Over the past few years, we have heard scandals involving the institutions and individuals in the public health sector who have dirty deals with private medical service providers in return for kickbacks. Recently Mutare General Hospital also known as Victoria Chitepo was exposed for having such a deal with a private funeral home known as Sojourner Funeral Parlour. According to reports employees at the hospital tend to coerce, cajole and induce people who need funeral services to use this private company in return for kickbacks of US$50.

The employees have become so brazen that it is reported that sometimes they even allow the funeral home to take bodies without the consent of relatives of the deceased.

We left the hospital to get some medication that was prescribed for our niece who was admitted to the hospital. Upon our return, we were informed that she had passed on.

What disturbed us the most is that the body of the deceased was not in the hospital ward or the mortuary.

Instead, it had already been placed in the Sojourner Funeral Parlour vehicle.

We were not happy about it and we had a heated argument with the authorities over the issue.

What one family had to say on the issue during their interview with Manica Post

The owner of the funeral home dismissed this public incident as a minor misunderstanding but didn’t seem to dispute that this incident took place. To add to the intrigue the owner of Soujourner Funeral homes is also employed in some capacity at the same hospital leading many to question the relationship between the funeral home and the hospital.

Just the tip of the iceberg

This incident is just the tip of the iceberg though. A lot of public health officials have been accused of having such deals with private sector players. Most well known among these deals are the arrangements that various doctors at public hospitals have with medical laboratories. A lot of doctors no longer make a diagnosis using simple information gathering preferring instead to send people for medical tests at various laboratories that have sprung up in Harare.

It is said that doctors get as much as 50% in kickbacks for recommending a given facility. Whenever patients are sent out for medical tests they go out carrying a so-called request form. On this request form, there is usually the name of the requesting doctor. Sources say that the laboratory keeps a tally of all the people that have been recommended by a given public health professional and pays up at regular intervals. Those labs that refuse to pay up are simply not recommended unless there are the only ones that can do the given test.

The thing though is that this is not an entirely Zimbabwean practice. It’s something that American doctors are often accused of but theirs is usually a relationship between them and pharmaceutical companies. These companies, Big Pharma is the derisive label used to refer to them, pay unscrupulous doctors to peddle their dubious cures in exchange for doctors receiving kickbacks and other hard to trace perks.