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User fee in public hospitals starts July

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The Ministry of Health will implement the user fees in public hospitals from July which is expected to improve the quality and access of health services.

As part of reforms in health, the ministry announced last year that the fee, already implemented in central hospitals, would be replicated in district hospitals.

According to Ministry of Health Spokesperson, Adrian Chikumbe, the fee will not be compulsory as some reports have indicated.

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“In the interest of achieving universal access to healthcare, health services in public hospitals are still free at the moment. But because we are still struggling because the allocation to the [health] sector is low, we would like to introduce this fee for those who want special treatment and can afford to pay,” said Chikumbe

Chikumbe added that charging for the services will vary depending on the type of treatment sought by the patients.

In an interview, Health and Rights Education Programmme Executive Director, Maziko Matemba, said there was need for the government to properly identify the financial gaps in the health sector.

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“If we know the gaps, we should see where we will get the resources to fill those gaps. There should have been communication on that because people will be asking questions regarding where this money that will be collected will go,” said Matemba

Matemba said there are concerns that the time taken for those receiving free services to be served will be longer, as it is expected that there will be more people seeking free healthcare as compared to those paying.

Chikumbe expressed optimism that the introduction of the fee will not have negative implications as it will be optional and such people will still access the health services even if they are not able to pay for the ‘special treatment’.

Health Rights activist, Martha Kwataine had reservations regarding the practicality of the policy, as she noted that most of the people that require medical attention in the country are poor, since the poor are more prone to sickness due to poor diet, among other factors.

“If we have a system which can deliver, without victimising the poor, it will be much better. But are we not creating a system that says those who have money can be served faster and easily? I must not be given priority because I have money but because my sickness requires priority,” said Kwataine

The introduction of a service fee in public hospitals, is not a new phenomenon. The policy was there in the 1960s but discontinued for reasons informed by populist policies.

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