Farirai Machivenyika and Zvamaida Murwira
Parents or guardians who deny their children access to health services on any ground including religious will face up to a year in jail, a fine or both if the Medical Services Bill gazetted last week is passed into law.
The Bill seeks to align the Medical Services Act with the Constitution. Clause 8D of the Bill provides for the rights of children to access health services.
“It shall be unlawful for any parent or guardian of a child to prevent a child from receiving any health service which is in the best interests of the child concerned, or to withhold consent for any health service in contravention of section 60(3) of the Constitution.
Anyone contravening this provision can be fined at level eight or jailed for up to a year or given both if Parliament approves the Bill.
A number of religions deny children access to health services based on their beliefs, endangering the lives of the affected children. The Bill also confers the rights to health care for persons over the age of 70 and war veterans.
The Bill also provides for incentives from Government to investors who establish health facilities in marginalised areas across the country.
Affluent private health institutions will be compelled to provide emergency health services to disadvantaged patients in a critical condition for 48 hours to stabilise the patient before they are sent to a Government hospital.
This is in line with Government’s new thrust of health for all through leaving no place and no one behind as envisaged by the Second Republic led by President Mnangagwa in its quest to have an upper middle class income economy by 2030, anchored by the National Development Strategy 1.
The Bill will soon be tabled in Parliament for debate and be passed with or without amendments.
Clause Six of the Bill empowers the Minister of Health and Child Care in consultation with the Minister of Finance and Economic Development to draw up incentives that could be conferred on those who set up a health centre in marginalised areas or for the benefit of any marginalised communities.
“The purpose of the incentives is to facilitate the procurement of essential medical equipment and drugs,” reads the Bill.
In line with the desire to comply with the Constitution which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, tribe, gender, place of origin among other factors, the Bill creates a new clause which prohibits discrimination against refusal of emergency medical treatment.
A private health institution will have to admit any patient who is suffering from a condition which causes an immediate danger to the life of the patient for a period of not less than 48 hours for the purpose of stabilising the patient before transferring him or her to a Government health institution which has the capacity to provide the required medical treatment. This will be required even if the patient is unable to afford treatment on the same terms and conditions as other patients admitted in the private health institution.
“The minister and the concerned private health institution may conclude or facilitate the conclusion of an agreement, for the recovery of all or a portion of costs of the treatment of the patients concerned whether from the patients or State, after consultation with the private health institution concerned.”
The Health Minister will also be able to request a private health institution to make available to any patient with a condition that is an immediate danger to the life of the patient or is a victim of a public emergency who was originally admitted to Government health institutions such specialist medical facilities as may be unavailable at the Government health institutions concerned.
Those who decline to give emergency treatment can be fined up to level 8 or jailed for up to a year.
Clause Three inserts a new section dealing with treatment and care for persons under arrest, detention or imprisonment.
Clause Four enjoins the minister to consult with health care providers when fixing the maximum fees and charges for Government and State-aided health institutions.
Another right conferred by the Bill is the right by a patient to participate in any decision affecting their health and treatment even if they lack the legal capacity to give the informed consent required.