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Hospitals detain mothers over maternity fees

by Staff reporter
22 Jan 2013 at 05:16hrs | Views
PUBLIC hospitals and clinics continue to detain mothers and deny them their babies' birth confirmation records over maternity fees despite the scrapping of the charges by the Government, a survey has revealed.

According to Justice for Children Trust, a children's rights organisation, some health institutions in Bulawayo are demanding user fees from mothers after delivery with those who fail to settle the bills reportedly being denied birth confirmation records or detained.

The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare announced the scrapping of maternity fees at public health institutions last year in a bid to make maternity services accessible to more women including the poor.

Justice for Children Trust's child protection and development officer Mr Admire Mandizvidza said at least 20 cases of detained mothers were reported in Bulawayo every month.

He said detaining mothers and denying them birth confirmation records was a violation of the child's rights.

Mr Mandizvidza said it was disturbing that while Government has made significant progress in making health institutions accessible to people including those in rural areas, some centres were opposing the move.

"There have been campaigns to encourage pregnant women to register and give birth at these institutions after Government scrapped the user fees," said Mr Mandizvidza.

"However, there is a disturbing development on the ground at some institutions here in Bulawayo, where health officials are withholding birth confirmation records of those mothers who would not have paid for maternity services.

"We record an average of about 20 such cases per month here in Bulawayo where mothers are persecuted. A majority of the cases are reported from the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH), Mpilo Central Hospital and some council clinics".

Mr Mandizvidza said demanding payment for maternity service was retrogressive adding that most mothers, especially the poor, cannot afford such fees.

He also said denying child birth confirmation records was illegal and tantamount to denying the child's right of identity. "It is against the law to withhold the child's birth confirmation record, which is supposed to be issued free of charge. Mothers need these records for obtaining birth certificates for their children. Health institutions should claim the outstanding fees from parents without necessarily denying the child their right to identity, as the child needs to be registered in terms of the Births and Deaths Registration Act, Chapter 5:09," said Mr Mandizvidza.

"This deprives children other rights, which require one to have a birth certificate such as the right to education and freedom of movement where a passport will be required. Parents also end up failing to comply with the birth registration requirements such as the registration of birth within 42 days from the date of birth. While fees may have to be paid, children should not be caught in the crossfire.  Government should ensure that all children enjoy their right to health. Rights of the child must be upheld first when they are delivered under good health conditions and be given  their birth records".

UBH chief executive officer Mrs Nonhlanhla Ndlovu denied that mothers were being detained or denied birth records saying her institution has fully complied with the Government directive to scrap user fees.

She, however, expressed concern over delays in the release of money by the Government to cater for maternity costs.

"Women do not pay maternity fees at UBH. We have scrapped them, as per Government requirement. However, funding remains a problem because Government delays giving us the money for the maternity costs. If we were given the money on time we were not going to have any problems.

"Right now the money can be delayed by three months and this makes it hard because we still have to deliver the service with limited resources".

Mpilo Hospital chief executive officer Dr Lawrence Mantiziba requested questions in writing.

The scraping of maternity fees was prompted by an outcry over high user fees that saw several women preferring to give birth at home while some were detained for failing to pay.

There are fears that public hospitals and clinics will not be able to continue offering free maternity services unless enough resources to cushion them are availed.

Local authorities, through their mother body, the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe (Ucaz) have also petitioned the Government to look into the issue and avail more funding to public health institutions.

Some hospitals were collecting up to $2 000 per day from maternity fees and following the scraping of the fees some of them were finding it difficult to meet daily expenses.

Source - TC