The 95-year-old anti-apartheid hero is receiving intensive care for a respiratory illness at his Johannesburg home where he returned yesterday after 86 days in a Pretoria hospital. "It's going to be a difficult process, he has a lot factors stacked up against him," said Elvis Irusen, who heads the department of Pulmonology at the University of Stellenbosch.
Mandela, he added, also has a long history of pulmonary illness to overcome, and his advanced years will make that recovery even more difficult. "It does not look good," said Irusen.
Details of Mandela's recurring lung infection have been not revealed since he was admitted to hospital on June 8, fuelling speculation about his long term health. The Nobel peace laureate's condition has been largely described as "critical but stable" and updates on his health have been infrequent.
In the past few months, the revered former leader was once said to be on life support and there were unconfirmed reports he had to be resuscitated. Irusen said chances were high that the frail statesman is on a ventilator to aid his breathing.
"That comes with a lot of problems as well; a ventilator could make a person prone to infections," he added. Government has said he could be taken back to hospital "if there are health conditions that warrant another admission," insisting that he will be treated by a large medical team from the military, private and public health sector.
His home has been reconfigured for the treatment. Another pulmonary specialist, Umesh Lalloo, also spoke of a bleak prognosis. "He has had a lot of health problem and his advanced age does not make it easier for him," "In this case the progress of recovery is poorer," he said.
In 1988, while serving his 27-year prison term, Mandela was diagnosed with early stage tuberculosis. Two litres of fluid were drained from his chest and he spent six weeks recuperating in hospital.
Despite the experts' gloomy outlook, ordinary South Africans who have been praying for Mandela's recovery were yesterday relieved that he was home.