MOTHERS IN EC HOSPITAL HELL: DAILY DISPATCH

“DA MPL and the opposition’s health spokesperson John Cupido said the report was a vindication of problems the opposition party had raised with government at State hospitals.”

GOVERNMENT hospitals have been condemned in a damning report that has revealed how hundreds of women in labour were pinched, slapped, sent home without pain medication and even refused admission to State-run maternity wards across the Eastern Cape.

Human Rights Watch – an international watchdog organisation – is expected to release the 66-page report today at a media briefing in Johannesburg, a day before the country prepares to celebrate National Women’s Day.

Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi is expected to attend the briefing and answer questions from the media.

The report – of which the Daily Dispatch has a copy – states that because of the “continuous abuse” and “poor accountability”, the province is unlikely to meet its commitment under the UN Millennium Development Goals to reduce maternal deaths by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015.

In fact, the report says, the maternal mortality ratio has instead increased from 150 deaths per 100 000 live births in 1998 to 625 in 2007.

It goes on to say the “substandard care” in the province has put women and newborns at high risk of death or injury.

Titled Stop Making Excuses: Accountability for Maternal Health Care in South Africa, the report paints a bleak picture of the province and labels its healthcare system as “defective”.

Provincial Health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said yesterday the report came at a time the department was “turning the situation around”.

According to the report, the UN estimates that 4 500 women die each year in SA due to preventable and treatable pregnancy and childbirth-related issues.

“The current administration has a hands-on approach and we have a programme to save mothers and babies. The report came at a time when the department is taking shape and some of the issues raised in the report are something of the past,” Kupelo said in defence of the Health Department.

The province has also been lambasted in the report for having the “worst indicators” in the country, with high infant, child and maternal mortality rates topping the list.

The report comes after a nine-month field research investigation which included interviews with maternity patients, families, community caregivers, health and human rights experts, health workers, government officials and representatives of donor and international agencies.

Agnes Odhiambo, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the new report said: “Tragically, though, by the government’s own count, the maternal mortality ratio has more than quadrupled in the past few years.”

Odhiambo said she was hopeful her report would help “guarantee” a woman’s right to a safe and dignified childbirth.

“It [the government] should listen to the insights of those who know best and what’s wrong with maternal healthcare: the maternity patient,” she said.

Interviewed mothers told researchers about physical and verbal abuses they experienced at health facilities. These included: Pinching; Slapping; Rough handling during labour; Treatment delays; Calls for help ignored by nurses; Facilities denying referral letters for pregnancy or childbirth-related problems;

Mothers left unattended for long periods after delivery; and Mothers sent home without pain medication or antibiotics, and even after Caesarean births.

Some mothers told researchers that health workers demanded gifts and bribes for assistance.

In other incidents, some families said they were not informed about the cause of a baby’s death.

Speaking to the Daily Dispatch, a mother who is HIV-positive said she was often verbally abused at one Eastern Cape hospital. Her testimony forms part of the report.

She said she went to the hospital when she had high blood pressure while pregnant.

“My blood pressure was high and my body was swollen. Nurses wanted me to queue for long hours. I was also discriminated [against] by doctors and nursing staff because I’m a foreign national. I was not treated humanely and I was not given a bed. I used to sleep on a chair for weeks. They really made my life difficult,” she said

DA MPL and the opposition’s health spokesperson John Cupido said the report was a vindication of problems the opposition party had raised with government at State hospitals.

“People working in the department have shown a total disregard of human rights, which are in the Constitution. I’ve drafted a letter to the Human Rights Commission to raise concerns over conditions in health facilities.”

Cupido said officials had continued to “lie” about reported incidents at their facilities and there was a problematic “admin incompetence” among staff.

“The whole healthcare [situation] in the Eastern Cape needs to be relooked. Workers are demoralised,” he said.

ANC provincial spokesperson Mlibo Qoboshiyane said the report was “welcomed” and would assist government in planning better.

“It unearthed what is already known by the public and will help the government to do effective planning.”

Qoboshiyane said the province was among the poorest in the country and some of the challenges faced by health were as a result of the magnitude of under-development.

The report also criticised government’s complaints procedures in Staterun hospitals.

It acknowledged that some nurses worked under difficult conditions and were unable to facilitate complaints,

However, it added that this contributed to continued mistreatment of maternity patients, shielded abusive staff, and undermined the public healthcare system.

It stated that health authorities in the province had failed to address systemic problems that resulted in complaints, and which contributed to poor maternity care. — michaelk@dispatch.co.za / msindisif@dispatch.co.za