Reinstate free-user fee policy for expectant mothers: Activists

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© WOMEN rights activists have implored the government to reinstate the free-user fee policy under which public hospitals did not charge expectant mothers.

In 2018, the Health ministry under the new dispensation re-introduced the free-user fee policy for expecting mothers, children under the age of five and citizens above 65 years as part of the ministry’s 100-day plan to resuscitate the country’s health sector.

But the government recently scrapped the free-user fee policy when it hiked hospital fees by 100 percent with effect from the first of this month, piling more woes on the already struggling ordinary citizens.

Caesarean birth is now pegged at $2 500 at central hospitals and $1 500 at provincial hospitals and $1 000 at district hospitals.

General wards for ante-natal and post-natal general wards now charge $200 per day at Parirenyatwa Hospital and $160 at central hospitals. Central hospitals in the country now charge $600 for normal delivery while provincial and district hospitals charge $360 and $240, respectively, for the same service.

Women activists have bemoaned the hospital fees hike which they feel will particularly hit hard pregnant women.

Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (Wcoz) health cluster leader Edinah Masiyiwa said the recently announced fees would see more women delivering at home because the cost of maternity services is not affordable for most users of public health services.

“We might end up having an increase in maternal mortality. Women will end up missing other programmes offered at health centres such as prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

“Therefore, we recommend that the ministry honours the free-user fee policy for pregnant women and children under five,” said Masiyiwa.

Some women activists accused the government of moving two steps forward and 20 steps backwards.

“The government is promoting back-door maternity wards and we will see an upsurge of community health workers who help women to deliver at home just like we used to do in the past.

“The makeshift maternity set-ups will simply mean that women with complications won’t make it and this will increase the maternity mortality rate,” Buhle Msipa, a women’s health advocate said.

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