A Zimbabwe Hospital Charges Women $5 for Each Scream During Labor—Why?

"False alarms."

The Atlantic business channel always enjoys a good price mystery. But this factoid probably falls under the category of Really Awful Price Mystery. It's so awful that I sincerely hope it's just not true: At least one Zimbabwe hospital reportedly charges $5 for each time a woman screams while giving birth.

Via Max Fisher, that means each scream accounts for 3.3 percent of average income per capita:

Gross domestic product per capita is only $500 in Zimbabwe; average annual income per person is about $150. Zimbabwean hospitals also charge a $50 delivery fee. This means that, in a country where underemployment is 95 percent and poverty is rife, a mother who screams a few times during delivery might owe half her annual income after giving birth.

What is allegedly an effort to reduce "false alarms" is clearly a ploy for the hospital to run up charges on what might be the least price-sensitive consumer category on earth: a woman in labor. In the United Nations' ranking of countries by gender equality, Zimbabwe finishes 172nd out of 186.

Unfortunately, Zimbabwe's corruption runs far beyond the emergency room. Sixty-two percent of respondents told Transparency International that they had paid a bribe for one of eight common services. By comparison, the figure was 7 percent for the U.S. and 17 percent for Sudan. 

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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