Mpilo unleashes debt collectors

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WOMEN who gave birth between 2009 and 2012 at Mpilo Central Hospital say the institution has unleashed debt collectors on them to attach their property after they failed to settle maternity fees.

LUYANDUHLOBO MAKWATI
OWN CORRESPONDENT

The government directed all public health institutions to stop charging maternity fees in January 2012 in a move aimed at improving maternal and child health care.

Public hospitals had resorted to detaining mothers of newly born babies to force them to pay.

The maternity fees had been blamed for the country’s relatively high maternal and child mortality rates as women were forced to give birth at home.

However, more than two years later, the government has failed to disburse funds to cover the scrapping of the fees and public hospitals and council clinics argue that they cannot do away with the charge as they need the money to cover extra medical costs.

Health and Child Care deputy minister Paul Chimedza said in October 2013 that scrapping of maternity fees would be done in phases depending on the availability of funds. Sikhathazile Sibanda (31) told Southern Eye that she gave birth in 2012 when the government had given a directive that all maternity fees be scrapped.

But to her surprise, she received a bill last year in November stating that she should settle her debt with the hospital.

“I gave birth in November 2012 and received a bill for my stay at hospital. I was charged $400, but did not have the money at that time,” she said.

“They sent me a notice that said if I fail to pay the money by the end of December they would attach my property.”

Sibanda said on Thursday last week, debt collectors contracted by Mpilo Hospital came to her house and attached property to recover the $400 debt she owes the institution.

“The most painful thing is that when I went to the hospital, the government had scrapped the maternity fees,” she said.

“What is shocking me is that these people are now coming here to harass me and attach my property.

“As one of the many affected women, I would like to urge the government to correct this anomaly because the Mpilo authorities are defying a government directive.”

Sibanda also said it had been hard for her to get a birth certificate for her son because the hospital did not furnish her with the birth record.

“My child does not have a birth certificate. When I tried to collect my birth record, some of the nurses there asked for a bribe but I told them that I didn’t have money and they told me to first pay the maternity fees,” she said.

Mpilo Hospital chief executive officer Lawrence Mantiziba said what they were doing was within the law.

“We are working with Well Cash debt collectors and if there is a problem, those people who feel that what we are doing is wrong must come to my office and I will explain to them instead of them running to newspapers,” he said.

“Those who are made to pay accessed the hospitals before July 2012 because as far as I know, maternity fees were scrapped in 2012 and before that all patients were paying for their access fees.”