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Zambia: Former VP's Death Highlights State of Local Hospitals

Whenever a high profile Zambian dies out of an illness, the issue of where he or she dies—locally or abroad—takes centre stage. This time it was the death of immediate past Vice President of the former ruling MMD government George Kunda on 16 April 2012 who died at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in the capital, Lusaka. His death at a local hospital has brought about a heated debate among netizens most of whom thought not enough attention is paid to local health facilities.

Despite mourning his death, netizens seized the opportunity to criticize the current status of health care in Zambia and highlight the need for reform.

The normal practice for the 20 years the MMD was in power from 1991 until it lost the elections to the PF in 2011 and beyond, was that high ranking politicians and their relatives were evacuated to mostly South African private hospitals and other health facilities in the United Kingdom and in later years in India.

When Kunda died, his former Cabinet colleague, Kenneth Chipungu, a member of parliament for the former ruling party,  chided the PF government for not evacuating him outside the country, leaving him to die at UTH where he had been admitted for nearly four weeks up to the time he died.

University Teaching Hospital

A typical ward at the UTH. Picture courtesy of John Chola's Facebook page

Commenting on the photo above on Facebook, John Chola said:

If I was minister of health I would forego my three months’ salary to try and dignify these patients in UTH's G22 ward.

Following the story on Lusaka Times, netizens pounced on the statement by Chipungu who served as Youth and Sports Minister before the 2011 elections. Wrote PF Cadre with Red Card:

This issue of evacuating politicians to South Africa, should come to any end. if these guys, starting dying in UTH, then the Govt will be serious with improving the health institutions in Zambia.

Another netizen, Mwema derick wrote:

Chipungu,how does a [former] minister speak like that,just showing your emptiness for nothing,improve your own and let those come here for medical care.do you know how may medical equipments we lack in this country can be bought from the money used to send one politician abroad.

Nine Chale noted:

With all form of respect to the deceased, this statement from the former Sports Minister cannot be left standing.

Mr Chipungu should know that when we have our leadership being flown overseas for medical treatment, it tells us that things are not well. Every Zambian is entitled to primary health care and if the leadership cannot work towards instilling confidence in the local health system, then we have a big problem.

Pretty observed:

It’s rather late to start talking about that. I suggest that UTH standards are UPPED so that we who can’t afford to be evacuated or who insist on being treated at UTH get the services locally.

South Africa as some blogger mentioned should not be synonym to “medical treatment for politicians”.

In reference to the controversial mobile hospitals the MMD government bought from China, kci wrote:

It was even a lot of respect to take him to UTH. We should have driven the mobile hospital to his home to see how effective these hospitals they spent so much money on worked. On the other hand we have received so many body bags of late from SA which is an indication that SA is a waste of money. We should focus on spending tax payers money on improving our facilities not like the way GK did spending so much on corrupt failed constitution and Liato in his back yard. I am sure GK left plenty of stolen money that could not use to buy him a new life. Do not blame GRZ on this

The PF Minister of Health Dr Joseph Kasongo explained to an Internet-based citizen radio, CrossFire Blogtalkradio why Kunda was not evacuated. He said:

We (the technical committee at the UTH) did not consider that the illness he (Kunda) had required treatment abroad. There is a standing arrangement… that in the event that anyone person wishes to be treated abroad or one of the doctors thinks that a patient needs treatment abroad, an ad hoc committee advises the ministry if it is appropriate to send a person abroad. In this case (Kunda) the ad hoc committee did not consider sending the patient abroad.

According to a study commissioned by Global Health Workforce Alliance, there was one doctor for every 15,500 people and one midwife for every 5,200 people in Zambia in 2011.

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