Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Health Reporter
Government has approved an increase in public hospital charges, but no one will be turned away for failing to raise the fees, while the free maternity services policy remains in place.
The upward review of medical costs from January 1 has already drawn public outcry with stakeholders saying the fees are beyond the reach of many.
Consultation fees for adults receiving treatment at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals are up from $15 to $200 for initial and $130 for subsequent visits.
Children above five years will now pay $100 as initial consultation and $60 for reviews.
In other central hospitals, initial consultation for adults and children has been pegged at $160 and $80 respectively.
Adults and children accessing treatment from provincial hospitals will be required to pay initial consultation fee of $120 and $60 respectively while district hospitals will charge $80 for adults and $40 for children above five years.
In an interview yesterday, Health and Child Care Secretary Dr Agnes Mahomva explained the latest adjustments saying maternity fees carried in a circular to hospitals were only an indication of how much it would cost for such services. The cost would be claimed by institutions from head office.
“Maternity services remain free of charge and what you have seen on the document that is circulating was meant for internal planning,” said Dr Mahomva.
“Government policy remains that of free healthcare to pregnant women, lactating women, children under the age of five years, adults over 65 years, but that doesn’t mean the service is free because someone else is meeting that cost.
“For our institutions to claim appropriately from us as head office, there must be a cost to the service, which is basically what is on that document, but it doesn’t necessarily mean pregnant women are now paying.”
She said while adjustments to other healthcare costs were triggered by the economic situation, no one would be turned away.
“The adjustments were meant to ensure that our institutions break-even in this current economy, but again no one would be turned away without receiving treatment because they failed to raise the required amount,” said Dr Mahomva.
The latest adjustments pegged the cost of delivering through Caesarean section at any of the country’s central hospitals at $2 500.
Cost of delivering through Caesarean at provincial and district hospitals has been pegged at $1 500 and $1 000, respectively.
Normal delivery at central hospitals will cost $600 while provincial and district hospitals will require $360 and $240 respectively.
The adjustments had already begun to cause panic among stakeholders.
Citizen Health Watch trustee Ms Fungisai Dube said because Zimbabwe’s healthcare system remained underfunded, the general population had to live with huge out of pocket expenditure on health.
Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health chairperson Dr Ruth Labode said Government could not punish its own citizens because of the current inflationary environment without equally matching salaries.
She said Parliament would be calling on officials from the Ministry of Health and Child Care to explain and justify the increases.
“We must not make people suffer because of inflation. Hospitals belong to the people and they ought to get a service at the most affordable cost,” said Dr Labode.
Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Mr Itai Rusike called for transparency and accountability in utilising collected user fees to ensure that all the money was put to good use.
“There’s, therefore, need for transparency and accountability on the use of the user fees (Health Services Fund) so that there’s improvement on quality of care, provision of drugs, sundries and equipment,” he said.
He said these approved hospital user fees were way beyond the reach of the general public, particularly those who earned below the poverty datum line.
“The low-income population can no longer afford to get ill because they cannot afford expensive curative services,” said Mr Rusike.