Harare, Wednesday, February 12, 2014 – The country’s leading legal defence group, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has secured the release of a Harare woman who had been detained at a local hospital after failing to settle some medical bills.
Authorities at Harare Central Hospital (HCH) on Wednesday refused to release Nyarai Gwaze, who had been admitted at the government-run hospital after she sought medical assistance for an ailment from the medical institution last Friday. The hospital insisted that Gwaze should first settle her medical bill amounting to $133 before being discharged. The hospital authorities even refused to consider Gwaze’s offer to pay $50 as down payment so as to secure her release with the balance being settled at the end of this month.
The refusal prompted Gwaze to engage ZLHR which protested against the illegal detention of the Harare woman as objectionable and demanded her immediate release.
In a letter written to Peggy Zvavamwe, the chief executive officer of HCH, Gwaze’s lawyer, Tawanda Zhuwarara of ZLHR took offence with the hospital’s functionaries in the Finance department who barred her client from leaving the confines of the hospital ward until she settled her medical bill in full.
Zhuwarara protested that HCH had committed the delict of false imprisonment and had violated Section 49 of the Constitution as the hospital had no authority at law to restrict the personal liberty of Gwaze for non-payment of medical fees.
Section 49 of the Constitution guarantees the right to personal liberty and outlaws the imprisonment of citizens merely on the ground of inability to fulfill contractual obligations.
Zhuwarara warned HCH that failure to release Gwaze would leave him with no option but to approach the courts on an urgent basis for a remedy to end the detention of the patient.
Resultantly, on Wednesday, HCH authorities relented and released Gwaze from their bondage.
Besides detaining patients, authorities at Zimbabwean state-run hospitals are notorious for attaching patients’ properties over medical bills particularly women who would have failed to pay maternity user fees. This is so despite the government’s promise to do away with maternity user fees, which have been attributed to the high death statistics of newly born babies and delivering mothers.