VICE President Constantino Chiwenga has been flown to China for treatment – just months after declaring that the government was banning health tourism.
The 64-year-old former army general has not been seen publicly for over a week.
Chiwenga, who is also the health minister, pre-recorded speeches delivered during virtual World Aids Day commemorations on December 1. On that day, he did not attend a cabinet meeting, and higher education minister Professor Aaron Murwira took questions as the acting health minister during a post-cabinet briefing.
A government source said: “He was very unwell at the end of November, and he cut back on his public appearances. A decision was taken to fly him out to seek treatment.”
George Charamba, the spokesman for the presidency, confirmed Chiwenga was out of the country but insisted that he was on a “State assignment.” He declined to name the country.
Chiwenga has received treatment in India, South Africa and China over the last year after going down with an undisclosed illness which manifested in loss of skin pigmentation, weight loss and an apparent skin irritation which caused him to sit animatedly whilst sweating profusely.
His estranged wife, Marry, a former model, has also been unwell for more than a year. Last week, her lawyers told a court that she needed to fly to South Africa for urgent treatment after she developed deep wounds on both her forearms.
Her doctors say she has “severe lymphoedema and spontaneous formation of abscesses whose origins have not been determined.”
After almost six months being treated in China last year, Chiwenga returned home appearing in fairly good health. He has made at least two trips to China since for review, flying in hired private jets.
In September, after being appointed health minister, Chiwenga stunned the country when he said his government was banning medical trips abroad by Zimbabweans which he said were bleeding the country of scarce foreign currency.
Chiwenga said Zimbabwean doctors would be barred from writing referral letters for patients to foreign hospitals, even as Zimbabwe’s health facilities remain incapacitated to carry out certain operations due to years of under-investment by the Zanu PF government.
“We will not export our patients. We will not make referrals (to foreign medical facilities) for our patients. It’s everybody,” Chiwenga said.
“Ministers are only about 20 but those who have been going out it’s you, you, me, altogether. That export bill was too high and that’s what we want to curtail.
“We want to do away with that, and it requires us to carry out restructuring from the village health worker right up to the quaternary hospital.”