High Hospital Charges Leave Patients Stranded

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By Anna Chibamu

MOST patients are failing to seek treatment in government hospitals due to steep prices required for medical services.

Last week, senior and junior government doctors announced they were returning to work, abandoning their strike over low salaries, poor working conditions and lack of medical equipment and drugs in hospitals.

However, critically ill patients continue to be turned away from hospitals as they fail to pay the required fees upfront.

Recently, government raised hospital charges with consultation fees going up by more than 1 300%, from a figure of $15 to $200, an amount most cash-strapped patients cannot afford. For one to be admitted in a government hospital, a fee of $800 is required.

“Consultation fees have gone up. For one to be admitted, they must pay at least $800 upfront. This amount is too high because people are struggling to earn a living. It seems as if government has privatised this hospital,” Kudzai Mushope of Hopley in Harare whose mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer told at Harare hospital at the weekend.

“Some people are failing to even bring their sick relatives to hospital because they have no money,” he said.

Mushope also complained of poor service at the hospital where nurses ignored critically ill patients in the resuscitation room.

He said four people lost their lives in less than four hours as relatives watched helplessly.

“It was traumatising watching someone who could have survived dying due to negligence of that magnitude. Doctors are not always available. Specialists are phoned from wherever they are and sometimes it takes up to four to five hours before being served.

“The nurses tried to run around after a middle-aged man lost his breath but all along they were busy chatting and laughing failing to give attention to the patient. It was really bad,” added Mushope who comes everyday to Harare hospital to check on his mother-in-law.

In Ward C8, a young man who only identified himself as Tapiwa said he was not receiving any treatment because he was failing to raise the amount needed by the hospital in US dollars.

“Doctors say I need to have an endoscope done but I cannot afford the amount needed. I was admitted in December last year. I am in pain,” said Tapiwa.

A relative of an admitted elderly man whose legs were swollen lamented the deteriorating standards of health services in government institutions.

“The situation here is sad. During the (former colonial government premier Ian) Smith era, the government then was efficient and as you entered any hospital, you could be greeted by the heavy smell of different medicines but now all we smell is perfume from ladies. There are no drugs here. The hospital is dry,” Pote said.

Our news crew spotted a man walking with the aid of clutches leaving the hospital premises with a swollen leg and a bruised face.

“I was driving back home after visiting some friends. I gave a lift to four men but one of them hit me on the face with an empty bottle. I was with my brother and the gang beat us thoroughly confiscating our phones and wallets. They also hit me on my leg using an iron bar.

“We came here in the morning but only managed to pay for the X-ray. We are leaving (around 1600hrs) because the next procedure according to the doctor requires a lot of money,” said the man who was unfortunately stopped by the security because he had a cannula on his hand.

Doctors who had not reported for duty since September last year citing incapacitation officially returned to work last week but the situation remains critical with no medicines or equipment in sight.