Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Poor Kenyan Women Detained in Hospital

[The following is a verbatim reproduction from a message I got off one of the social justice listservs that I subscribe to.]

By Wangui Mbatia, Kenya Network of Grass Roots Organizations (KENGO)


Women, guilty only of committing the singular offence of being too poor to afford the fee charged for delivering children are still being detained indefinitely at hospitals. Pumwani Maternity Hospital, Kenya’s biggest referral hospital is notorious not only for detaining the women, but also for keeping the detained women in conditions that amount to deliberate torture.

Members of the Kenya Network of Grassroots Organisation have, since 2007, been monitoring the Pumwani Maternity Hospital and agitating for the release of the detained indigent women. KENGO makes periodic checks on the hospital approximately every three months and we are disappointed to report that despite our efforts, women continue to be detained indefinitely at the hospital. Nothing has changed and nothing will unless-in solidarity with the women- you join us in our effort to rescue the detainees and end the practice of detaining women in hospitals.

When we visited the hospital yesterday (August 3, 2009) we found dozens of women illegally detained- some have been detained since mid June! So heartless is the hospital’s administration that even women whose babies died during childbirth are detained in the hospital and have to go through the psychological torture of not only having to deal with the grief of losing a child, but having to do it in the company of mothers nursing their newly born children. These women are denied the right to bury their dead babies decently and are forced to give their babies up to be buried randomly and anonymously by the hospital.

Further, the detained women report that they suffer ill-treatment while at the hospital. They are fed last after all the other paying patients have been fed and even then, they are given insufficient food. The result is that the underfed lactating women are unable to produce enough milk to feed their babies, causing the babies to become malnourished and lose weight and get sick- which is the only time the hospital provides supplements to the babies. The hospital diet consists of the following:

Breakfast (7:00am-8:30am): 2 slices of bread and one cup of tea
Lunch (2:00pm-3:00pm): Rice/Ugali and cabbages. A small portion of meat is served 3 times a week.
Dinner (7:00pm-8:00pm): Rice/Ugali and cabbages or beans.
Fruits: one banana or orange served once a week on Wednesdays

Comrades, for women who have to feed their babies exclusively on breast-milk, the food provided is not adequate. It is not a balanced diet and it does not aid in the production of milk. At home, the women would be fed traditional foods and vegetables which increase the production of milk and enable the women to regain their strength quickly.

The indefinite detentions are intended to serve as a deterrent; the hospital argues that if they do not detain the women they will not be able to collect any fees from others. Thus, poor women are punished so women who can afford the fees pay. A ridiculous, illogical and inhuman position- especially considering that all the women would pay to get out of the hospital if they could! In fact, of the women currently being detained, at least seven have paid the little money they could
raise yet they are still being detained.

The Pumwani Maternity Hospital has a social worker. However, the decision to waive fees is made by a “Waiver Committee” which, with no set date, is randomly convened by the Hospital Secretary. The Waiver Committee should have sat on Friday July 31, 2009 but with no explanation offered, it was not convened. A source at the hospital says that they committee will be convened within the week. Our suspicions are that the committee does not take seriously the
important mandate it has, the result being that there are women who have been detained from June 14, 2009.

Seven whole weeks!


You might think so, but that is not the longest period of detention reported. In the past we have found women who have been detained for much longer, more than 12 weeks.

Pumwani Maternity Hospital is run by the City Council of Nairobi. It is a referral hospital, with the patients being referred to the hospital from the other maternity facilities run by the city council when there are anticipated complications. The cost of a normal delivery is only 20 Kenya Shillings at these facilities which is usually affordable. However, when referred to Pumwani Maternity Hospital, the poor women are required to pay 3,400 Kenya Shillings (approximately US$40). The services offered are exactly the same, but the fee charged is 170 times the usual cost!

Where complications require that the delivery be through a caesarean section, the cost may be as high as 15,000 Kenya Shillings (about US$ 200) which is completely out of reach for poor women whose families live on less than one dollar a day. (56% of Kenyans live below the
poverty line on less than one dollar per day).

The following are the names of the women currently being detained at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital, including the date of detention, nature of delivery (normal or C/Section), sex of the child born and fees paid, if any.

1. Caroline Mbula Normal Boy -- June 14, 2009
2. Sarah Avuyanza Normal Boy -- June 19, 2009
3. Ruth Josephine Normal Boy -- June 20, 2009
4. Mercy Kendi Normal Boy -- June 23, 2009
5. Alice Nyambura Normal Boy -- June 25, 2009
6. Jellius Mugure C/Section Boy -- June 25, 2009
7. Lucy Mwikale Normal Girl 1,200 June 25, 2009
8. Agnes Kateve Normal Girl -- June 27, 2009
9. Joyce Wanja Normal Boy -- June 28, 2009
10. Miriam Nzembi Normal Boy 1,000 June 29, 2009
11. Faith Loko Normal Boy -- June 27, 2009
12. Tabitha Wangari C/Section Girl 2,500 July 3, 2009
I3. 1rene Afande C/Section Girl 8,000 July 3, 2009
14. Rose Atieno Normal Boy -- July 5, 2009
15. Monica Kalondu Normal Still Born -- July 5, 2009
16. Alice Akinyi Normal Boy -- July 5, 2009
17. Janet Nduko Normal Girl -- July 6, 2009
18. Beatrice AdhiamboC/Section Boy -- July 7, 2009
19. Violet Makokha Normal Girl -- July 8, 2009
20. Beatrice Atieno Normal Girl 500 July 9, 2009
21. Shindash GurachaNormal Boy -- July 9, 2009
22. Catherine Musamu Normal Girl -- July 9, 2009
23. Edna Waithera Normal Boy -- July 9, 2009
24. Hani Ahmed Normal Boy --- July 9, 2009
25. Joyce Achieng Normal Girl -- July 10, 2009
26. Judith Wanjiku Normal Boy -- July 12, 2009
27. Judy Mwihaki Normal Girl -- July 13, 2009
28. Melon Kemunto Normal Still Born -- July 13, 2009
29. Nancy Wambui Normal Boy -- July 14, 2009
30. Catherine Mutheu Normal Boy -- July 15, 2009
31. Salome NyangwesoNormal Girl -- July 16, 2009
32. Melisa Atieno Normal Girl -- July 17, 2009
33. Grace Wanja Normal Boy 1,000 July 18, 2009
34. Rose Kanini Normal Boy 400 July 25, 2009

Comrades, we have been intervening at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital for three years now and we are disappointed that little is changing. The situation is getting more desperate with the hospital’s administration constantly demonstrating a lack of good faith. Detained women are only released when we visit and we are unable to make our visits as frequent as we would like to ensure compliance. It is time to consider taking more drastic action.

If the practice of detaining poor women in hospitals does not end, we will be taking direct action against both the hospital and the government of Kenya. We will require your assistance during those interventions.

We have in mind the following actions:

1. Non-Violent actions at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in solidarity with the detained women including overnight candlelit vigils at the hospital, hunger strikes and other similar actions.

2. Campaign to stop donors from funding government projects as long as the detentions continue. Many health projects are funded by foreign governments. You can help us by exerting pressure on your governments and requiring them to demand that detention of patients in funded facilities be stopped as a condition to further aid. That would give us a useful tool for ensuring compliance.

3. Instituting the requisite legal proceeding to guarantee the right to maternity services for the new-born babies and their mothers. We need resources to enable us to sue hospitals that continue to detain patients for illegal detention which is criminal and will seek compensation for the women. If successful, the cost of paying punitive damages should act as a deterrent ensuring that the hospitals halt the inhuman practice.

We are in the process of identifying the various donors that fund healthcare in the country and will relay the information to you for further action as soon as it is made available.

We thank you for your support and solidarity and hope that you will take a moment to speak out for the poor women who are unable to speak out for themselves and who continue to suffer the consequences of extreme poverty created by government policies that facilitate corruption, pillage and impunity.

The 34 detainees and their beautiful babies represent the future of our country. Help us make that future dignified, equal, free and just.

Help us keep hope alive.

Take action- NOW! What can you do to help?

1. Demand the immediate release of the detained women and a complete end to the practice of illegal detention of poor women in hospitals in Kenya.

2. Write to Mr. Mwai Kibaki, the President and Mr. Raila Odinga, the Prime Minister demanding the provision of FREE MATERNITY SERVICES for all women in government hospitals. As the PNU and ODM presidential candidates both Kibaki and Raila promised to provide free maternity care for all women. They are now in positions of great influence and have no excuse for not delivering on the promises made.

3. Write to the Minister for Medical Services, Prof. Anyang Nyongo and demand that he immediately issue a directive to all government hospitals to stop the torturous system of detaining poor Kenyans indefinitely in hospital for non-payment of exorbitant healthcare bills. Further, demand that the Minister present for debate the National Social Health Insurance Bill that would ensure comprehensive healthcare services for all Kenyans. In addition, demand that the Minister for Medical Services write to the Superintendent, Pumwani Maternity Hospital ordering a complete end to the illegal detention of indigent women at the hospital. Further, demand that the Superintendent ensures that the Hospital Secretary convenes, without
fail, the Waiver Committee TWO TIMES EACH MONTH as required so that the committee can expedite the release of the women within reasonable time.

Send an email or fax to the following addresses:

1. President Mwai Kibaki,

2. Prime Minister Raila Odinga,,

3. Minister for Medical Services, Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o , Fax: +254-20-2713234

Comrades, in the past your solidarity and actions have made a
difference. Keep the fire burning, where ever you may be.

Best regards to each and all of you,

Wangui Mbatia

Kenya Network of Grassroots Organisations (KENGO)
Shimo La Tewa Road, Off Lusaka Road, Industrial Area
P.O. BOX 22708-00100
TEL: + 254(0)20 3561313
+ 254(0)20 2351383
+ 254(0)722 747575
FAX: +254(0)20 2351341
Web Site:
Alternate Email:

KENGO is a network of over 2,000 active grassroot organisations which, through popular participation, confronts poverty using a bottom-up and rights based approach. KENGO strives to reduce inequalities and to promote human rights.


Jesse said...


This is appalling.. I am going to link this on my Facebook in hopes of getting the word out and pressure on the Kenyan government to end this.

In America, the hospital would have been closed down. Indeed in any other country, even a 3rd world one, this would be outlawed under the constitution as well as UN Human Rights decrees.

Jatelo Bob said...

Dear Wangui,
It is unbelievable that the detention of mothers is taking place right in a City of Nairobi's hospital. Please consider doing the following:
1.Post this letter on three of Kenya's major newspapers and arrange for an interview a the hospital
2. Write an open letter to Prof. Nyong'o and copy it to all Women MPs, the MP for Pumwani area, Women orgaanizations, etc
3. Obtain a licence to hold a procession from City hall to Pumwani
Once the message hits the "streets", some action will be taken immediately. Thanks for your work

SHAPE Africa said...

Hi Wangui,
I am so happy that you have decided to take action on this issue. I am frustrated, saddened and appalled that women living on much less than a dollar a day are expected to pay for maternity charges that they cannot afford and denied their right to freedom by the same government that is supposed to uphold human rights, and especially children's rights. In the media the ministers say that maternal healthcare is free,health services for children under 5 years is free, but I ask, how can this be true when a new born baby is detained in hospital because the mother cannot afford to pay the maternity charges?
Let me tell you what is happening in Malindi, the women living in extreme poverty do not access ante-natal care and deliver at home under assistance of untrained traditional birth attendants who do not use protection or sterile tools because they fear detention in hospital after giving birth. The government is taxing all Kenyans. It is also receiving a lot of aid for HIV and Aids awareness campaigns, support and prevention services, yet when the poor women seek services in hospitals under trained personnel during childbirth they are penalised by detention. When they deliver at home they are vulnerable to tranmission of HIV to their children,their birth attendants and possibly other members of the family including children,and this also denies the newborn baby the right to access innoculations given after birth,not forgetting that the mother would have been informed of the family planning options she can use in future to prevent unplanned pregnancies. So here you can find a woman who has given birth 6 times,that is,6 consecutive years, and all the children have died within the first week of delivery. The deaths go unreported,the bodies of the infants lie in tiny graves inside their parents' huts. I agree that we need to take action that all government hospitals provide free maternity services for those who cannot afford to pay.

Anonymous said...

Is this still the case or has there been improvements since this blog in 2009?

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