DESPITE a recently announced government fund for free health care for pregnant women, more than a dozen new mothers are being harassed and have been detained to force payment of between US$100 and US$200 in maternity fees, at Bulawayo Mpilo Central Hospital.
The women and their babies were forced into a discharge ward and a police guard stationed at the door to prevent them from escaping, according to the local Chronicle newspaper.
They were told they could not leave until they paid up while those who asked for time were told to produce a deposit of US$50 and proof that they would be able to get the balance.
The women were also told to find their own food and organise their own sleeping arrangements.
One of those affected said she had been told she could not leave until she paid US$198 in maternity fees.
“I started having labour pains on Saturday at about 5pm and we went to Mpilo after 12 midnight,” the woman said.
“I gave birth just before 6am on Sunday and was told I could not be discharged until I paid the full amount.”
The hospital was also said to be withholding birth records until maternity fees are paid.
“What they are doing is unfair because they even took away the birth record which means the child would never apply for a birth certificate,” another new mom complained.
“Is that not an infringement of children’s rights?”
But the hospital’s acting chief executive officer, Dr Wedu Ndebele denied the claims.
“There are people with an agenda and I cannot comment unless you give us their names,” Dr Ndebele said.
“You could have gotten someone to explain to you the procedure when you visited the hospital.
“Yes, nurses do not have the authority to charge people at the wards as that is done at the accounts department and it could not have happened that way.”
The government announced in October last year that it had secured $430 million in funding to support free health care for and pregnant women at public hospitals.
The Fund was put together with the help of the EU, Unicef as well as various donor agencies and European countries such as Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Britain.
“There is a need for a unified, national effort towards improving access to quality health care, especially for women and children,” Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said then.
Health Minister, Henry Madzorera sad the fund would help revitalize the country’s health sector which is struggling to recover from a decade-long decline.
“We are privileged to have a good physical and human resources infrastructure in this country and we are confident that with the necessary technical and financial backing, Zimbabwe’s health sector will be revitalised,” he said.