EVEN though she may not be using public funds, the choice by President Robert Mugabe’s daughter, Bona, to deliver her new baby in far-flung Singapore, betrays the First Family’s hypocrisy and its lack of confidence in the country’s healthcare facilities.
By Wongai Zhangazha
Like her father who gets medical attention at the state-of-the-art Gleneagles Hospital and Medical Centre in Singapore, Bona will anytime now give birth to Mugabe’s first grandchild in the Far East country, illustrating their family’s lack of trust in local health institutions.
Mugabe’s wife Grace also gets treatment in Singapore. On arriving from his annual vacation in January last year, Mugabe revealed his wife had an appendix removed and was recuperating in the Far East.
The First Family’s decision that Bona should fly more than 8 000 kilometres across the Indian Ocean to give birth is widely seen as a comment on the state of the country’s health delivery system.
While other prominent people, including the royals in Britain, proudly give birth in their own countries of origin, Bona has been flown to distant foreign lands to do so.
The Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine, who is wife to Prince William, delivered her first-born child Prince George at St Mary’s Hospital in West London in 2013. She also delivered her daughter Princess Charlotte at the same hospital in 2015.
Princess Diana, who was married to Prince Charles, also delivered her two sons, William and Harry, at the same hospital in 1982 and 1984 respectively.
Although Zimbabwe has some relatively good private hospitals which offer quality maternity services, among them Avenues Hospital, Baines Hospital and Belvedere Maternity Hospital, it seems they are not good enough for the president’s daughter and her well-off family.
Before health services collapsed under Mugabe’s rule, the First Family apparently had confidence in the country’s facilities. Mugabe and Grace’s three children Bona, Robert Junior and Chatunga were born in Zimbabwe.
However, with the economic decline which worsened after 2000 due to leadership and policy failures, Zimbabwe’s major hospitals are now experiencing massive drug shortages, some which are very basic but essential, while critical equipment also broke down and has not been repaired or replaced. Doctors, nurses and specialists also left the country en masse.
The shortages of personnel and drugs persist up to this day.
Drugs that are currently out of stock or in short supply at major public hospitals include clexane injection (which prevents and treats blood clots), morphine injection and tablets, warfarin (an anticoagulant used to prevent new blood clots from forming and helps stop clots from worsening), and benzathine penicillin, an antibiotic useful for the treatment of bacterial infections.
Other drugs also in short supply include antibiotics like benzyl penicillin, ceftriaxone and rocephin, clorpheniramine which treats sneezing, watery eyes and itchy nose, amphotericin B, an anti-fungal, atropine which helps keep the heart rate stable after a heart attack or during surgery, gentamicin which treats eye infections and kanamycin used to treat a variety of infections, among many others.
At times even betadine, glycerine, crepe bandages and ichthammol ointment used for minor skin injuries can be out of stock, leaving patients with no choice but to buy their own supplies.
It has also become common for patients to buy their own intravenous bags (drips) which cost US$1,50 each.
In her report for the year-ended December 31 2014, Comptroller and Auditor-General, Mildred Chiri, painted a grim picture of the state of the country’s major hospitals. She warned they were on the verge of collapse due to a combination of incompetence, corruption and neglect.
She pointed out, for example, that most equipment at the United Bulawayo Hospital, one of the country’s biggest referral hospitals, was outdated and had outlived its lifespan.
Chiri also highlighted how Parirenyatwa Hospital, the country’s biggest referral hospital, was operating with a serious shortage of critical medical equipment, putting at risk the lives of thousands of patients who cannot afford private health institutions.
In her report for the year ending December 31 2011, Chiri said Parirenyatwa Hospital had four malfunctioning critical machines which include CT scan model Siemens, Magnetic Resonance Imaging unit, the digital subtraction angiography (DSA) machine and fluorescent unit.
Last week, health minister David Parirenyatwa condemned, without a sense of irony, the maternity ward at Chiredzi General Hospital during a tour of the institution. The hospital was built in 1967.
The hospital was carrying out pre-natal and neo-natal services in one room.
Given the state of the country’s health delivery institutions, which badly deteriorated under Mugabe’s watch, it is therefore not surprising that the First Family prefers to get medical treatment outside the country, particularly from Singapore where there are advanced facilities.
Ironically, Singapore was a poor country at Independence from Britain in 1959 and after complete self-rule following its ejection from Malaysia in August 1965. The country had a plethora of problems, including mass unemployment, housing shortages, lack of land and natural resources.
However, during Lee Kuan Yew’s term as prime minister from 1959 to 1990, his administration reduced unemployment, raised the standard of living and implemented large-scale public housing programme, while developing the country’s economic and oil infrastructure.
Singapore has arable land of 0,90% according to the World Bank, but it has put in place attractive policies to draw foreign direct investment which has boosted economic growth.
It has risen from a small dependent state to having the seventh highest Gross Domestic Product at purchasing power parity per capita in the world in 2013, according to the World Bank, and in 2014 its GDP was worth US$307,86 billion.
Harvard School of Public Health lists Singapore as having one of the best health care facilities in the world, giving Mugabe and his family reason to seek treatment there.
Ironically, however, unlike Lee Kuan Yew, Mugabe inherited a country with a vibrant economy, lots of natural resources and vast tracts of arable land, which former Tanzanian President Juilius Nyerere described as the “Jewel of Africa”. But under his stewardship, the nation and its economy has dramatically collapsed, and the health sector has not been spared.
Social commentator Blessing Vava says Mugabe should be ashamed that he is being treated abroad after destroying the country’s health delivery system.
“Sending Bona to Singapore to give birth is a clear admission on the part of Mugabe’s family that the health delivery system in this country is now a death-trap. What is unfortunate though is that many Zimbabweans, who are mostly poor, suffer at these local facilities whose charges are astronomical yet at the same time deplorable,” he said.
“The Mugabe regime doesn’t care anymore about the welfare of its citizens. All this (foreign treatment for the president and his family) is being done using taxpayers money, bleeding the fiscus in an already imploding economy.
They say charity begins at home and for Mugabe it is shameful for him to boast about it as if it’s fashionable that his daughter is going to give birth in a foreign land when he is in charge of the country and its health sector.”
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said: “It boggles the mind why Bona Mugabe-Chikore, who is ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe, will fly all the way to the Far East simply to give birth. We have got some advanced and well-equipped maternity hospitals right here in Harare and one just wonders why the Mugabe family always invariably prefers to travel abroad for their medical needs.”
People Democratic Party spokesperson Jacob Mafume said the whole issue betrays Mugabe’s fake patriotism and hypocrisy.
“This is the one (Mugabe) who claims that Africa is for Africans and Zimbabwe is his, yet his grandchild will by choice not even be a citizen of Zimbabwe by birth. It just shows his hypocrisy,” Mafume said.
While Bona, enjoys the luxuries of Singapore, 2012 statistics show that each day eight women die while giving birth, and 100 children die from childbirth and neonatal complications.
These women cannot choose where to give birth, they just have to make-do with what Mugabe’s government offers them.