Stopping harassment and bullying of pregnant women is a step in improving maternal health!

Last weekend was all about women anyway it is a woman’s world! The weekend which I dubbed ‘women-affairs-weekend’ started with the international women’s day on Saturday and on Sunday, the First Lady Mama Margaret Kenyatta crowned it with the Beyond Zero Campaign marathon which I did not participate for obvious reasons-not beating the deadline (oops!). All in all, I followed the marathon from the comfort of my house and I can say without fear of contradiction, it was successful.

Margaret Kenyatta, thank you so much mum for this initiative because many women will be saved, many mothers will carry their newborn home and many children will celebrate so many birthdays and i agree with you, it is unnecessary for mothers and children to die!

As free maternity and mobile clinics services are slowly by slowly executed, a critical issue needs to be addressed first and fast because it is a step higher in improving maternal health and reducing child mortality maternal health, I believe is not only structural read physical but emotional and psychological as well. This issue is the harassment and bullying of laboring and birthing women! Yes, you have read it right, laboring and birthing women are continuous mistreated, harassed and bullied in our public hospitals!

Remember the story that was highlighted and greatly condemned about the alleged mistreatment of an expectant mother at the Bungoma District Hospital? Well, let me refresh your mind, in September 2013, KTN obtained a video footage of what can only be the worst possible form of patient mistreatment. The video showed a mother forced to deliver on the floor as nurses looked. They then abused and slapped the poor woman for supposedly ‘messing up the floor’. Health officers in the District hospital exposed that poor expectant mother to unhygienic and dangerous environment while delivering a baby and at the same time proceeded to physically assault her shortly after giving birth! Unyama ulioje!

I am a victim of  harassment too. In my last post, I narrated how I lost my son (May his soul rest in peace). After calling my doctor to inform him I was bleeding heavily, he instructed me to go to the nearest hospital because it was dangerous for me and my unborn baby. Kenyatta National Hospital was the nearest facility and after all, all the specialists are found in the facility being the biggest referral hospital and I knew I will be in safe hands there. I went to the emergency section bleeding and in great pain; a pain I cannot wish even to my greatest enemy but amid all that agony, I was received very coldly as if it was my fault and making to develop the complication!

I met a very mean nurse who with a snear, started interrogating me: mama unaitwa nani (What is your name?) how many weeks is your pregnancy? Una bleed kwani ulianguka au mzee alikuchapa? (Are you bleeding because you fell or did your husband clobber you?) Where have you been attending your antenatal? I said ‘Nelson Awori Centre’ ehe, mama, the nurse continued ‘ati private sindio na sasa nini imekuleta casualty leo? Si ungeenda private?’ My mentioning that I have been attending antenatal at a private clinic aggravated her. I was told to lay on a bed that was so high and I did not have the strength since I had lost so much blood and the nurse went again ‘mama, panda hapa haraka wacha ujinga na kama utaki kusaidiwa enda nje, unafikiria wewe ni mgonjwa peke yako? As I was being wheeled to the labour ward, the nurse kept throwing insults after insults because I was attending private clinics and to crown it all, the nurses at the labour ward kept bullying women and openly telling us that president Kenyatta said that women should deliver for free but he did not provide human and financial resources- I went to the hospital on 14th June, just two weeks after the President announced free maternity services in public hospitals. Were it not for my doctor who bulldozed for my transfer to the private wing, maybe, just maybe I could have rested in peace together with my son on Friday, 14th June 2013.

There are so many cases of harassment and bullying of laboring mothers, some of which go unreported. For example, The Standard Newspaper once carried a story in which a reproductive health forum in Kitale town was told that many expectant mothers in rural areas prefer Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) to nurses in Government hospitals because nurses in public hospitals and some private clinics mistreat them whenever they visit the facilities for assistance during labour.

“Nurses in Government hospitals hurl insults at pregnant women during labour,” lamented one woman at the meeting that was organized by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. The women said they, therefore, shun attending prenatal clinics and instead take herbal medicine prescribed by TBAs in their home areas.

Abuse of laboring and birthing women is a less noticed maternity care problem because as a woman in labour or in a complication-related pain, you are too vulnerable and thirsty for any form of help that you cannot even notice that you are being harassed.

Despite the presence of many caring and supportive physicians and hospital staff, anyone involved with birthing women has heard of or witnessed many examples of verbal and physical abuse directed at women giving birth in hospitals.Although often not recognized as abuse, this behavior toward women, especially in childbirth, is unacceptable and harmful.

The problem of abuse in hospital-based maternity care is neither women’s fault nor a problem of a few individuals who are abusive. It is a systemic problem, enabled by a lack of accountability and a culture of impunity in the hospital hierarchy, where abuse and harassment come from the top down, affecting hospital staff as well as patients. Why do I say this? I asked my doctor why a nurse who should be caring for me and encouraging me amid pains, end up abusing or bullying me and my doctor’s answer was simple, maternity wings at some public hospitals are considered ‘hardship areas’ and a perfect place for punishment! Some of the staff are not there out of passion for maternal health or preference but because of a punishment serving a sentence kind of and therefore, all their frustrations are projected towards the poor woman in labour!

It may be that many hospital staffs, overworked and stressed, are unaware of behaving abusively toward patients. But naming the problem and confronting the behaviour is a first step to improving maternal health instead of keeping quiet and letting them operate in impunity and disregarding human right keeping in mind that, women rights is human rights!

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Julia Wanjiku says:

    I cannot read your awesome work and not cry. I have so much respect and admiration for you, you have no idea…

  2. Julia, am humbled! You and I have been united by a common experience and i know you know how it feels.

  3. seems to me the same women who should feel the pain as the same ones who are more abusive. pole sana

  4. sam says:

    This is a problem that has been with us for very long…. yet no body tackles it….. I bet its one of the drivers of lower health care delivery…… and in my opinion its easier to deal with than saying every clinic should have an ambulance…. delivery room…. lets start with the basics. In my work as a bio-statistician I had never seen some of these until I got involved in the real field work…. health care workers attitude is not the best you can write of…..and not just in the maternity ward. Its all over!

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