The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe wishes to place it on record that it is outraged by Government’s recent move of increasing medical consultation fees. The Herald of the 24th of May 2014 carried a front-page story under the headline ‘Medical consultation fees up 100%’ and it is the CCZ’s position that the increase in fees is unwarranted, unjustified and at variance with the prevailing economic situation in the country among other considerations.

Given the importance of the matter in question, it is unfortunate that no amount of consultation was extended to the constituency that was to be most affected – the consumer. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, in its capacity as the sole consumer representative voice in the country, confirms that it was never consulted during the process leading up to gazetting of the new tariffs. It is our position that the views of the consumers are central to the pricing regime of services, more-so health-care services.

Further, such an increase is likely to lead to immeasurable disruptions in the relationship between consumers, their medical aid societies and medical practitioners. As this takes place the health and lives of consumers will continue to be compromised. At any rate, however this equation plays out it is in the nature of these things that the consumer will bear the financial burden that will result. It is unacceptable then that, a move that would have such serious ramifications is arrived at without even the courtesy of seeking input from the consumers and prevailing economic situation.

Coming at a time when it is openly evident that the fiscal position of the vast majority of the consumers is in bad shape, the CCZ fails to understand the desired effects of this move. It appears that no consideration was given to the number of people in the country whose access to health care will be prejudiced by this intervention. To be sure, the majority of our citizens will find accessing health-care prohibitive and yet, access to health is not only one of the Millennium Development Goals, one of the eight universally recognised consumer rights and a human right.

The CCZ views this recent development as insensitive to the circumstances of the people of Zimbabwe. Health care is not meant to be the exclusive preserve of those fortunate enough to have money. While the argument may, and will probably, be made that the increment relates only to private doctors and clinics, it is our position that it is common knowledge that it is not a secret that medical practitioners at public health facilities are in the habit of referring patients to their private rooms.

It has to be said that the recently announced salary increments awarded to civil servants should not be used by service providers to justify increases in their charges. For a start, the salary increments were quite minimal and can not be expected to cushion the recipients across the spectrum of their social needs. We are living at a time when both consumers and service providers need to be considerate of each other. The, on average, 100% increment in provision of services by the latter does not reflect this attitude towards the former.

Recent surveys by the CCZ on market prices, such as the as the bi-monthly family needs basket indicate that, if anything, there have not been any increments. The trend appears to be that of deflation or, at worst, stability on the market. It then boggles the mind when health services fees are, not only increased but, increased by the margins mentioned in the new schedule.

The CCZ, having gone through the different fees announced on Friday, the 23rd of May 2014 makes the following observations on behalf of the consumers. Firstly, government settling for $35 instead of the Zimbabwe Medical Association demanded $50 [for general practitioner consultation fees] can not be allowed to pass as a positive compromise for the consumer. We contend that there is no justification for the consultation fees to have moved from the previous fee of $20. The practice of demanding astronomical fees, in the negotiation process, can not be accepted simply because lower rates eventually result.

Secondly, the touted slashing of maternity fees from as high as $750 to $126 needs to be considered in the bigger scheme of things. The CCZ is alert to the implications of lowering maternity fees while simultaneously increasing infant health care fees. In this case, the consultation fees for a paediatrician were increased by 20%.

As such, the CCZ calls upon government to reverse these medical consultation fees with the welfare of the consumer in mind. In addition, the Zimbabwe Medical Association [ZMA] is encouraged to display an attitude consistent with fair practices in the manner in which it arrives at its fees. The ZMA is reminded that it operates in a region where, as a result of their lobbying, Zimbabwe now has health-care fees at rates above other regional countries. Finally, in as far as one variety of the Hippocratic Oath relates to a physician pledging to treat patients to the best of his ability it needs to be said that this recent upward review of fees flies in the face of that aspect of the oath.

The CCZ advocates for a ‘fair deal on the market’ for consumers and this encompasses essential services such as health care as well.