HARARE – Cash-strapped State hospitals are routinely detaining patients to press family members and friends to pay up — sending a message to poor people to stay away.
In government-run hospitals, there should be provisions meant to waive the bills for the poorest patients, but the policy is rarely applied properly — even in the case of a child dying.
We quote the deputy Health minister Aldrin Musiiwa promising to take action against hospital administrations who detain patients for failing to pay hospital fees.
The deputy minister apologised on behalf of government for the actions that some State hospitals were taking against patients.
During a parliamentary session he expressed sympathy for the detained patients — but also for the hospitals.
He said it was an inhuman situation for mothers to be detained but also absolutely out of order for a patient to be treated and expect not to pay their medical bill.
We applaud the minister because this policy is illegal, unnecessary, nonsensical and there is no way that many of these patients, mostly women, can settle their bills. It’s a government working against its people.
These detentions are a form of psychological torture.
While we applaud the deputy minister, government must conduct an investigation into the detention of patients.
Conditions under detention include overcrowding, insufficient food and water, and withholding of further medical treatment.
Mechanisms designed to exempt or reimburse the health fees of low-income and indigent people are clearly failing to protect patients from being detained.
The detention of patients is a clear violation of rights established under international law, including the right not to be arbitrarily detained or detained as debtors and the right to accessible healthcare.
And by the way, what happened to the policy aggressively pushed by then deputy prime minister Thokozani Khupe during the inclusive government to abolish user fees for women giving birth and for children?
We need to revisit that noble policy, especially in light of the worsening economic hardship in the country.
We know hospitals are run as a business and also as a social service, and must be self-sustaining given the funding shortfall blighting government.
Yes, at the end of the day, the employer must pay the health workers and other staff of the hospital apart from paying for the consumables procured to save the life of that patient. But ordinarily, it is not right to detain patients.