By MTHULISI SIBANDA and GIFT NDOLWANE
PRETORIA, (CAJ News) – SOUTH African health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, has criticized African leaders for seeking treatment overseas while presiding over collapsing healthcare systems in their continent.
The candid Motsoaledi bemoaned the trend as longtime Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe embarked on yet another medical trip to the Far East while Nigerian head of state, Muhammadu Buhari has been in the United Kingdom for treatment, the second time this year he has spent time in the European country.
Mugabe (93) and Buhari, 19 years Mugabe’s junior, are suffering undisclosed illnesses but reported to be cancer.
They join a list of African leaders that have sought treatment or have died abroad while seeking treatment at hospitals outside Africa, mostly at a cost to the taxpayer. Last year, Buhari indicated the West African country was spending an estimated US$1 billion of precious foreign annually on medical treatment abroad.
According to the East African Community (EAC), governments in the sub-region lose some $150 million annually in seeking medical treatment overseas.
In recent years, heads of state, Levy Mwanawasa (Zambia), Lansana Conte (Guinea), Malam Bacai Sanha (Guinea Bissau) and Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia) died overseas seeking medical treatment.
Others such as Gabon First Lady, Edith Lucie Bongo, John Atta Mills (Ghana) and Nigeria’s Umaru Musa Yar’ Aduwa have succumbed in their countries after medical stints abroad.
In an exclusive interview, Motsoaledi expressed outrage at the trend.
“I have made it very clear and I have never hidden it,” he said.
“I don’t like it,” the South African health minister added.
“I believe we are the only continent where when the head of state is sick, they have to go and look for healthcare outside the continent. What does it say of us as Africa, why only us in this continent?” he asked rhetorically.
“When heads of state in America are sick they are treated there, when heads of state all over Europe are sick they get treated there. When heads of states in the Far East are sick they are treated there. Why are we the only continent that when our heads of states are sick they have to go elsewhere?”
African leaders are accused of inheriting functioning health sectors and running them down through corruption and inept policies.
“It is untenable. Healthcare systems in Africa must be improved such that we are in a position to treat our heads of state,” Motsoaledi said.
“I am very clear about that. I have by the way, even said it before to ministers of health during the World Health Organisation Africa region (summit) which was held in Benin in 2014 after the Ebola outbreak,” he disclosed.
“I have said that part of the reason why we suffered Ebola so much is that our healthcare systems are weak. These healthcare systems won’t be strong when our heads of state simply leave and go elsewhere because they won’t be able to see what will be happening at home.
“They won’t be able to say, ‘I have been to hospital, I saw these shortcomings I need to resolve them.’ Many (ministers) agree with me because they know it’s true.”
“The day we wake up and say healthcare systems have improved is the day heads of state have confidence in their healthcare systems. Why leave the masses and go elsewhere. What about the masses here back home? It is grossly unacceptable,” Motsoaledi lashed in a forthright interview in Pretoria.
Motsoaledi has in recent years been practicing what he has been preaching.
In 2015, he was admitted to the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria suffering pneumonia. In 2013, he was also admitted for a surgical procedure at the same hospital.
“Well, my feeling is that healthcare leaders need to get treated where everybody else is treated,” said the minister.
“That’s why I went to Steve Biko. There are quite a number of people (that have been treated there) only that they didn’t give me permission (to disclose). Only one gave me permission, former transport minister, Dipuo Peters. She has gone there for procedures,” said Motsoaledi.
He rated highly this public hospital established in 1932.
“By the way, contrary to belief, Steve Biko is one of the best hospitals,” he commended.
“Some of the procedures done there even the private hospitals. For instance they have got a nuclear medicine department where private hospitals refer to do procedure those private hospitals cannot do.”
He lamented the stereotype that public health facilities in South Africa were substandard.
“Don’t ever think going to a public hospital is going to an inferior institution, some of them are the best. Some of them do things that are out of this world.”
While the South African private and public and systems exist in parallel, with policies skewed in favour of the elite, South Africa boasts well-resourced facilities, compared to most parts of the continent. Political leaders in the region patronize South Africa’s private healthcare sector .
– CAJ News
By MTHULISI SIBANDA and GIFT NDOLWANE