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Vol 61 No 7

Published 2nd April 2020


Zimbabwe

Healthcare for dollars

The first reaction of Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front high-ups to the pandemic was to blame the West, or at least to gloat at its misfortune. Defence Minister and ZANU-PF national chairman Oppah Muchinguri said on 16 March that the pandemic was a punishment from God on the West for its economic sanctions on Zimbabwe. That was before the disease hit nearer home.

A 30-year-old television personality and son of a telecommunications magnate, Zororo Makamba, died in a Harare hospital from the disease on 23 March in a room with no electric socket, no running water, and no intensive care treatment available, shocking the country and galvanising the elite. Makamba had visited the offices of President Emmerson Mnangagwa just days earlier. Officials who had come into contact with Makamba were put into quarantine and the President moved out of his office.

Makamba's death caused panic in ruling circles, and oil importer Sakunda Holdings, which is owned by Kudakwashe Tagwirei and is strongly politically connected, was secretly mobilised (AC Vol 60 No 23, Cashing in on the crisis). Sakunda is re-opening an abandoned private hospital in Harare, the Rock Foundation Medical Centre, which is being turned into a facility to specialise in treating coronavirus cases.  

Sakunda is also taking over St. Anne's Hospital, previously run by the collapsed pharmaceutical firm, CAPS Holdings. The news triggered a public outcry because of the lack of medical facilities elsewhere. The Ministry of Health quickly backtracked, saying the facility would be available to the public. However, it is understood only patients who can pay in US dollars will be admitted to either hospital.

Sakunda is importing 100 ventilators, 10,000 rapid-test kits, 10,000 disposal protective gowns, 20,000 medical masks, and other medical equipment. Zimbabwe has 17 ventilators and a population of 16 million. 

Doctors and nurses went on strike at the public hospitals citing a lack of protective equipment for them. On 24 March Mnangagwa activated an 11-member task force, chaired by Health Minister, Obadiah Moyo. Moyo was soon removed, however, and replaced with General Constantino Chiwenga, the Vice-President. Seeing that Zimbabwe is under virtual martial law, this could be significant in the context of his continual rivalry with the President. A three-week nationwide lockdown started on 30 March, enforced by the security forces, which is probably the only realistic chance of preventing the spread of the disease, but workers in the informal economy will not be able to afford to stay put.



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