BY Nduta Waweru, 12:45pm May 21, 2018,

Why hospitals still detain new moms and babies like prisoners in 21st century Africa

Women wait by their sick babies while they receive treatment, in the municipal hospital of M'banza Congo, Zaíre province. Photo credit: Alison Bird/USAID via Wiki CC


Ohema Mercy, an award-winning singer from Ghana, revealed recently that she was detained in a hospital.

Her crime? She was unable to pay her hospital bills.

“My husband and I couldn’t afford to pay GHS70 after I was operated on during childbirth. Because of cash-and-carry, I was detained in a hospital for a week,” she narrated her ordeal which happened years ago before she gained fame.

Unfortunately, she is not the only one to have experienced this. There have been many cases in which patients have been detained in hospitals because they were not able to cater for the hospital bills.

In Kenya, for example, a former coach of a local team, Jan Koops, was detained in a Nairobi hospital for failing to pay $280.

The cases are even worse when it comes to the maternity wing, where new mothers in  Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Zimbabwe, as well as Liberia, Uganda, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo are detained in the hospital, only released when the bills they accrued have been paid.

This goes on despite the presence of policies that protect patients against such detention and the ethical obligation of doctors to provide services to the patients even when they cannot pay.

According to a 2017 Chatham House report, such detentions also include physical and emotional abuse by healthcare service providers.

The detention of patients was a point of discussion at the recently held meeting of Commonwealth Health Ministers at Geneva.

Graca Machel, the International advocate for women’s and children’s rights, called on the Commonwealth members to ban such medical detentions. 

Using the examples of Rwanda, Malawi and Sri Lanka, she also highlighted the need for governments to facilitate Universal Health Care through political commitment and healthcare financing.

“From our collective experiences, The Elders believe that the key drivers of Universal Health Coverage are a genuine political commitment by the Head of State and increased public financing for health,” she said.

Despite the free maternity care policies initiated by countries such as Kenya and Ghana, some mothers face the same fate when their health conditions are complex.

Last Edited by:Francis Akhalbey Updated: May 31, 2018


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