Wed Jul 05 11:33:38 EAT 2017
When African presidents shun their own hospitals
Ailing Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been in the news for much of the past two weeks as speculation over his health took a new twist after a senior government alleged that he was on life support.
- Mr Buhari has been in a London hospital for two months where he is seeking treatment for an illness that his people back home are yet to be told.
Dar es Salaam. Ailing Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been in the news for much of the past two weeks as speculation over his health took a new twist after a senior government alleged that he was on life support.
Mr Buhari has been in a London hospital for two months where he is seeking treatment for an illness that his people back home are yet to be told.
As it is with other African heads of state, the health of thec president is a closely-guarded secret.
That the Nigerian leader has chosen the UK for treatment is not news to many in his country -- just as it is nothing to write home about for many across the continent.
Africa’s political elite have habitually, and historically shunned local hospitals, and instead sought treatment abroad.
Last year, it appeared that Nigeria might buck the trend when the Buhari administration announced that it would no longer pay for medical trips of public officials.
But his latest foreign medical trips, despite a well-funded presidential clinic, suggests even Buhari doesn’t trust local hospitals with his health despite expecting tens of millions of Nigerians to do so. The wife of the ailing president left the country to visit him in London after first attending an African Union event, her office said.
Aisha Buhari’s office said late on Sunday that she was first heading to the AU summit in Addis Ababa for a “symbolic appearance” at a leaders’ wives meeting.
She was expected to be in Britain yesterday, a statement said, adding: “She will convey to the president the best wishes of Nigerians and their fervent prayers for his quick recovery.”
Back home, debate is raging on the ailing leader, with some calling for him to resign.
Because of ill health, and his prolonged stay in London, the Nigerian president faced a fresh call to quit last Thursday.
“I want to say that it’s time that the president throws in the towel and resigns and allows his country to move forward,” Ekiti state governor Ayo Fayose told reporters.
Yet Buhari is far from alone when it comes to African leaders skipping out on local hospitals.
Last week, Benin’s 59-year-old President Patrice Talon returned to Paris for a “routine” health check after having two operations in France earlier this month, the presidency said.
“He announced at the cabinet meeting that he was returning to France because he had an appointment with doctors for a routine check following his operation,” presidency spokesman Wilfried Houngbedji told AFP.
And Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is known to visit Singapore very often for health checks. In fact, since the start of 2016, Singapore has been the 93-year old president’s most frequent foreign destination. Mugabe’s trips have continued despite the lack of resources for local doctors. Back in February, Zimbabwe deployed army medics to work at major public hospitals after doctors went on strike to protest low allowances and bonuses.
Two months ago, the Zimbabwean leader was again in Singapore for medical treatment, once more raising questions about his health and prompting criticism over his decision to get treated abroad. But Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba says he’s only getting specialised treatment for his eyes that isn’t available in Zimbabwe.
He said the president was attended to by a black Zimbabwean physician in Zimbabwe for everything but his eyes. He argued that Mugabe’s eyes need advanced detection that isn’t available at home.
There is regular criticism from Zimbabweans over Mugabe’s fairly frequent trips to Singapore for medical check-ups.
However, opposition and observers have said the continent’s oldest leader’s penchant for foreign health facilities is irresponsible because he has failed to upgrade the Zimbabwe’s health system to his preferred Singapore world-class level. Former advisor to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, Alex Magaisa, said: “ . . . as he goes to Singapore for a world-class medical system, he leaves behind a crippled medical system over which he has presided for 37 years, a very poor shadow of what it once was.”
“Zimbabwean doctors have been on strike for a while now. He has not attended to their concerns. He is only interested in his own health and welfare. He does not care. Why would he care when he can hop onto the plane and fly off to Singapore? Didn’t his own daughter give birth somewhere there too; away from Zimbabwe’s decrepit health system?” he said.
In Angola, after a prolonged absence, the government confirmed in May that longtime leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos was away for one of his “regular health checks” in Spain. Despite its oil riches, Angola has largely failed to deliver improved infrastructure to a majority of its citizens. Last year, the country was plagued by a yellow fever outbreak after severe budget cuts for waste collection services.
Indeed, in the last decade, six of the 12 African leaders who have died while in office did so while seeking treatment abroad. Nigeria’s late president Umaru Yaradua died at home in 2010, but only after returning to the country after months away in a hospital in Saudi Arabia.
The preference for an international doctor’s appointment is steeped in irony as these leaders often make promises about improving local healthcare a central part of their campaigns while seeking office. But by looking beyond the continent for medical solutions, African leaders maintain a vicious cycle which keeps faith in public healthcare low while channeling substantial state resources to hospitals abroad rather than plug local healthcare gaps.
In many African countries, this reality is all too apparent: according to World Health Organisation estimates, with a shortage of 4.2 million health workers, Africa is the region with the world’s second-worst health worker shortage.