In Kenya, low-income women who give birth in
public facilities are often verbally abused. They receive inferior medical
care, frequently in unsanitary conditions, and they can even be detained for
not paying their fees. These and other abuses were detailed in a late 2007
study of public maternity wards across the country. Cathy Majtenyi reports for
VOA from Nairobi.
Grace Wangari will never
forget her nightmare experience when she gave birth in a public hospital three
years ago. She was traumatized by what
she calls the staff's abrupt manner when she was informed that her baby had
died. She says she was not allowed to see the body.
It only got worse. Wangari
was penniless. She could not afford the Nairobi hospital's bill. She says she
was detained, along with others in the same situation.
"I stayed in the
ward for two months after giving birth,” Wangari said. “Then, they moved us to
the nursing room, where we stayed for four months. We had no money to get out,
so they decided to release us."
Theresia Wambui's baby also
died after she gave birth. She says the
nurses ignored her cries for help during a difficult labor.
"Even when we screamed for help, the
nurses ignored us and then told us, 'when you were with your boyfriend, you
were not complaining, you were happy,'” Wambui said. “So that's your
Many low-income women
apparently get similar treatment when they deliver babies in public facilities
across the country.
Last year, the Federation of
Women Lawyers - Kenya co-authored a study on human rights violations in Kenya's
public maternity wards.
"Women are subjected to very serious human rights
abuses in public hospitals - but also in some private hospitals - when they go
to deliver,” said Jane Onyango, the group's
executive director. “This ranges from the quality of care that they
receive: the lack of supplies, the abuses, the fact that women are kept on the
queue after delivery before they are stitched. Others are denied food if they
cannot pay for the services."
Public maternity facilities
are poorly equipped and maintained, and are often unclean.
"You find soiled linen,
women sharing beds, others sleeping on the floors, babies not bathed after
delivery, and generally just chaos," Onyango said.
The report details examples
of neglect and medical malpractice. Gaudenciah Wanjiru also gave
birth in a public hospital in Nairobi. She says a doctor told her that the more than 12-hour delay in doing a
caesarian section is the reason one of her twins died.
"When the doctor came he explained to
me that my baby had died because I was mistreated in the labor ward,” Wanjiru
said. “No one had come to help me, and the baby had gotten tired."
Nairobi's Pumwani Maternity
Hospital is among the worst facilities cited in the report. It is the largest maternity hospital in east
and central Africa. Wanjiru, Wambui and Wangari
all delivered there.
Gynecologist, Dr. Charles
Wanyonyi is medical superintendent of Pumwani Maternity Hospital. He says
low-income patients can get their fees waived. He says some women are kept in the facility so they can better care for
"The cases of stay,
there are reasons: too young; waiting for the babies [to grow], they express
milk. If we release them, they will not come back for their babies," Dr.
Regarding the staff's alleged
abuse, Dr. Wanyonyi says there may have been issues in the past, but he says
there is no abuse now. He says health care is low priority in the government's
budget, and maternity is at the bottom of the barrel.