Eight mothers in Zimbabwe die in labour every day, according to UN figures. The country’s health system has born the brunt of years of economic turmoil. Expectant mothers often struggle to afford the mandatory hospital delivery fee of approximately US $50, which is around a third of an average Zimbabwean’s yearly income. Many have no choice but to give birth at home, without professional help.
As part of their community outreach programme, TI Zimbabwe learned about how corruption was making the situation even worse. They were told that nurses in a local hospital were charging women US $5 every time that they screamed while giving birth, as a penalty for raising false alarm. Women who refused or were unable to pay their delivery fees were allegedly detained at the hospital, and charged interest on their debt until they settled it. Some say they called on family members to help them escape. Others who were eventually released reported being hassled by debt collectors who demanded both the hospital fees and additional ‘collection charges’.
On hearing this, TI Zimbabwe wrote to the Ministry of Health and received confirmation of its receipt. After some time passed without a response, TI lawyers called the ministry but were reportedly told that their letter had been lost. So they turned instead to the Deputy Prime Minister. After meeting with TI Zimbabwe, Thokozani Khupe called on the Minister of Health to carry out an investigation into maternal health issues as part of a broader review of the national health system.
Since then TI Zimbabwe has received no further complaints from women in the area, and has remained in close contact with local residents to ensure that this situation is not reversed. TI Zimbabwe has also launched a broad-based campaign to raise awareness about corruption in basic services such as health, education and water. They are also holding workshops in local communities to encourage people to secretly record officials in the act of asking for bribes, as proof for the police or judiciary.