbabwean leaders are not alone in seeking healthcare abroad. Most African leaders, such as Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, choose to receive care abroad because hospitals at home are under-resourced and understaffed.

Read full Daily Maverick report

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