The Zimbabwean government has given doctors the green light to increase consultation fees by 100 percent. The latest increases, the second this year, will make it even more difficult for ordinary Zimbabweans to access health care.
Announcing the new fees of $58 per visit to a general practitioner and $78 to a specialist, Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said Monday it was less than the 240 percent the doctors had wanted.
Defending the increase, which he described as realistic, Parirenyatwa is quoted in the state-controlled daily, The Herald, as saying it is necessary to allow the doctors to hike their fees so they can stay in business.
A doctor who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity said the charges where necessitated by the ever increasing costs of just about everything in Zimbabwe. She said surgery rents, supply costs, and staff salaries are all increasing. Zimbabwe's inflation stands at more than 900 percent, the highest in the world.
Zimbabwe's health service, once hailed as among the best in Africa, is now characterized by drug and equipment shortages. Many health workers are looking for work elsewhere. In addition, the country has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world with one-in-five adults HIV positive.
The recently published World Health Organization (WHO) 2006 Health Report says Zimbabwe has the lowest life expectancy in the world. It says life expectancy at birth for men is 37 years, while that for women is 34 years.
But Parirenyatwa told The Daily Mirror newspaper the WHO report is false. He did not say what the correct figures are.
A senior-high-school teacher speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity said going to see a doctor is a luxury he has not afforded for a long time. It is now for the rich, said the teacher who is in his 20th year of service and takes home less than $140 per month.