Pregnant women fake addresses to avoid bills

As economic hardships bite deep for most Zimbabweans, pregnant women in Chitungwiza have devised strategies to evade settling their bills after being discharged from hospital.

Obadiah Moyo.
Obadiah Moyo.

Repeated calls by the government and other stakeholders for hospitals to stop detaining new mothers has seen some health institutions engage debt collectors.

Chitungwiza referral hospital engaged Wellcash debt collectors to recover money owed by patients, who in some instances run away without settling their bills while others are discharged after promising to pay their bills.

Pregnant women are charged between $100 to $300 for a ‘normal delivery’ while those who deliver through caesarean section are charged at least $750. Residents are complaining that they are being summoned by debt collectors over hospital bills for people that they do not know.

“I received a letter from debt collectors alleging that a tenant at this house owed the hospital $350 but we have never lived with such a person at this house,” said Fungai Kaungwa from Unit K in Seke. Nigel Dzopiro from Zengeza 4 said he was shocked to receive a letter alleging that Chitungwiza referral hospital was demanding a payment of close to $500 in hospital bills.

Attaching property

“I do not have lodgers at this house neither do I have a relative who has delivered a baby at the institution,” he said, adding that at first he ignored the letter until he realised that the debt collectors were proceeding with the legal route of attaching his property to recover the debt.

A woman who refused to be identified told how the women are using fake addresses to register for ante-natal care.

“When Chitungwiza City Council officials were delivering monthly bills to residents, I made a follow up on them and just picked a bill for a particular house in Zengeza,” she said. “On the next of kin, I registered a name and contact details of a non-existent person.” She said she was covering her tracks so that after she delivers her baby, the debt collectors will not be able to trace her whereabouts.

To this day, she has never received any letter of demand from the hospital. “I had a normal delivery and owed $240,” said the woman, adding that she hoped that the hospital would register her money under bad debts.

No choice

Obadiah Moyo, the Chief Executive Officer for Chitungwiza Hospital, was not reachable for comment to establish how much the institution was losing because of patients who evaded settling their bills. Sheila Mataruse of Unit J in Seke, who is a social worker said the women were devising such strategies because they had no option. “There are genuine cases of women who cannot afford to settle their bills, but for others they are just doing it because they want everything done for them for free,” said Mataruse.

She said the women were doing it out of desperation because some of them are referred to the hospital even when they would have registered at council clinics where charges are ‘reasonable’.

“Most pregnant women prefer to deliver their babies at local clinics but because some have complications that require them to register at the hospital, they end up going to the hospital where they know that they cannot afford to pay the costs,” said Mataruse.

According to United Nations figures, eight mothers in Zimbabwe die in labour every day because the health system has been so badly affected by the harsh economic climate.

A report by Transparency International Zimbabwe stated that expectant mothers often struggle to afford the mandatory hospital delivery fee of approximately $50, which is around a third of an average Zimbabwean’s income.

“Many have no choice but to give birth at home, without professional help,” stated the report. This is despite the fact that during the inclusive government era between 2009 and 2013, a Health Transition Fund was put in place so that pregnant women would not pay maternity user fees.

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