African Leaders Find Solace in Foreign Health Care As Ordinary Citizens Suffer

Statistics from Zimbabwe’s health officials reveal that about 100 children are dying every day after succumbing to different diseases.  Neo-natal causes are and still remain the leading cause of death among children under five years of age in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s health system which used to be the best in Africa has completely collapsed over the years of misrule by President Mugabe, forcing the 88 year old leader to frequently travel to Asia to seek medical treatment.

According to the 2010 Global Systematic Analysis of National Causes of Child Mortality report: At least 100 children are dying every day in Zimbabwe after succumbing to  different diseases while neonatal diseases are the leading causes of death in children under five years of age.

The report shockingly reveals that around 10,758 newborns die each year in Zimbabwe, primarily due to three major causes: preterm delivery (37 per cent),asphyxia (27 per cent) and infection (19 per cent).

Several international organisations have helped ease the crisis through financial donations into the health sector either directly to the government or indirectly via international health institutions for transparency reasons. Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) is one such organisation with their US$431 000 financial support for new born health care for Zimbabwe to UNICEF.

Speaking during a signing ceremony of the US$431,210 Dr Gibson Mhlanga the principal director for Preventative Services in the  Ministry of Health and Child Welfare bemoaned lack of basic equipment as the major cause of the deaths.

“There is a shortage of basic equipment and basic skills to ensure that we do not lose any of our babies, partly due to brain drain but also because in terms of numbers the workers that we have on the ground are still way below our expectations,” said Mhlanga.

UNICEF Country Representative Dr Peter Salama concurred with Mhlanga saying the deaths rates could be lowered.

“We are talking about things that are quite simple to prevent, quite simple for even a basically trained health worker to do. We are talking about warming the baby so these are simple things basic equipment required, basic training required and we can work together to prevent the loose of life.”

In Zimbabwe, most of the delivery rooms and maternity wards at major and government run health centres and district hospitals have limited capacity to provide optimal newborn care immediately after birth.

The few delivery rooms or maternity wards that are currently practicing essential newborn care are gravely limited by lack of the necessary supplies and lack of well trained health workers.

The one year project to be implemented in 20 district hospitals in Zimbabwe will ensure that every newborn baby has access to Essential Newborn Care and neonatal basic life support immediately after birth.

“Absolute Return for kids is happy to collaborate with the Inclusive Government and UNICEF to scale up efforts to save the lives of newborns in Zimbabwe,” said Absolute Return for Kids managing director, Mr Chris Abani.

The Study of Maternal Mortality (2007) says nearly half of neonatal deaths (that is occurring in the first 28 days of life) were caused by preterm (49, 1%), followed by intra partum asphyxia (20,3%), infection (18%) and multiple pregnancy (6%).

President Mugabe is not alone on the continent among leaders who resort to medical attention abroad; the late Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua spent most of his last days abroad for medical reasons.  Former Tanzanian President , Benjamin Mkapa, after having been involved in an auto accident in 2008 while, former Ghanaian President John Kufour flew abroad for a thorough medical check-up.

Recently, the late Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika had to be flown to South Africa after suffering a cardiac arrest. And the list is endless.