Zimbos forced to travel far for healthcare

HARARE - For Eddie Hove, 45, the pain was just getting worse.

The Harare-based media practitioner needed a knee replacement urgently, but the cost of treatment would also be equally painful: even with health insurance, he would have to pay out of pocket.

He needed $15 000 to get the procedure done at a private hospital in Harare, that would cover the surgery, booking, the implants  as well as the anaesthetists’ bill.

His medical insurer, under private hospital cover, told him they could only foot $4 000 out of the $15 000.

At first, Hove looked abroad at countries like Israel and India, where he figured he could get the procedure done for about $3 000, a bargain compared with the $15 000 or more that Zimbabwean hospitals were charging.

But he balked at the long distances involved and the potential for in-flight health problems.

Then, he came across the encouraging idea of being a medical tourist closer to home — just under 500km from Harare to Lusaka, Zambia.

“It was cheaper to even fly to Lusaka even with an escort than to have the procedure done here. So you can see how expensive it is.

“I got a letter of guarantee from my medical aid, which covered $4 000 and I paid $3 500 instead of the $15 000 that I would have paid if I had been operated here,” Hove told the Daily News on Sunday.

Travelling to Zambia, escorted by his wife, proved to be way cheaper than the Harare bill, and that is the option he took.

Late last year, Hove’s knee replacement procedure was done — in Zambia —  at least $ 7 000 less, including flights and hotels.

The idea of medical tourism has gained currency in recent years, encouraging patients to explore their options.

Hospitals like Beit Cure Hospital, where Hove was only asked for half of the amount, $7 500, offer five-star-hotel amenities, replete with gourmet food, marble floors, treatment by Western-trained doctors, recuperation in comfortable surroundings, and a much lighter bill than is typical in Zimbabwe.

Long trips back to home base are not ideal for anyone after a major procedure, even if it is stateside rather than abroad.

And if you’re doing this on your own, instead of through insurance plan, there will be added costs to consider, like airline tickets or having a companion come along assisting.

And, of course, the bottom line with medical care isn’t the cost; it’s the quality of care.

So medical travellers have to vet their destination hospitals, and doctors carefully.

Hove’s plight is a microcosm of the crisis engulfing health institutions in Zimbabwe, where major public referral hospitals such as Harare Central Hospital and Mpilo Hospital are suspending elective surgeries as a result of the drug shortages, leaving patients with no other option but turn to private or foreign hospitals.

Countless deaths at the country’s hospitals have been attributed to the lack of drugs, manpower and equipment shortages, with the government failing to adequately stock hospitals.

In Zimbabwe, medical costs are made worse by the unavailability of a functioning pharmaceutical industry, with most drugs, as well as intravenous fluid (drip water), being imported.

Many Zimbabweans are now opting for the same route, going to Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana among other countries, following in the footsteps of their president, Robert Mugabe, and his family, who journeys over 5 000 miles to Singapore for treatment.

Zimbabwean doctors are proposing to government sweeping amendments to the Health Professions Act to pave way for a new policy which allows health practitioners to advertise.

This also comes as the Health Professions Authority (HPA) has come up with an electronic database of 3 500 health institutions and experts easily accessible to the public.

Speaking at the authority’s annual congress recently, HPA president Adolf Macheka, a specialist surgeon, said: “We realised that one of the reasons why there has been so much traffic of patients flocking to other countries for health services was partly because of unavailability of information on the locality of specified health service providers.

“Thus, this register will assist patients to locate health service providers available in the country by location, town or province. Health institutions appearing in the electronic register will be those up-to-date and registered with the authority. Currently these are totalling 3 500, both private and public health institutions.”

The database has been available live on the HPA website from December 1, after being delayed by a technical fault, according to Macheka.

In October, a Bulawayo-based private hospital was caught up in a medical storm after it allegedly demanded $32 000 upfront for an accident victim.

According to the hospital’s October 20 bill, a spine surgery, three fracture surgeries, anaesthetic, a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, blood,  casualty fees and other  fees cost the victim a total of $32 699.

This drew scorn from social and media commentators.

An MRI scan costs an average $500 in Zimbabwe, casualty fee $488, blood bank -— four pints $540, two leg braces $400, anaesthetist $2 001, surgeon assistant $725, surgery $11 089, implants $3 833, another anaesthetist $2 279, spinal surgery $9 877, coupled with other additional costs involved in the treatment.

This comes as the parliamentary portfolio committee on Health urged government to declare the health crisis a “national disaster” to enable mobilisation of donor assistance.

During a recent debate in Parliament, legislators lamented the plight of patients in Zimbabwe who have to deal with defaulting on medicine and begging for money to get treated outside the country.

Even a yellow fever vaccine in Zimbabwe is priced triple the price in other countries in the region.

In Zimbabwe the vaccine costs between $56 and $66, but in Kenya, for example, the vaccine costs $24.

“A CT scan in Zimbabwe, according to Premier Service Medical Aid Society, costs $500. In Kenya it costs $100 and in South Africa it costs $90,” Mabvuku MDC legislator James Maridadi said during a recent Parliament session.

During a tour of Zimbabwe’s biggest blood collection centre, the Blood Bank in Harare, MPs from the portfolio committee revealed that some people living close to the country’s borders with Zambia are importing blood from there, as it is cheaper.

Comments (1)

The badic health care at som government facilties leave little to be desired no oxygen ,no medicines,no nurses ,1 to 16 pstienrs al this is unacceptsble,let us put our differences apsrt an help rach other

Susun - 20 December 2016

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