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Mar. 30 (GIN) – First Lady Grace Mugabe is being treated in Asia for appendicitis, according to government officials. Local media reports say she was flown to Dubai and then Singapore for surgery in January but that she has a cancerous condition, not appendicitis as government claims. 

Her husband, President Robert Mugabe, also spent weeks in Singapore in 2013 for what was variously reported as an eye condition and prostate cancer.

Local officials are now facing questions about the message this sends to Zimbabweans whose health system is near collapse from lack of funds.

Presidential spokesman George Charamba dismissed concerns that the Mugabes were enjoying a level of care denied to regular citizens. “The first family can choose its doctors the same way you would choose doctors in South Africa,” Charamba told a New Zimbabwe reporter in an interview.

Those needing care, he said, need not be confined to Zimbabwe. They can choose South Africa, London, India or elsewhere, he said.

Since her nomination to lead the Women’s League of her husband’s party, Grace Mugabe has spent little time in country, besides an appearance on March 8 for International Women’s Day.

Should Mrs. Mugabe suffer from colon cancer as is widely reported, she would among some 5000 Zimbabweans diagnosed with cancer every year, according to the government’s National Cancer Prevention and Control Strategy for 2013 to 2017.

 That number, along with a mortality of over 1000 deaths per year was called “the tip of the iceberg” in the official report. Current cancer treatment and palliation services are unable to meet the existing demand, the report acknowledges.

With limited funds for new treatment facilities, the report offers a three-pronged cancer policy – development of a Tobacco and Alcohol Control Policy to reduce exposure to nicotine and other carcinogens, introduction of a vaccine for adolescent girls to prevent HPV and deployment of a vaccine for Hepatitis B.  w/pix of G. Mugabe

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