The current South African Minister for Health Aaron Motsoaledi has sparked a continent-wide debate with his strong criticism of African leaders who seek medical treatment abroad.
The minister took a swipe at the leaders on Monday during his speech at the ongoing World Health Organization (WHO) regional summit in Victoria Falls Zimbabwe.
He said African leaders are the only ones in the whole world traveling overseas for medical treatment.
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“We must be ashamed of that. This is called health tourism. We must promote our own,” he said.
Some people have speculated that the minister’s outburst may have been directed at the veteran Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has often been accused of wasting his country’s resources abroad on undisclosed medical treatment, while the health sector back home is collapsing.
But the 93-year-old President, who opened the conference on Monday, had already left the event when Mr. Motsoaledi made the remarks.
Preying on the Poor
Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for over 36 years, has been making frequent trips to the United Arab Emirates and Asia for medical checkups, which critics say are too costly for an economy that is on the verge of total collapse.
It is quite ironic that a president who has ruled a country for more than three decades is the first person to seek treatment overseas because he doesn’t trust his own health system. What is more appalling is the fact that Mugabe is willing to spend tens of millions of dollars on his treatment abroad but is completely indisposed to invest half of it in his country’s health sector.
Mugabe’s lengthy reign has always been marred by cases of runaway corruption, nepotism and authoritarianism, with his critics accusing him of allowing his friends and relatives to run down the country’s economy by looting the public coffers. Sadly, the frail president has promised to seek reelection in the next presidential election slated for 2018.
Other African leaders who seem to have zero confidence in their own health systems include the current President of Nigeria Muhammmadu Buhari, Benin’s Patrice Talon, Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
Buhari, who returned to Nigeria late last week, has been in Europe for close to three months receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness. It’s not clear how much he spent on the trip but a section of Nigerians have already started calling for his replacement, terming him as an absentee president.
Next in line is the outgoing President of Angola, Eduardo dos Santos, who continues to make frequent medical trips to Europe and Asia for medical checkups despite calls by his countrymen to invest the enormous profits accrued from the nation’s vast oil resources in the rundown health sector.
Health Tourism in Africa
The only sensible reason that one can think of as to why these leaders are not so eager to improve health services in their own countries is because they have the money to pay for exorbitant medical services abroad and do not trust their own systems.
Ironically, the overpriced medical expenses for these leaders are paid by poor taxpayers who sometimes can’t even access basic medical services at their local public health centers.
It’s the wish of every African that these leaders can upgrade their health systems to a level where prominent persons from other continents could be traveling to Africa for medical treatment.
After all, nobody can dispute that health tourism is the next big task for present and future leaders in Africa.