People secure their last rites over health

Emmanuel Kafe
Basic commodities are in constant demand so Melody Phiri, a self-employed woman, has no problem with ‘job security’.

She spends most of her time selling groceries on the streets.

When her husband and son died in a car accident in 2015, she had to cover all funeral expenses as relatives were nowhere to be found.

She has four other children, all still in school.

Yet her income is a source of constant headache. Mrs Phiri does not earn much, so she has to make tough choices when it comes to medical insurance.

She said an entrepreneur of her nature does not afford to get sick.

But our conversation with her got pregnant with wit and irony.

To her, death is more important than life. She has enough money to buy funeral insurance, not a health cover.

In a culture where a funeral is often costly but required, she feels that it’s important to prepare for the last rites of every member of her family.

The woman chooses funeral insurance over health cover.

“Given a choice, a funeral policy is better, because death is untimely, and funeral expenses are more than health expenses,” she said.

She is not the only one who believes this.

When it comes to funeral insurance, the low funeral premiums make funeral cover more affordable for Zimbabweans.

Noel Chavunduka is a shop owner who can only afford basic necessities.

He bought a funeral insurance policy that, for $25 per month, covers him and his children.

If he has more children, he said, he will simply add them to his funeral insurance policy.

“I would want to have medical aid insurance but with no salary and a fixed income, there is no surety I would be able to pay every month,” he said.

The majority of Zimbabweans aren’t covered at all, but most who do carry insurance have it to cover expenses incurred for their last rites, rather than for medical costs that might otherwise keep them alive.

A 2014 research conducted by Finmark Trust and published by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency reports that 30 percent of adult Zimbabweans have some form of insurance, of which of those insured, 82 percent opted for funeral cover.

Most of the insurance industry’s big money-spinners like motor insurance and cover for household goods are irrelevant to the majority of well-off Zimbabweans.

Medical insurance, often called medical aid in Zimbabwe, costs anywhere from $15 to $100 or more per month, depending on the plans and the services provided by the insuring company.

Funeral insurance, on the other hand, cost as little as 0,50 cents per month for a basic plan.

That is the reason many are opting for it.

There seems to be a growing desire for decent burials among Zimbabweans.

Experts say the demand for funeral insurance is particularly strong among the poor because of the traditional importance attached to the ritual and an increasing desire for a “decent burial”, even among households in financial difficulties.

But why are people not motivated to secure their health?

Mrs Phiri feels there isn’t much motivation to pay into a system that might not be around when they need it, that is health insurance.

“Some doctors no longer accept medical insurance, because they don’t get paid by medical aid companies,” she said.

Dr Ernest Mudzingwa, a general practitioner who operates a private clinic in the Avenues in Harare, said doctors are forced to pay taxes to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority on money they wouldn’t have received yet.

“We are no longer taking medical aid, we need money upfront, it’s not that we don’t value human life but we are not being paid by the insurance companies after treating their clients,” he said.

But high death rates and low savings levels mean funeral insurance is proving an easier sell among people daunted by the cost of ceremonies that can stretch several months of income.

Zimbabweans are by no means alone in spending heavily on honouring their dead but experts say funerals in Africa are more frequent per head of population than elsewhere in the world.

High unemployment and above-average birth rates across much of Africa also mean employees can have many dependents, making it more likely they will seek funeral insurance.

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