Did First Lady's hospital visits mean anything?

HARARE - The stance taken by health authorities to withhold salaries for striking doctors comes as a shock and huge disappointment.

This is why.

In the recent past, just after taking office after dislodging former president Robert Mugabe, there were reports that President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his wife, Auxillia, surreptitiously visited two of Zimbabwe’s biggest public hospitals — Harare Central and Parirenyatwa.

While Mnangagwa last week clarified to the media that it was not him but his wife who conducted the operation, all the same, it was a most welcome, refreshing and hands-on leadership approach.

Mugabe — who had ruled Zimbabwe for 37 long years — failed to do that, despite countless reports on the dire situation at the country’s public hospitals.

He was so out of touch with reality, and probably knew the state of Singapore hospitals much better than Zimbabwe’s, since he always sought medical attention there anyway.

Following the public hospitals visit, especially after securing the biggest office on the land, everyone rubbed their hands with glee and excitement — finally our decades-long health crisis is now being solved.

After the visit, the obvious assumption was the First Family witnessed first-hand the sorry state of our public health institutions — the long queues, drug shortages, antiquated equipment, old hospital beds and linen, demotivated and dejected nurses and doctors, and even lack of basics such as gloves.

Auxillia must have seen it all.

Based on that experience, the people who ought to understand the plight of health professionals in public hospitals are the first family — Mnangagwa and his wife.

They know how pathetic the conditions are at the institutions. And it does not only affect the doctors, even patients suffer.

Now, for the Health ministry to block striking doctors’ salaries and allowances, arguing it will compel them to report for duty, exposes the vindictiveness and lack of brilliance in handling the crisis by Mnangagwa and his administration.

It is certainly a repressive, dictatorial and unnecessarily heavy-handed way of addressing the crisis.

Isn’t now the time Mnangagwa — well-informed of the crisis — must be using the intel gathered by his wife during the clandestine visits to address the impasse.

Shouldn’t he meet the doctors, acknowledge first that the professionals are working under sad conditions, which his wife witnessed first-hand, and go on to outline his solution.

Mr President, engage and dialogue, not bully people.

You had a good start, but you are now losing it.

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