WHEN a fire gutted her house a few years ago, 36-year-old Tendai Chamboko was badly injured.She lost her sight in the inferno.However, she had no insurance cover to help her cope with the huge costs that come with injuries of this nature.

BY FIDELITY MHLANGA

Chamboko’s predicament was compounded by the fact that Zimbabwe has no disability insurance schemes, excerpt for a fund that is administered by the National Social Security Authority, which caters for injured workers.

Chamboko, who has never been formally employed, soon found herself in a quagmire. “The fire accident taught me about the importance of insurance,” she told Weekly Digest.

“We lost everything and I was left disabled. I lack access to information, especially in brail language, which is compatible with my condition.”

Chamboko’s problem is also shared by many people living with disabilities (PWDs), who struggle to access specialised insurance cover to take care of their needs in time of poor health.

But, it does not end with PWDs.

The Insurance and Pensions Commission of Zimbabwe (IPEC) says generally, medical insurance coverage is extremely low.

This means the majority of people are confronted by frightening experiences once they get ill because they cannot access appropriate health care, which is expensive in Zimbabwe.

Over 70% of working age people are jobless. Those who are still in formal jobs are not paid enough to afford medical cover.

“I think the fact that our coverage ratio is only 10% means that medical cover is not working for the majority of Zimbabwe,” says Grace Muradzikwa, the IPEC commissioner.

“If it was working our coverage and penetration ratio would be higher than the 10%. My observation is that most of the people who are covered are actually those employed in the formal sector. If you are a non-standard worker you cannot afford medical aid so I think this is probably the time we need to look at some kind of national health insurance. I think the need is there,” she says.

The IPEC chief added that she is worried that even vulnerable groups like pensioners cannot afford medical cover.

“You are covered for the 30 years that you are working because your employer is paying. The day that you leave your employment you cannot afford medical aid anymore. In fact, I think that your pension benefit is less than the cost of medical contribution so from day one when you are a pensioner you cannot be covered by medical aid,” she says.

It is a bigger crisis.

Many PWDs have bemoaned a plethora of challenges that hinder them access to insurance products and services.

They say this level of exclusion from a key service turns them into second class citizens.

In Zimbabwe there is life assurance, pensions and funeral assurance.

Life assurance guarantees a normal life after retirement.

Funeral assurance helps people prepare for a decent burial whereas a pension is a fund into which a sum of money is accumulated during an employee’s employment to support them on retirement.

The products are vital in the event of death, disability, serious illnesses and other situations.

While NSSA has schemes for the formally employed, there are no insurance companies that offer schemes tailor made for PWDs.

Darlington Nkomazana, a PWD, bemoaned lack of information and knowledge from insurance players.

“As we all know, there is diversity in terms of disability and many disabilities have a corresponding barrier, which a member of such a group must grapple with. Today we are considering access to information, with specific attention to insurance service providers,” he says.

“These service providers have a number of ways of ‘communicating’ with their clients. Let us consider a typical situation of a standard contract provided by all insurance service providers for their new clients to sign. Most of these contracts are long and not in braille language to allow those with visual impairment to read and understand them before appending their signatures.

“There are no employees (in the companies) who are designated to read these contracts for these people. The same problem is also faced by those with hearing impairment. There are often no people skilled enough to attend to them when they seek these insurance service providers. This frustrates them. Sometimes end up signing whatever is there without getting answers to their questions.”

Disability Amalgamation Community Trust director Henry Chivhanga says it is worrisome that PWDs are perceived as charity cases.

Insurance players are not making enough efforts to reach out to them.

He said 90% of PWDs only know of funeral assurance and lack knowledge of other forms of insurance.

“About 90% of PWDs only know funeral insurance; they just know Nyaradzo and Ecosure which shows on their phones. They are not aware of these other various insurances. Some know about third part motor vehicle insurance,” Chivhanga said.

We also have persons who are deaf. For them, sign language is important because the constitution recognises sign language as one of the official languages. Unless and up until insurance companies can sell their products in sign language a vast majority of deaf people will not be able to access. The majority of people living with disability live in the rural areas and access to information is very limited due to poor network problems. And when it comes to insurance policies, they have a wrong perception on PWDs. They look at the person as a charity case,” he said.

Deaf Zimbabwe Trust executive director, Barbra Nyangairi, is also worried.

“The invisibility of persons with disabilities in the formal labour market has led to their exclusion. They do not disaggregate their clients by disability to enable them to know how many persons with disabilities have bought their products and what type of disability. Even in their adverts there are no representations of persons with disabilities to show that they are also included in the insurance products,” Nyangairi says.