Zimbabwean women who give birth in South Africa are reportedly facing psychological torture as their newly born babies are detained at hospitals upon failure to foot the exorbitant service bills. According to SA-based magazine Health-E-News, other immigrant women also report that health-care workers have turned their children away or threatened to withhold care. The system has become rampant despite the existence of a law which prohibits such actions against all people regardless of race or colour.

A Zimbabwean woman, Linda Mhlanga told the magazine that staff at Leratong Hospital outside Krugersdorp threatened to have her arrested in 2014 when she could not pay for the birth of her daughter. “I was charged R800 for booking only, but I told them that I do not have money,” Mhlanga said. “They allowed me to give birth and threatened that they were going to send me to the police if I did not pay them.” Mhlanga added that her five-months-old daughter was admitted after she paid R150 to open a file.

When the girl was due for a check-up months later, health workers allegedly turned the pair away after Mhlanga could not pay R300. Helen Ndlovu, also from Zimbabwe, also said that West Rand hospital gave her an R800 bill stemming from her 10-month-old baby boy’s stay. She was told that if the boy fell sick again, Leratong Hospital staff would not assist her child until bills had been paid.

Thifulufheli Sinthumule, the national programme co-ordinator for the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA), confirmed reports have been received that some Gauteng hospitals were denying foreign patients care.

However, according to Sinthumule, everyone regardless of status should be subjected to a means test and may be asked to pay for some services, especially those at hospital level. He warned that some hospitals may be using foreign patients’ inability to pay as a reason to deny health-care services. Attorney Sasha Stevenson, with the human rights organisation Section27, said hospitals turning away new mothers and young children could be in contravention of the country’s National Health Act.

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