Concern over numbers detained after treatment

HARARE - Parliament has said the widespread practice of detaining poor people for unpaid medical bills was not government policy.

Deputy minister of Health and Child Care, Aldrin Musiiwa, said hospitals must change their practices.

“It is not government policy that people who have been attended to without money should be detained.  Surely, all the people who would have been treated and have recovered should go back home,” Musiiwa told the National Assembly on Tuesday. 

“Detaining them will be very costly considering food and other things.  So, government policy is that if they are supposed to pay, we should be given their residential addresses and they should be made to sign a payment plan.”

He was responding to a question by Chitungwiza North MDC MP Godfrey Sithole.

Hospitals, which continue to hold  patients for non-payment of bills, have defended the policy and said that all of the people detained had the ability to pay and that they were unable to procure new equipment and drugs because of the problems of bad debt

Rights groups contend the detention of poor patients is indisputably a violation of human rights, including the right to liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention as outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Although the problem of patient detainment has received little focus, increasing attention is being paid to the issue of universal health coverage and the need for health financing systems in the discussion of UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Social Welfare minister Prisca Mupfumira and her Health counterpart David Parirenyatwa, have announced plans for a national health insurance scheme, funded by a new tax on workers, to help the poor get access to hospital care.

During the parliamentary debate, Musiiwa expressed sympathy for the detained patients — but also for the hospitals.

Musiiwa also said children under five years do not pay medical bills. This comes amid concerns that hospitals are demanding payment even from minors and economically distressed geriatrics.

Government policy dictates that it should provide free-of-charge health services for pregnant and lactating mothers, children under five and those aged 65 years and over.

“...the truth is that in the country we have a law that under five year children do not pay when they are being attended to at hospitals, they get drugs for free. 

“Currently, the money that we are getting is very little, so at times there are shortages of drugs in hospitals.  There are two questions raised on this, that should we close the hospitals or we can engage someone to bring us drugs at a lower price which we then call private partnership,” Musiiwa said.

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