Some women in Masvingo province have expressed dismay over the Ministry of Health’s move to withhold birth records of newly-born kids in an attempt to force mothers to pay maternity fees of up to almost $85 per child delivery.
They say some parents end up having difficulties in enrolling their children at school due to lack of proper birth records.
Some of the women said the situation has been worsened by crippling cash shortages in Zimbabwe.
Sophia Mutandwa of Mucheke suburb said the government is violating the rights of mothers, who are supposed to have access to health as stipulated in Zimbabwe’s constitution.
“As women we are facing difficulties to access health, especially in maternity. We can’t afford the user fees and we are having cash shortages so we don’t have the money but hospitals demand cash, this is also leading to other mothers to give birth at home.”
Women pay maternity fees of about $83 at Masvingo General Hospital, the province’s referral health institution.
Most women say the fee is too high and government should revise it as it has always promised women free maternity services in public health institutions.
Another local woman, Tsitsi Ngamera, said the government should stop withholding kids’ birth records if mothers fail to pay maternity fees.
“This is a very bad practice. We want government to stop this as early as possible. The ministry must not charge us money or withhold the birth records because it is an entry point for my child to get a birth certificate and ID so that practice must be stopped.”
Other women are detained at public health institutions after giving birth if they fail to pay maternity fees.
Joyce Mhungu, local chairperson of Women‘s Coalition in Zimbabwe, demanded that central government should intervene to stop all these practices.
“As the Women’s Coalition we are not happy as women are being detained for failing to pay the user fees. The fees are very high and most women cannot afford the fees. We want to urge government to scrap the fees so that women can give birth freely.”
A local health expect, David Gomba, said the practice by the health institution was illegal.
“The practice is a violation of the constitutionally-provided rights to affordable and accessible basic health in terms of Chapter 3, Section 29 of the constitution … With holding of birth records is blatantly illegal as it withdraws the right to a birth certificate as provided for in Section 35.3 on the same chapter. It is ironic as it is being done by public health institutions which should be on the forefront of complying with some provisions of the constitution.”
Section 29 of the constitution stipulates that the state must take all practical measures to ensure the provision of basic, accessible and adequate health services throughout Zimbabwe. It also clearly stipulates that the state must take appropriate, fair and reasonable measures to ensure that no person is refused emergency medical treatment at any health institution.
Masvingo Provincial Medical Director, Dr. Amedus Shamhu, said he has not received such reports in his office and promised to investigate the matter.