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Huge Hospital Fee Increases Reflect Zimbabwe's Economic Disarray

Even economists are scratching their heads over the massive increase in fees paid by patients at state-run hospitals. Basic consultation fees went from Z$300 - less than a third of a U.S. cent – to Z$800,000, about US$8 at the official exchange rate, for a staggering 266,000% rise, difficult for most non-economists to comprehend.

Health authorities said the fee increases were needed to keep public health facilities operating in the current environment of hyper-inflation. Announced this week by the Ministry of Health, the new fees are to go into effect on Monday, May 1.

Not all fee changes were the same. At Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, consultation fees rose from Z$10,000 to Z$1 million, a mere 10,000% increase. But those without a physician refererral will pay Z$1.5 million, an increase of 15,000%. Patients admitted to Parirenyatwa will be obliged to pay Z$23 million in advance for a seven-day stay.

At Harare Hospital, which receives many poor people, consultation fees climbed from Z$300 to Z$1 million - or Z$2.5 million for those lacking a physician's letter of referral. Those admitted to Harare Hospital face charges of Z$210,000 a night.

The new hospital fees do not include drugs, lab work or X-rays. Surgery will be billed on the basis of time spent on the operating table - Z$105,000 a minute.

So hospital treatment has gone out of the reach of many Zimbabweans, given that the average minimum wage now stands at just Z$8.5 million dollars a month.

Yet the old fees were untenable with inflation nearing 1,000% a year, economist John Robertson of Harare told Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe, and the huge increases simply reflect the steep crash of the Zimbabwe dollar.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...