MARTERNITY fees will be scrapped at all government hospitals beginning next week as the government moves to improve maternal and child health care and end the detention of new mums at some across the country for failing to pay the fees.
Charging of maternity fees has also been blamed for the country’s relatively high maternal and child mortality rates, prompting a campaign for their removal by Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe and other senior government officials.
The director of preventive services in the Ministry of Health, Gibson Mhlanga, told reporters in Harare Wednesday that all government provincial and central hospitals would stop charging the fees beginning next week.
“Provincial and central hospitals in big cities Harare and Bulawayo are expected to scrap off maternal user fees starting July 1 though we have not yet received the $10 million from the Ministry of Finance,” he said.
“We hope that the money comes quickly to our ministry such that we run the service quickly as well. We have to avoid cases of mothers giving birth at home because of failure to pay maternal user fees. We are patiently waiting for the Ministry of Finance to issue out the funds as soon as possible.”
Zimbabwe’s health sector suffered a dramatic decline because of under-investment over the last decade as the country battled a serious economic crisis made worse by the withdrawal of key donor support.
Worst hit by the crisis were people in rural areas, particularly women and children, who struggled to access life-saving maternal and child health care.
According to Unicef, the collapse of health care meant that a woman’s lifetime risk of dying of pregnancy complications stands at 1 in 42, and of every 1,000 live births, 80 children die before reaching age 5.
“There is no doubt that the poorest women and children have borne the brunt of the decline in health service delivery over the past decade,” UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama said early this year.
“However, significant progress has been made in recent years. Abolishing user fees for pregnant women and children under 5 and strengthening the quality and reach of services will save even more lives.”
Meanwhile, scrapping of user-fees was one of the key aspects of the Health Transition Fund established by the government and international development partners last year.
The Fund is expected to raise US$400 million which would be used to re-strengthen the country’s health delivery system and ultimately save the lives of more than 30,000 children under age 5 and pregnant women.