Maternity hospital detains patients until they pay up

A New York-based group has filed a lawsuit against a Nairobi maternity hospital which detains new mothers who cannot pay their bills.

The director of the Pumwani Maternity Hospital Lazarus Omondi says it is the only way he can keep the medical centre open.

“We hold you and squeeze you until we get what we can get. We must be self-sufficient,” Omondi said in an interview. “The hospital must get money to pay electricity, to pay water. We must pay our doctors and our workers.

“They stay there until they pay. They must pay,” he said of the 350 mothers who give birth each week on average. “If you don’t pay, the hospital will collapse.”

The Centre for Reproductive Rights, which filed the suit this month in the High Court of Kenya, says detaining women for not paying is illegal.

Pumwani Maternity Hospital is associated with the Nairobi City Council, one reason it might be able to get away with such practices, and the patients are among Nairobi’s poorest, with hardly anyone to stand up for them.

Maimouna Awuor was an impoverished mother of four when she was to give birth to her fifth in Oct 2010. Awuor, who is named in the lawsuit, says she had saved $12 and hoped to go to a lower-cost clinic but was turned away and sent to Pumwani. After giving birth, she couldn’t pay the $60 bill, and was held with what she believes was about 60 other women and their infants.

“We were sleeping three to a bed, sometimes four,” she said. “They abuse you, they call you names.”


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