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Mugabe’s Singapore death highlights a failed healthcare system and sums up his legacy

In the early hours of Friday, September 6, Zimbabwe’s first post-independence leader, Robert Mugabe died in a hospital in Singapore after being treated for more than four months. While Zimbabwe and Africa at large are saddened by his demise, his death has highlighted a major challenge in Zimbabwe’s health systems.

Healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst in the world. According to the World Economic Forum, Africa confronts the world’s most dramatic public health crisis and while the majority of the health systems in Africa are underperforming due to a lack of funding, inadequate labour capacity and drug, overpopulation, Zimbabwe’s healthcare among others have been characterized by bad governance.

With poor health systems, difficulty getting access to efficient, evenly distributed healthcare and the burden of healthcare payments on citizens, Zimbabweans have felt the load of catering to their health needs during and after Mugabe’s regime.

The public health system was particularly hit hard when Zimbabwe faced economic woes during Mugabe’s governance. As of 2016, Citizens Health Watch discovered that 90 percent of healthcare institutions do not have essential medicines in stock, and there were sporadic shortages of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.

Mugabe’s early years were praised for broadening access to health and education and Zimbabwe boasted of a thriving teaching hospital network, a strong primary healthcare system as well as highly trained health workforce. However, during Mugabe’s reign poor economic decisions, corruption and human rights abuses undermined the state of healthcare in the Southern African country. To the extent that the country had to seal a $25 million medical deal with India to ease drug shortages.

According to the Zimbabwe Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, there are currently 1.6 physicians and 7.2 nurses for every 10,000 people. A Lack of staff for medical education training and high drop-out rates in public sector health care have resulted in vacancy rates of over 50 percent for doctors, midwives, laboratory, and environmental health staff. Little wonder Singapore was the health destination for the late leader.