The Malawi Network of People Living with HIV and Aids (Manet+) has asked government to consult widely before introducing the proposed hospital user fee for fear of hurting the most vulnerable people in society.
According to Manet+, government as part of the public reforms being implemented across different sectors of the economy, plans to introduce hospital user fees and by-pass fee as one way of enhancing efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of health services.
Speaking in an interview with the Malawi News Agency on the sidelines of a District Aids Coordinating Committee meeting on Tuesday in Mangochi, Manet+ programmes manager Eddie Banda said it was important for government not to rush into implementing the scheme to avoid denying people access to public health services.
“Our view is that government should not introduce the hospital user fee or the by-pass fee because it has the potential of hurting very poor people who cannot afford to pay for the services.
“Instead, government should consult widely with people, especially in rural areas, to make an informed decision,” he said
Banda said the consultative meeting was held after realising that the health sector was going through a number of challenges and that the proposal to introduce user fees would only aggravate the situation.
He said government might have proposed introducing hospital user fees upon noticing the rapid population growth which was not corresponding with available resources, hence, the idea to improve services being offered.
“We are aware of the fact that government is trying to find ways to improve services in the health sector. So, we would like to get views of the community on the implication of the idea,” Banda said.
He said different opinions were an eye opener to Manet+ because people were questioning whether the introduction would improve efficiency and increase access to the services.
“Our position is that we need to think and ask hard questions as to whether most people would be able to pay the fees. If the fees are introduced, would they not deny critical people in society access to health services which facilitate enjoyment of a right to life,” he wondered.
Banda said they want people to easily access health services.
“At the end of the day, we would want people to have access to health services which are acceptable and helpful in the life,” he added.
Manet+ research and advocacy programmes officer George Kampango said the organisation was conducting consultation in districts where Oxfam supports it and that statistics indicate that most people would not access the services once the user fees were introduced.
“We take this as a platform to have the local voice heard when engaging with policy makers on the matter. We need to argue with tangible evidence on the feelings of people in terms of improving services to people,” Kampango added. “User fees would also promote stigma and discrimination.”
He urged people to critically analyse the proposal so that government would come to a decision after understanding people’s views to enable it to come up with possible alternatives when implementing the scheme.n