21 April 2014

Zimbabwe: Right Eye Troubles President Mugabe

Photo: Nehanda Radio
President Robert Mugabe

President Robert Mugabe's health has once again come under the spotlight after he apparently struggled to use his right eye which seemed to be nearly shut.

While Mugabe appeared to be highly alert and jocular, he looked like he was experiencing difficulties with his right eye while delivering his speech during national commemorations to mark Zimbabwe's 34th Independence Day at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on Friday.

Throughout his one and half hour long speech, Mugabe seemed unease with his right eye and was forced to remove his spectacles at least three times. He then spoke for a long time without glasses.

Mugabe reportedly had cataract surgery in Singapore in January 2011 and has made several other trips to the Asian country thereafter for checkups.

In November last year, Mugabe flew to Singapore, after another visit in June, sparking speculation about his health. Government officials said Mugabe had gone for a 'routine eye check'. This followed several visits in 2011 and succeeding years reportedly for the same eye problem.

When he flew again to Singapore on the eve of his 90th birthday celebrations this year, his spokesperson George Charamba revealed that he had gone for check-ups.

"He is going for the second eye procedure, the right eye was operated on, so he is now going for the second operation," Charamba was quoted as saying.

"This is a routine check-up, a routine cataract operation for his left eye whose date was set down more than a year ago and the president has gone to fulfill that appointment."

But it was the same right eye that seemed to have given Mugabe problems on Friday. It appeared as if the eye was struggling to wink and while at times it was not opening at all.

Mugabe's health concerns had been a subject of speculation each time he flew out of the country for health checkups. His critics claimed he was visiting the Asian country for prostate cancer treatment.

The 90 year old Zanu PF leader has on several occasions been rumoured, particularly by the Western media, to be dead while in Singapore or Malaysia for holidays or medical checkups. But Mugabe always laughs off such rumours declaring himself "as fit as a fiddle."

The latest was in January when Mugabe ended his death rumours after he appeared for the burial of his sister, Bridget, who died after spending over three years in a coma.

While Mugabe is claiming a near clean bill of health, the condition of his right eye has became the subject of discussion, including on social media networks. Some people were questioning whether Mugabe's eye problems were getting worse with age.

According to MedicineNet, a health website, a cataract is an eye disease that causes the eye's lens to become cloudy and opaque with decreased vision, causing blurred vision, glare, and difficulty reading. It has many causes including diabetes and hypothyroidism. Cataracts mainly affect people with aging.

Charamba was not taking calls yesterday to shed light on Mugabe's seemingly troublesome eye.

The Standard was howewer told yesterday that Mugabe's eye troubles may be linked to Glaucoma, condition that causes damage to one's eyesight, and which worsens with advanced age.

According to Wikipedia, "Glaucoma can be roughly divided into two main categories, "open-angle" and "closed-angle" glaucoma.

"The angle refers to the area between the iris and cornea, through which fluid must flow to escape ... Closed-angle glaucoma can appear suddenly and is often painful; visual loss can progress quickly, but the discomfort often leads patients to seek medical attention before permanent damage occurs. Open-angle, chronic glaucoma tends to progress at a slower rate and patients may not notice they have lost vision until the disease has progressed significantly.

"Glaucoma has been called the "silent thief of sight" because the loss of vision often occurs gradually over a long period of time, and symptoms only occur when the disease is quite advanced. Once lost, vision cannot normally be recovered, so treatment is aimed at preventing further loss. Worldwide, glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness after cataracts.

Yesterday, people took to the social media posting pictures of Mugabe while delivering his speech on Friday. Some were insinuating that he was fast turning blind, while others said Zimbabwe could be a laughing stock of the world for voting an old and ailing president into power.

Even within Zanu PF, speculation about his health and advanced age has been a cause of factional infighting. Two factions, one reportedly led by Vice President Joice Mujuru and another one linked to Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa are said to be jostling to succeed Mugabe in power since independence in 1980. Mujuru and Mnangagwa have repeatedly denied leading factions or habouring presidential ambitions.

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