Harare hospital detains new mothers for outstanding bills

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Nursing mothers and their newly born babies have been detained at Zimbabwe’s largest referral centre, Harare Central Hospital over failure to settle their maternity bills.

A visit this week by NewsDay at the hospital confirmed the dreadful practice, where mothers and newly-born babies were crammed in one small room under the most appalling and heartless conditions.

Although this practice was common at most government health institutions, the situation at Harare Hospital maternity wing was particularly disturbing as it involved new-born babies.

Maud Tungwarara complained to Newsday that she gave birth about 10 days ago but authorities had detained her for her unpaid bills. Some of the women have been in detention for nearly a month.

“Sometimes this room is so overcrowded that when we complain to the hospital staff we are told that we would have to squeeze in there even if there were 50 of us,” said Tungwarara.

There were a few beds spread with clearly dirty threadbare blankets. The nursing mothers slept on the floor or benches leaving the beds for their babies.

“If only they could allow our own linen, baby clothes and

nappies into the room that would be much better rather than expose our babies like this. Is it a crime to be poor?” Tungwarara complained.

So scandalous was the situation that the babies were dressed in old, tattered and dirt stained nappies hand sewn from old hospital linen. Somewhere in the room was Diana Kunze of Kuwadzana who lay closely to her baby on one of the beds. She was yet to be released nearly a week after she gave birth.

It was however all smiles for Lucia Matare as she walked out of the hospital cuddling her bundle of joy after she had settled her bill. She had been detained for four days.

Consultation fees at government hospitals were pegged at US$10, maternity fees US$150, admission per night US$15 and ambulance cost US$20 per call. The fees were beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans.

Minister of Health and Child Welfare Henry Madzorera expressed shock at the “unbelievable and inhuman” practice. He immediately ordered an investigation into the matter.

“I am not aware of that and it is certainly not government policy. I am shocked by what you are saying. It doesn’t sound true, but I am directing the Permanent Secretary to institute an investigation immediately.

“I am surprised how the hospitals even manage to put together mechanisms to enforce these detentions,” said Minister Madzorera.