Most private hospitals offering Covid-19 treatment are turning the pandemic into an economic and psychological nightmare for patients, with some of the institutions charging admission fees of up to US$1 000 per night.
With most Government hospitals already overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients, the only hope available for those needing treatment is private care, whose costs have spiralled beyond the reach of many.
A survey carried out by The Sunday Mail over the last few days revealed that the cost of admission of a Covid-19 patient at private clinics such as West End and Avenues Clinic is ranging from US$800 to US$1 000 per day in the intensive care unit (ICU). Montagu Clinic, which operates under Avenues Clinic in Harare, caters for five-day admissions and is reportedly charging US$3 500 for a general ward, US$5 100 for its high-dependence unit (HDU), US$4 000 for a private ward and US$7 600 for the intensive care unit (ICU). Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo is demanding a deposit of US$5 000 for patients who need ICU hospitalisation, an eye watering amount.
Most Covid-19 patients now have bills running into thousands of US dollars, while some patients are losing their lives after opting out of the private hospitals.
Chief co-ordinator of the National Response to the Covid-19 in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Agnes Mahomva, said the Government would look into the issue. She said while charging Covid-19 patients was an administrative issue on the part of the Ministry of Health and Child Care, it was the Government that gives permission to private hospitals to test and treat Covid-19 patients.
“Since this is a global pandemic, the Government roped in the private sector to help in treating and testing of Covid-19 patients. We encourage people to go to the public health institutions and follow the correct channels, they will receive help,” she said.
The Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association (MDPPZA), a body of medical practitioners in private practice, said the charges were justified.
MDPPZA president Dr Johannes Marisa said healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients faced extraordinary risks to themselves and their families.
“Inputs needed to manage and treat a Covid-19 patient are very expensive, especially the procurement of oxygen. We are not funded by anybody and in essence we are left with little to nothing after treatment of a Covid-19 patient,” he said.
Dismissing the allegations of profiteering, Dr Marisa said: “We provide research-backed cutting-edge care and our outcomes are comparable to the best. This does make Covid-19 care expensive.”
Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) — a grouping of civic and community-based health organisations, said the Government needs to urgently regularise fees being charged by private hospitals.
CWGH executive director Mr Itai Rusike said, “The Ministry of Health and Child Care should intervene by making regulations for reasonable fees payable to private hospitals for management and treatment of Covid-19 patients.”
Health expert Dr Kennedy Nyiranda, a private practitioner, said it is unethical for hospitals to ask for a deposit before offering healthcare given that Covid-19 is a global pandemic.
“There is really no need to ask for money upfront when someone has medical aid; you can’t let people die just like that,” he said, adding that it was time the private sector was monitored and their pricing capped to protect patients.