Zim women empowerment advocates denounce health user fee hikes

By Nhau Mangirazi

The Zimbabwe Government buried its efforts to embrace United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030 following shocking New Year’s Eve user fee hike forcing yet another ‘still-birth’ of pro-poor policies.

Health ministry permanent secretary Agnes Mahomva announced that Government approved hiked user fees taking ‘exemption card’ of children aged below five years at public hospitals.

They will be asked to pay RTGS $100 in general ward.

Ironically, Mahomva said the ‘decision was reached after taking into consideration the plight of general populace’ and inflammatory environment currently prevailing.

She revealed that fees at a central hospital is set to be at RTGS $160 while at provincial hospital will be RTGS$120 for adults and RTGS $60 for children.

An adult will fork out RTGS$80 while children will pay RGTS$ 40 at district general hospitals, added the statement that has been codenamed by  players in the health sector.

On the other hand, giving birth has become expensive where expecting mother has to pay RTGS$200 daily at Parirenyatwa while caesarean is pegged at RTGS$2 500 while provincial hospitals fee is RTGS$ 1500.

Some players have called the hike retrogressive in championing women health rights with negative effects on national prospects, according to advocates.

Young Women Christian Association (YWCA-Zimbabwe) Executive director Mucha Mukamuri said the move will affect the majority poor especially women.

In a statement, Mukamuri noted that the user fee hike is set to be time bomb set as accessing sexual reproductive health services among others has become beyond the reach of many.

She said, ‘‘The sad reality is that majority of women are not working and resides in the rural areas. Even those that are working considering that salaries and wages have not been increased with same magnitude of the hiked hospital fees will force women to deliver their babies in unsafe and unhealthy environments like at the traditional attendances,’ Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Senator for Chegutu Hon Violet Paneari Moeketsi added her voice on President Emmerson Mnangagwa government’s sincerity in improving health standards for majority  and winning on Universal Health Coverage by 2030.

Hon Moketsi said the UHC remains a pipedream as the majority of the population is wallowing in abject poverty.

She said, ‘We said before as opposition but our counterparts take party politics too far. They have failed to improve sectors like health which is critical for any progressive nation. It is a fact that the Zanu PF led Government is out of touch with reality regarding how the economy has gone down and thus affecting health sector among others. The recent hike in user fees proves our point as nothing is set to change,’

Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Itai Rusike added his voice that although it is understood that general hospitals face severe cash constraints, approved hospital user fees are beyond general public.

‘Majority are earning salaries below the poverty datum line to access health care services. Majority of the poor population depend on public health services, yet the cost of health services has gone beyond the reach of many with impact being felt seriously in maternity especially for those in need of (cesarean section),’ he added.

Mukamuri concurred that women and girls are part of the key populations that require protection from harm as they are the most vulnerable in our society. These hospital fees are likely to deepen the crisis that already exist and may lead to increased deaths among women affecting gains achieved since independence.

Rusike explained that the low-income population can no longer afford to get ill, because they cannot afford expensive curative services.

‘This is besides the fact that the  Zimbabwe constitution give government as the guarantor and commits itself to health as a human right by mobilizing domestic resources to fund health benefits that are accessible to all but new hospital user fees will kill the health seeking behavior forcing the sick to die at home because of the fee barrier,’

However Mukamuri suggested that the government should consider cushioning those whose income is below the poverty datum line.

‘This must include all poor and marginalized women and girls as the vision of achieving UHC in 2030 remains a pipe dream,’ concluded Mukamuri.