Rights lawyers are taking government to court over the recent hike in doctors’ consultation fees if the State refuses to reverse the increase in consultation, private hospital and associated unit fees.
Dzimbabwe Chimbga, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) programmes manager, said they could be forced to fight for Zimbabweans’ health rights in the courts if negotiation and lobbying fails.
“This is highly unacceptable as it will hamper access to healthcare services for the majority of Zimbabweans who are already struggling to make ends meet,” he said.
“ZLHR has raised concerns on the failure by the Zimbabwean Government to put in place measures to revitalise the crumbling healthcare system and the grave consequences this has had on ordinary Zimbabweans.
“Most Zimbabweans cannot afford the new gazetted fees. This is worsened by the fact that the new fees are not matched by any general increase in income for the generality of the population.”
He said people suffering from chronic diseases such as kidney failure and cancer will require an estimated $300 per week to access services.
“People without health insurance, those suffering from chronic illnesses, the elderly and women will be the worst affected,” he said.
“Invariably, the cost will be passed onto the patients whose lives and health are placed in further jeopardy by this arbitrary increase.
“As ZLHR, we always do what we can do,” Chimbga said yesterday.
“Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we do not. We take these cases to court, we litigate on people who are affected by these policies and we try and get orders that stop such happenings.”
A new fee structure which immediately pushed general practitioners (GP) consultation fees up by almost 100 percent was published in a Government Gazette last Friday.
Zimbabweans are now required to pay $35 to consult a general practitioner from $20. Follow-up consultations now attract $30. Previously it was $15.
Chimbga said the development is a manifestation of a government lacking in creativity, coupled with a forgiving public.
“Government is in sixes and sevens; it does not know what it is doing,” Chimbga said.
“What we are seeing here is a result of absence of policy, legislative framework and no one holds government to account. Now people have forgotten about Cashbert (Cuthbert Dube) and Premier Service Medical Aid Society (Psmas).
“We work with the ministry on issues to do with health rights but when they have a decision they want to make, they do not consult us. We wake up to a headline in the media.”
Chimbga said the tariff increase was unconstitutional.
“When they say progressive realisation, there is recognition to maintain and find ways to move forward. At the first instance, the step that has been taken by the ministry is a regression. That already is a violation of the right to health,” he said.
Paul Chimedza, deputy minister of Health and Child Care, has defended the new fee structure saying it will help retain doctors.
However, Chimbga argues Zimbabwe’s crisis is that of a leadership with vested interests in national policies, policy makers who sacrifice the masses.
“Then we have Chimedza defending, already it shows there is a problem and he is an interested party, he has a surgery,” Chimbga said.
“Saying raising fees is for the retention of doctors, that is an absurd statement. Have they asked themselves who will pay? It is a scapegoat solution.”
Chimbga called on government to take measures to expand access to equitable and universal health services by adopting measures that will make the healthcare system accessible to everyone, not only the people with money.
“It must be borne in mind that Zimbabwe is in a new constitutional dispensation,” he said.
“Section 76 of the Constitution guarantees the right to quality and affordable healthcare services.
“This responsibility includes the efficient, effective and equitable management of public resources for healthcare for all Zimbabweans, particularly the poor and marginalised populations.”
Rights lawyers emphasised the need for a coherent plan, clear policies, accountability and transparency in the health sector.