Accompanying her 84 year old mother, Rudo* entered a municipal clinic in Harare.
Established to increase health access for Zimbabwe’s poor and vulnerable, clinics like these are supposed to offer a range of free services to children and the elderly; and affordable treatment for others.
But the reality can look different. After waiting for five hours, the two women reached the front of the queue, only to be told by the nurses that they’d have to pay before they could be seen– US$5 for the check-up, US$3 for the medication.
Unable to pay, Rudo showed the nurses her mother's health card, proof that she was entitled to free healthcare as a senior citizen. Yet Rudo says the nurses dismissed it, and turned the two women away.
More than 250 kilometres away, Shona was also being turned away from her local municipal clinic. As an expectant mother, she had saved money to register with her local centre three months into her pregnancy, entitling her to routine check-ups throughout her pregnancy.
Arriving at the clinic for her first appointment, she was confronted with new demands. If she wanted to be examined, she was told, she would have to pay an additional US$3 in “consultation fees” each time she visited.
Unable to raise the money, she left without being seen, and later gave birth at home without medical supervision.
When she returned to the clinic to have her baby vaccinated, she faced another unexpected payment. Giving birth at home was not permitted, she was told. She would be fined a goat as punishment.
Our anti-corruption legal advice teams met Rudo and Shona at outreach events in 2012. Their stories were two of many – and we’ve heard more since.
“We were told that children under five were denied treatment if their parents failed to supply consultation fees – despite the fact that they’re supposed to be treated for free,” said Danai, Legal Officer at our anti-corruption legal advice centre. “Other people reported that HIV drugs meant for free distribution were being sold at a fee by local nurses.”
Acting on behalf of the victims, the team sent written accounts of the alleged corruption to authorities, urging them to take action. The matter is not yet resolved, but initial responses indicate that those involved are now subject to on-going investigations.
“This is a wake-up call to other officers within the health system that we will not sit and watch while efforts to improve the health sector are being derailed by a few selfish officials,” says Danai.
*Names have been changed