A new mother was recently detained for six days at Chitungwiza General Hospital after failing to pay a US$580 medical bill.
BY NDAMU SANDU
The mother, Clara Muchezi, was only released on Monday after the intervention of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), a non-profit making organisation that promotes observance of human rights in the country.
But the hospital warned her before release: debt collectors would knock on her door after two weeks for the full amount.
Information at hand shows that Muchezi gave birth to a baby girl on March 14 this year and was supposed to be discharged four days later.
However, on the day she was supposed to be discharged, hospital staff barred her from leaving the ward saying she needed to settle her hospital bill first.
This prompted the ZLHR to write a letter to the hospital’s chief executive officer, Obadiah Moyo on Monday last week demanding the immediate release of Muchezi.
“Should you fail to do so by 14:00 hours today, we will be left with no option but to approach the courts at your expense, and without further notice to you,” the lawyers said.
Monday’s letter was a follow-up to earlier correspondence in which the lawyers reminded the hospital that detaining a patient was an infringement on a person’s liberty and was against section 49 of the Constitution.
“By continuing to detain our client, you are committing the delict of false imprisonment as Chitungwiza Hospital has no authority at law to restrict our client the personal liberty for non-payment of medical fees,” ZLHR wrote in a letter dated March 21 2014.
Narrating her ordeal to The Standard yesterday, Muchezi said she went through hell during the six days detention at the hospital.
“The doctor had said that I should be given warm water to bath but they gave me cold water,” said Muchezi, who was represented by ZLHR lawyer, Belinda Chinowawa.
Muchezi said her husband came with US$80 as part of the payment but the hospital refused to take the money. Her uncle came with another US$100 but still the hospital could not budge, insisting it wanted the full amount.
“When they saw that the ward was filling up with patients, some nurses said I would sleep on the floor to accommodate paid-up patients,” she said. “Sometimes nurses would point at me saying ‘this is the woman who wants to be treated for free’.”
Health and Child Care deputy minister, Paul Chimedza told The Standard yesterday that it was not the ministry’s policy to detain patients over unpaid medical bills.
Chimedza, however, said there was a worrying trend where people go to hospitals, get treated and discharged and never pay up “because we are saying don’t turn away people”.
“As a result the system collapses. There is no money to treat people for free and we want to encourage people to pay up. Those without capacity should come through the social welfare,” he said.
Chimedza said it would be cumbersome for hospitals to follow each and every patient to recover the money.
“Those who are supposed to pay should do so to maintain the healthcare system for everyone,” Chimedza said.
Zimbabwean hospitals have been detaining patients until the bills have been settled.
Last month, ZLHR had to intervene for the release of Nyarai Gwaze, who had been detained by Harare Central Hospital over a US$133 medical bill.
Chitungwiza General Hospital spokesperson, Audrey Tasaranarwo denied allegations the institution had detained Muchezi.
“The husband is the one who was dishonest. He was shown the bill and said he was going to look for money. He never came back and rushed to lawyers,” she said.
She said patients without money were given two months to come up with a payment plan. She said the hospital needed the money to buy required drugs.