Health experts yesterday challenged the government to improve the public health sector as an alternative to expensive private health institutions whose fees have doubled following the gazetting of new consultation fees.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
Many people were now opting for private hospitals in search for better services as public health facilities have virtually collapsed with most of them offering below standard services.
“We need funding for the public health system. A functional system will safeguard the vulnerable groups,” said Itai Rusike, the director of the Community Working Group on Health (CWGH).
Rusike said few patients would afford the new consultation fees as the majority was facing financial difficulties.
“Health is a fundamental basic human right. People are running away from the poor service in our public institutions,” he said.
The health sector has been underfunded for a long time and this has led to the dilapidation of most major hospitals which are failing to service the poorer population. Some of the public hospitals do not have enough drugs, beds or staff to serve patients.
Rusike however challenged the private doctors to stop taking advantage of the collapsed public health system and raise their fees.
Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), Rutendo Bonde said the government needed to up its game and capacitate the public health system.
“People need an option and so the government should improve the public health sector,” she said. “The private practice has always been a niche for a few and so the majority is left out.”
Bonde however said the medical fee increases were fair as the doctors were struggling to remain in practice while offering quality services.
“While I do understand the patients’ perspective, the practitioners also need to survive and stay afloat,” she said.
According to the Government Gazette issued on Friday last week, general practitioners, specialists and private hospitals will now charge almost twice the current fees, a move which will deny many people decent medical care.
General practitioners now charge US$35 up from US$20 for initial consultation and US$30 for subsequent visits for the same ailment.
In a notice in the Government Gazette published on Friday, the minister of Child and Health Care, David Parirenyatwa said subsequent consultation at hospital or a nursing home per day is now US$40, up from US$20.
Doctors consultation fees go up to US$60 for weekend visits and US$70 for night visits.
Specialist services which were already beyond the reach of many due to the shortage of specialists have also been increased.
Physician pediatricians now charge US$120, up from US$100, while subsequent consultations at rooms for the same illness are now US$70, down from US$80.
An initial visit to a surgeon is now pegged at US$80.
However, it was good news for pregnant women as they will pay US$35 for the initial antenatal visit, while subsequent visits and post-natal visits will cost US$30.
Maternity fees have also been reduced for private hospitals to US$126 for normal delivery in Category A institutions, down from around US$750, while those in Category B will charge US$96.
Government slashed theatre charges to US$181 from the more than US$750 charged by most institutions.
The gazetting of the consultation fees follows last year’s standoff between the service providers and medical aid societies whereby doctors were calling for US$50 consultation while the societies wanted the fees to remain at US$20.
The medical aid societies through their representative body, the Association of Health Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoz) argued that they could not cope with the increases.
However, the practitioners represented by Zimbabwe Medical Association (ZiMA) said the increases were justified as the current economic environment was not favourable.
The last review of medical tariffs was in 2009.