23 May 2014

Zimbabwe: Mugabe's Exclusive Singapore Hospital

Photo: Nehanda Radio
President Robert Mugabe

GLENEAGLES Hospital in Singapore, where President Robert Mugabe is currently being treated officially for eye cataracts although speculation over cancer continue to swirl, is a world-class institution frequented by the rich and famous where "low-end" patients pay a minimum of SGD5 000 (Singapore dollars) or US$4 000 in hospital and doctor's fees, while "high-end" patients like the president pay a minimum of SGD10 000 (US$8 000).

Middle profile patients pay SGD8 000 (US$6 400).

The hospital's officials confirmed from Singapore through telephone calls from the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday that the facility is exclusive and costly.

A staffer at the enquiry desk at the Parkway Eye Centre within the hospital -- well-known as one of the best eye and cancer treatment facilities in the world -- told the Independent that "a patient can expect to pay a minimum of US$5 600 for cataract removal from an eye".

If a patient has medical complications or stays in the executive deluxe room or VIP suite, a bigger total bill size should be expected. Generally, the medical condition, type of treatment, length of stay and doctor's fees, will influence the actual bill size, the hospital said.

However, the staffer spoken to refused to confirm if Mugabe -- who has been frequently shuttling to the hospital for the past three years -- was a patient at the institution, referring questions to the hospital administrator, whose name was not clear due to a poor line, who asked the reporter to call him today to check if the president was there.

However, a British broadcasting station, Channel 4's video footage uploaded online this week showed Mugabe, accompanied by his wife Grace and their delegation, entering the hospital in the Asian city-state as drama ensued between them and journalists filming them amid protestations from a flustered-looking First Lady.

Mugabe, who faces mounting health problems due to his advanced age and attendant complications, left Zimbabwe for Singapore yet again on Wednesday last week for "a week-long private visit during which he will also undergo a routine eye check-up", according to his spokesperson George Charamba.

Mugabe has been visiting Singapore for treatment since 2011, but his trips have been increasing with each passing year, suggesting a deteriorating health condition. He has visited the Far East country three times already this year, raising serious doubts over his fitness to continue ruling Zimbabwe at a time the country faces a resurgent economic crisis.

It is unclear how much Mugabe, who normally travels with a large delegation, has so far spent on medical bills, but Charamba yesterday confirmed the state was paying the bills. Sitting presidents are entitled to have their medical bills, holidays and education bills, among other expenses, paid by taxpayers.

"Is he not the president?" Charamba asked yesterday when contacted to shed light on who is actually paying Mugabe's bills.

"The president's medical bills are taken care of by the government."

Mugabe was filmed entering the ultra-modern 272-bed private hospital -- which makes local upmarket health centres like Avenues Clinic and others look like backyard facilities -- this week, with the video posted on the internet quickly going viral.

According to Gleneagles' website, the hospital, part of which used to be a deluxe hotel, was founded in the 1950s and was progressively upgraded, including undergoing a massive US$150 million three-year expansion which ended in 1994. The expansion turned it into a multi-disciplinary state-of-the-art medical facility.

Gleneagles houses more than 300 on-site doctors from over 30 specialties and sub-specialties. It offers a wide range of medical and surgical services.

Its key specialties include cardiology, gastroenterology, liver transplant, obstetrics and gynaecology, oncology and orthopaedics.

The hospital also has centres of excellence including the Parkway Eye Centre where Mugabe, who had cataracts removed from both eyes, is apparently being attended to.

Mugabe's right eye gave him serious and visible discomfort during the Independence Day celebrations as shown on the state-run ZBC.

The eye centre is run by Dr Lee Hung Ming, the first eye surgeon in Singapore to perform the all-laser, no-blade lasiksurgery.

It provides advanced innovation and technology by offering the latest in blade-free lasik and cataract removal surgery, suggesting Mugabe is getting world-class treatment -- away from Zimbabwe's collapsing and dilapidated public hospitals save for a few private clinics which also do not have adequate equipment and doctors.

Gleneagles also offers treatment for other eye conditions such as presbyopia treatment.

"With the new LenSx technology, we are able to offer quick, blade-less and pain-free cataract removal. This new method provides image-guided computer precision for our surgeons, producing a new level of accuracy," reads the hospital's website.

The hospital also has a cancer treatment centre, Parkway Cancer Centre, which offers "comprehensive cancer treatment with a highly skilled, multi-disciplinary team comprising consultant medical specialists, nurses, counsellors and other para-medical professionals to meet the specific needs of cancer patients".

It offers the latest technologies in cancer treatment for various types of the ailment, including prostate cancer, which reports claim Mugabe is also battling with. Prostate cancer is a virulent tumor that grows in the prostate, a walnut-sized gland below the bladder in men.

Most prostate cancers are slow-growing but there are aggressive cases, and the cancer can spreading to other parts of the body, especially the bones and lymph nodes. Reports have claimed Mugabe's prostate cancer has metastasised, spreading to other parts of the body.

Officials at the Gleneagles cancer centre also refused to confirm if they were treating Mugabe there, also referring questions to the hospital administrator who asked to be contacted again today.

While Mugabe is getting five-star treatment in Singapore, locals, mainly poor Zimbabweans, have to contend with the horror of going to hospitals like Parirenyatwa, Harare, Mpilo and United Bulawayo Hospitals, among other dilapidated health centres.

Although Zimbabwe has relatively better private clinics, they are a far cry from Gleneagles. Besides, they are largely unaffordable for mostly unemployed Zimbabweans who have no medical aid or insurance.

Two weeks ago, the country's largest referral centre, Parirenyatwa Hospital, was forced to close its intensive care unit due to a ventilation equipment breakdown.

This is very different from Gleneagles Hospital where the cost estimation for a day's visit for a high-end patient like Mugabe costs at least US$8 000. Cost estimation is the total fee that a patient can expect to pay for in-patient or day surgery treatment, comprising hospital and doctor's fees.

"The cost estimations are aggregated from data on hospital and doctor's fees collected in the past year. They are a reflection of what patients previously paid for these procedures. Cost estimations are not meant as fee recommendations. The attending doctor decides on the final professional fees," says the hospital website.

Final medical bills for VIPs like Mugabe usually cost thousands of dollars per visit.

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