Let’s send our presidents to hospital… in Mauritius

So from Zimbabwe comes news that President Robert Mugabe (aka Uncle Bob) is not well. He has had what Zimbabwe officialdom euphemistically call a “routine eye check” and for that he headed to his favourite medical destination, Singapore.

Whenever Uncle Bob, now 90, goes on these medical expeditions, he leaves behind a country engaging in collective tongue wagging about how he will return – upright, in a wheelchair, or on his back. Every time Uncle Bob has confounded his enemies and returned on his own feet.

Not that farther north, in Algeria, another long-ruling Big Man, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was taken ill last year, and off to Paris he went. He stayed there for three months.

Bouteflika eventually returned, in very unMugabe-like style, in a wheelchair. But those who thought the 77-year-old autocrat had run out of steam, were proven wrong last month when he won the election from his wheelchair despite national protests.

Bouteflika got 81.5 per cent of the vote.

Uncle Bob and Bouteflika are not the only African leaders who love foreign hospitals. Few African presidents get medical treatment at home unless, like Malawi’s Bingu wa Mutharika in 2012, they are stricken suddenly and there is no time to get on a plane.

It is not only the presidents who do the expensive European, American, and Asian hospitals. Members of their courts and the powerful also follow the leaders.

In Uganda, the government spends about $150 million a year on the treatment of the powerful people in hospitals abroad. That is bigger than the annual health budget of Rwanda.

I will not take the populist route and say the big people should not spend this money on themselves. They should spend it, but in Africa.

All the money African presidents and their entourages invest in treatment should be pooled, and one cutting-edge Presidential Hospital built in Africa somewhere, probably in a tiny country that does not get involved in African quarrels like Mauritius.

It we take Uganda’s $150 million treatment abroad bill as the average, and assume that 50 of Africa’s big men and women chip in the same amount, that is a mind-boggling $7.5 billion.

That kind of money can build you a hospital even on the moon, in a generally germ-free environment. Some of the money could also be used to train African doctors to the highest levels in the top medical schools so that the very best of the best can come back to work in the Dictators’ Sanatorium, as some unpatriotic journalists are likely to dub it.

The funds would buy futuristic equipment, and stock the hospital with the best medicine money can buy.

The aantage with having such a hospital in Africa is that, at the very least, progressive nurses and doctors would steal some of the high-end medicine for the masses.

In the end, I suspect that the smarter hospitals will be forced to lift their game to about 20 per cent of the Big Men’s hospital. A rising tide lifts all boats, it is said.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is is the editor of Mail Guardian Africa (mgafrica.com). Twitter:cobbo3

SOURCE: The East African