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Private hospitals milk Covid-19 patients


By Kenneth Matimaire

Private hospitals in Zimbabwe’s eastern border city of Mutare are charging an arm and a leg to Covid-19 patients in critical condition, a survey has shown.

A Covid19zim.com snap survey revealed that Covid-19 patients were being charged thousands of dollars for admission and treatment for a just a few days.

Inquiries with various healthcare providers in the city (at the time of writing), showed that the private clinics were charging between US$1,200 – US$2,500  for three days.

These high charges have seen most desperate Covid-19 patients losing their life savings or having to dispose valuable assets to foot healthcare bills.

While government hospitals are economically ideal, they have their own shortcomings by way of inadequate machinery, shortage of drugs and allegations of negligence resulting in ‘needless’ fatalities.

Significant numbers of patients have, therefore, been caught between a rock and a hard place as they are forced to choose between their life or finances. Many choose the former.

“My father was admitted in Hauna (Mutasa District) but his condition progressively deteriorated each day and I had to look for a private hospital,” said Andrew Mukwati, a Mutare resident. 

“I was shocked by what they were charging. There was no guarantee either that he would get better. I had to sell my car to foot his bills.”

Hauna Hospital has a total of 20 beds and its current bed occupancy stands at 5 percent, according to information gathered by Solidarity Trust Zimbabwe (SoTZim).

SoTZim was established by concerned Zimbabweans to effectively contribute towards the national response against Covid-19.

Its website provides statistics regarding the status of bed capacity at the country’s hospitals that take in  Covid-19 patients.

In addition to the low admission levels at Hauna, there are challenges to do with shortages of ventilators to cater for the few patients admitted.

Little choice

Mukwati said he had raised concerns over the standard of services administered at government hospitals.

“My father’s condition was severe and he needed to be on a ventilator. But l was informed that patients were sharing these ventilators. I believe this is why my father’s condition deteriorated and I was left with little choice but to move him to a private hospital,” he said.

He said he could not risk admitting his father at Victoria Chitepo Hospital (formerly Mutare Provincial Hospital ,or Mutare Infectious Diseases Hospital,  in fear of the alleged negligence generally associated with most government healthcare centres.

A newly-widowed man who spoke on condition he was not named told this reporter: “My wife was diagnosed with Covid-19 and advised to quarantine at home. But her condition deteriorated and she was immediately admitted at Victoria Chitepo because she needed a ventilator as she had started to struggle with her breath. I was in South Africa at that time.

“The doctor told my family the night she was admitted that she was getting better, only to be told the following morning that she had passed away.”

He added: “I strongly believe that my wife could be alive today had she been admitted at a private hospital but the charges are just too much. I could not afford them.”

Victoria Chitepo has a total of 30 Covid-19 beds, with its occupancy at 73,3 percent (mid-September 2021), while MIDH has 10 beds, with a 40 percent occupancy.

Manicaland has a total of 17 hospitals spread out in all its seven districts with capacity to accommodate 224 patients.

However, most patients are not keen to be admitted at the hospitals as there are no adequate ventilators, drugs or medical staff to attend to them.

Similarly in Harare, Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, the country’s largest referral hospital, was refurbished with 300 beds and piped oxygen, but it turns patients away as its staff complement can only handle 30 Covid-19 patients at a time.

Negligence

The perception of negligence at government hospitals was worsened by the circulation of an anonymous audio recording, purportedly done by a dying patient admitted at a government hospital in Rusape, 90 kilometres north of Mutare. In the recording, the Covid-19 patient narrates alleged negligence by the hospital staff, prior to his death.

Audibly struggling to breathe, the man said he had not been attended to for 30 minutes after admission despite the fact that he needed to be put on a ventilator.

“We shall not see each other again,” he is heard saying. “I have got not more than one hour (of life) without the required oxygen supply, but anyway, that’s life.” 

He then apologises to those he wronged and pleads with his relatives to take care of his family.

At the time of writing, Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro,  was not picking up calls to give the government’s   position over cases of negligence at state hospitals and the exorbitant charges at private institutions and practices.

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