Mwanawasa health mystery

The trade unionist turned politician who led Zambia for 10 years is undergoing treatment in South Africa. He has been unwell for a while and has noticeably lost weight. He left Zambia about three weeks ago. As Chiluba was admitted at the Garden City Clinic in Johannesburg, his and his family’s favourite even from the days when he was president, President Mwanawasa was at an undisclosed hospital in London for what government officials said was a “routine checkup”. Lusaka was this week agog with rumours that the condition of Mwanawasa, Zambia’s third head of state, was serious. A journalist working in Zambia, Michael Malakata, said: “They are keeping us guessing, but the strong rumour is that he (Mwanawasa) is in a serious condition.” Zambia’s High Commssioner to Namibia Grifth Nyirongo this week also sought to dispel fears that Mwanawasa was seriously ill. “It was just a coincidence that he fell unwell almost at the time when he was supposed to go for his routine medical check-up and doctors felt he could as well go to London.” Mwanawasa always goes to London to let doctors run the rule over him. Government spokesperson in Lusaka Vernon Mwaanga on Wednesday said Mwanawasa’s condition was “stable” and that there was no need for alarm. He said the 57-year-old Mwanawasa, in power since 2002, would return to Zambia “soon” without elaborating. Mwanawasa, who is running for a second term, had to cancel a campaign tour ahead of presidential and general elections penciled for later this year after his blood pressure shot up last Saturday. But Chiluba was not convinced that all was well with his successor and this week implored all and sundry from his hospital bed to “pray for President Mwanawasa’s quick recovery”. Chiluba, who has publicly declared his belief in the power of supplication, was apparently in high spirits after receiving some uplifting news over his own health. In an exclusive telephone interview from Johannesburg, Chiluba’s press aide Emmanuel Mwamba said Chiluba, who had been in hospital for two weeks underwent rigorous medical tests including for different types of AIDS last Wednesday. It turned out that Chiluba has critical cardiac heart problems which doctors say will make him remain in hospital for at least another 30 days. “We are happy to announce that his HIV tests were negative, so those rumours are unfounded. It was discovered that he has serious cardiac problems. His condition is bad but completely reversible,” said Mwamba refuting widespread rumours in Zambia, particularly the capital Lusaka that the former president had succumbed to HIV. Mwamba said Chiluba was able to walk but was frail when he left Lusaka. Asked what really prompted Chiluba to take the HIV test, Mwamba said Chiluba was getting worried at his rapid loss of weight. He would not say how many kilogrammes the former president had lost, nor say over what period. Chiluba who was accompanied by his wife Regina, his personal doctor Justine Kangwa, Mwamba and his two bodyguards was urgently flown to South Africa over a fortnight ago after falling seriously ill. His journey from Lusaka to South Africa was not a pleasant one. First the aeroplane that was carrying him there developed some technical problems over Lake Kariba. Mwamba said smoke began billowing out of one of the engines, prompting the pilot to turn it off and fly back on one engine to Lusaka International Airport, where the aeroplane made an emergency landing. He said the incident rattled all on board the plane save Chiluba, who had prayed shortly before take off. He was later flown to South Africa in a different plane. According to Mwamba Chiluba was excited on hearing that he had tested negative for the virus that causes AIDS, which has claimed the lives of millions of people all over the world but particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, Chiluba is said to have been so excited by the news that, although doctors had prescribed total bed rest, he had been calling friends and chatting away on his cell phone, prompting hospital authorities to confiscate the gadget. “He is in high spirits and wants to be talking to his friends”, Mwamba said, adding that Chiluba had received flowers from his long term friend and former Malawi president Bakili Muluzi, the government of South Africa and a get-well-soon message from the parliament of Zambia. Though president Levy Mwanawasa had suggested that Chiluba who is facing numerous corruption charges be taken to a military hospital in South Africa the latter opted to be taken to Garden City Clinic where he is being nursed. “President Mwanawasa wanted him to be taken to some military hospital where other VIPs are taken but the big man (Chiluba) opted to come to Garden City Clinic because he has a personal relationship with the staff at the hospital,” said Mwamba.

April 2006
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