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Horrifying corona treatment costs

WITH Zimbabwe’s coronavirus deaths and infections continuing to soar, the cost of treatment for the killer disease has become a very big issue in the country.

The Daily News on Sunday established yesterday that treatment costs for the deadly respiratory disease remain beyond the reach of the majority despite the public spotlight on this — with private hospitals demanding anything between US$1 500 and US$10 000 upfront from patients for admissions only.

This comes as there is a huge spike in deaths and infections, as the deadlier Covid-19 second wave wreaks havoc in Zimbabwe. Early yesterday, nearly 1 000 people had died since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country in March last year.

The disease has so far claimed the lives of four government ministers, with many more said to bed-ridden in hospitals.

One of the prominent and relatively more reasonable Harare private health facilities is asking Covid-19 patients to pay a deposit upfront of US$2 500 for admission only for five days. An extra US$800 is needed for a physician.

But it becomes more expensive for one to be admitted in the high dependency unit, as patients then need to fork out a deposit fee of US$3 500 — on top of US$2 000 for a physician and an anesthetist.

If a patient is taken into the ICU, he or she would then have to part with between US$7 000 and US$10 000.

At another well-regarded private hospital, patients can only access treatment through referral from designated doctors — after paying a US$150 consultation fee.

Upon being referred to the hospital, they pay a US$1 500 deposit fee, and another US$1 500 on discharge after five days.

Drugs and procedures are charged separately at both these hospitals, and should patients exceed the five admission days, the price is reviewed upwards.

While the cost of treatment at public hospitals is way cheaper, these have generally run out of beds and key commodities such as oxygen and ventilators.

In Bulawayo, of the three Covid-19 designated centres, Materdei Hospital remains the only one that is offering both testing and admission.

Here, testing costs US$65 — while admission costs US$3 000 for a normal bed, or US$5 000 for the ICU. Thankfully, these charges apply until the patient recovers.

A Covid-19 survivor told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that seeking treatment for the killer disease was now “a tall order”.

“The prices are out of this world. Imagine a PCR test is ranging between US$60 to US$100. It’s just ridiculous,” the Harare resident said.

“The challenge started as soon as I tested positive. I tried to seek admission at public hospitals and I was told they were all full.

“I went to St Anne’s and it was full. That’s when I went to Arundel and I can tell you that it’s a tall order getting admitted there,” he said.

“But what I can tell you is that they do have top class equipment. Everything is there,” he added.

Community Working Group on Health executive director, Itai Rusike, criticised private health services yesterday.

“The predatory, exorbitant pricing and profiteering practices of private hospitals regarding Covid-19 treatment and care is not acceptable as the majority of poor Zimbabweans cannot afford and sustain such highly-priced healthcare services.

“The astronomical fees being charged by the private hospitals for Covid-19 treatment have resulted in the public health institutions being overwhelmed by sick people and operating at full capacity.

“It is time for the government, as the regulatory authority for the private health sector, to take responsibility and put people’s lives before profits,” Rusike said.

“While Covid-19 affects everyone, it does not affect everyone equally. It has entrenched and exacerbated the extreme inequalities and injustices that existed before the pandemic.

“This calls for the government to bring back the debate on a mandatory national health insurance scheme and make sure that everyone has access to quality healthcare services without facing financial ruin,” Rusike said further.

But medical practitioners said the fees being charged by private hospitals and doctors were justified.

“It is very expensive to be treated for coronavirus. This is so because the equipment used (PPE) is very expensive, coupled with the life-saving treatment that you get in the hospitals — drugs and oxygen, among other things, are very expensive,” respected Bulawayo doctor, Solwayo Ngwenya, said.

“It’s even worse when one is admitted in ICU. You can stay in ICU for up to 21 days. So, getting coronavirus is a serious disease and we need to continue encouraging people not to be infected in the first place.

“We should talk about prevention, prevention because the treatment is indeed expensive and very few people will afford it.

“Whether it’s in government or private places, looking after coronavirus cases is extremely expensive, it’s not easy.

“Citizens should be constantly reminded to exercise extreme caution so that we don’t increase the numbers because we don’t have enough resources to tackle coronavirus,” Ngwenya said further.

The secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), Aaron Musara also said the cost of PPE was not cheap and “that’s where the high cost of care originates from”.

“Getting everyone treated simply means someone has to take the cost on behalf of those who cannot. Only the government is positioned to be able to do that.

“The people and the nation have actually no capacity. The onus is on the government to harness that potential and stop or minimise the extent of the catastrophe before us,” he added.

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