Zimbabwe’s Vice President Constantino Chiwenga has been appointed the health minister, a month after his predecessor was fired over corruption allegations related to coronavirus testing kits.
Chiwenga replaces former Minister of Health Obadiah Moyo, who is accused of illegally awarding a $20m contract for coronavirus testing. He was arrested in June and was freed on bail pending trial.
“President [Emmerson Mnangagwa] has noted the urgent need to stabilise, restructure and reform the national health delivery system to better cope with challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic,” the president’s office said in a statement on Tuesday.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) immediately criticised the appointment, saying Chiwenga was not the right man for the job as the country faced a pandemic.
Zimbabwe, whose healthcare system has been struggling from years of neglect, has recorded more than 4,000 COVID-19 cases and at least 80 related deaths, although those figures are believed to be underestimated due to lack of testing.
Health officials say infections will continue to rise for some time in the country. Experts estimate the peak of the pandemic has yet to hit the African continent, which is approaching one million cases.
Most public hospitals in Zimbabwe are without administrative heads following their dismissal en-masse last month as part of a restructuring exercise, shortly after the former minister was fired.
Moyo is facing charges of corruption and criminal abuse of office over his role in a deal with a United Arab Emirates-based company to supply personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits.
After Zimbabwe’s opposition condemned the deal, which saw the medical supplies being sold at inflated prices, the government cancelled all contracts with the company, according to local media reports.
The case has received a great deal of attention in a country facing a deepening economic crisis, with nurses and doctors demanding better pay and adequate protective gear to help cope with the pandemic.
The MDC said that, in appointing Chiwenga, Mnangagwa had shown a “gross display of incompetence”.
Chiwenga spent four months in China receiving medical treatment for an unknown illness until November last year. He has returned three times since then for medical check-ups, according to government officials.