by Susan Njanji
JOHANNESBURG, Dec 11, 2012 (AFP) – Anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela has been suffering from a lung infection but is responding to treatment, the government said Tuesday, as the ageing statesman faced a fourth night in hospital.
“Doctors have concluded the tests, and these have revealed a recurrence of a previous lung infection, for which Madiba is receiving appropriate treatment, and he is responding to the treatment,” said a statement from President Jacob Zuma’s office.
While Mandela is said to be doing well, medical experts have warned that for a 94-year-old, any hint of an infection could be serious.
Chest infections are among the most common problems seen in elderly patients but “in people of extreme age (it) is always a potentially concerning factor,” said Mark Sonderup, vice chairman of the South African Medical Association.
Mandela’s hospitalisation means he is suffering from something that is “more than just the simple cough,” Sonderup added.
During four days of medical tests that have brought only sketchy details about his condition, many South Africans appeared resigned to the fact that the nation’s first black president will not be around for ever.
“The thing is the man is very old, it’s hard to accept he won’t make it, but it’s his age,” said Victor Ncube, a waiter at a busy Johannesburg restaurant.
But the latest report has raised hopes of a prompt release from a Pretoria military hospital.
“He is a strong man,” said Victor Brown, a manager with an energy and chemical firm Sasol. “We hope for the best and hope he recovers well.”
South Africa’s 1995 rugby World Cup winning captain Francois Pienaar said “we can’t forget that he is 94-years-old” but “we’re hoping he’ll be able to celebrate his 95th birthday and many more besides.”
The former president who led South Africa to democracy in 1994 has a long history of lung problems.
He was previously hospitalised for an acute respiratory infection in January 2011, when he was kept as an inpatient for two nights.
He was released in a stable condition for home-based care and intense medical monitoring.
In 1988, while serving his 27-year prison term, Mandela was diagnosed with early stage tuberculosis after being admitted to hospital in Stellenbosch with a bad cough and weakness and having complained of dampness in his cell.
Two litres of fluid were drained from his chest and he spent six weeks recuperating in the hospital before being transferred to a private clinic near his mainland Cape Town prison where he was the facility’s first black patient.
The latest scare became public on Saturday when Mandela was flown from his rural home village of Qunu to a military hospital where he had to undergo tests which the authorities said were common for people of his age.
Government officials have sought to calm fears around his health saying he does not face immediate danger, with the presidency issuing a Spartan daily update to the media.
“Around Madiba and his age there’s always need for concern when matters of his health arise. But there’s no need for panic at this stage,” Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj told the state broadcaster SABC.
“You must remember that he was diagnosed as having TB when he was in prison. So there’s a history of weak lungs, susceptibility to infection, but there’s also a history of successful treatment.”
Over a decade after he left office the tall grey-haired Nobel peace laureate retains a prominent place in the national psyche, and his health has become a subject of global obsession as he ages.
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