By Sij Ncube
Harare, February 29, 2016 – A leading rights group has come to the rescue of a young mother and her newly born baby when the two were detained at a private hospital over a $300 shortfall in what activists say is a violation of their right to liberty as enshrined in the constitution.
The mother, whose identity has been withheld to protect the identity of her child, and her baby were only freed on Saturday at a Belvedere Hospital after the intervention of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights).
The Bulawayo-based mother delivered her baby through an emergency caesarean operation but could not leave the hospital as she could not immediately settle in cash a $300 shortfall on her Public Medical Aid Society (PMAS) health cover.
The hospital reportedly turned down her initial offer for a payment plan, leading to the impasse ZimRights is adamant violated the new mother’s constitutional right to liberty.
The woman’s husband approached ZimRights for assistance as she remained detained, despite being discharged by her doctor.
ZimRights, through its legal department, made a formal complaint written to the Director of the health institution dated February 20, 2016, expressing concern and warning against the illegal action.
“Section 49 of the Constitution guarantees the right to personal liberty and outlaws the imprisonment of citizens merely on the ground of inability to fulfil contractual obligations,” ZimRights argued.
“As a result, we have reason to believe and correctly so that our client is being arbitrarily and illegally detained by your institution.”
As a result of the intervention, the medical facility, which was not immediately available for comment, released the mother and her baby on the same day and agreed to a payment plan of instalments spanning three months.
The woman was supposed to give birth next month at Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo where she was booked, but had to be ferried to Harare allegedly due to a complication.
She reportedly required an immediate operation after she developed a high blood pressure complication that threatened her life, which was carried out at the maternity hospital on February 16, 2016.
ZimRights said while it acknowledged the obligation that the patient had to settle the medical bill, detaining the mother and her baby was a violation of their rights to liberty.
“We advise that you still have recourse in terms of the law to recover your outstanding medical bills from our client using means that are not in violation of the law,” the organisation advised the medical institution in the letter.