Case Of Pregnant Woman Beaten And Denied Care At Local Hospital Brought To Kenyan High Court

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(PRESS RELEASE) The case of Josephine Majani, whose story of being physically and verbally abused by nurses and repeatedly denied quality medical care at Bungoma District Hospital was widely covered by Kenyan news outlets last year, has now been brought to the High Court of Kenya by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

This case seeks to hold the hospital, the Bungoma County Government a​nd the Cabinet Secretary of Health accountable for the ill treatment Josephine endured, including human rights violations under Kenya’s constitution and international law.

Josephine’s horrific story demonstrates the pervasive ill-treatment Kenyan women are subjected to when seeking maternal health services throughout the country.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“A pregnant woman in labor deserves the very best medical care a hospital can offer, yet Kenyan women are consistently denied services, discriminated against, threatened, and even physically abused.

“Josephine is just one of countless pregnant women whose health and human rights have been trampled by poor oversight of Kenyan hospitals and failure to effectively implement policies that protect patients.

“The Center is filing this case to finally put a stop to this rampant discrimination and abuse, and to ensure all Kenyan women—no matter where they live or their income—have a right to receive the health care they need.”

On August 8, 2013, Josephine Majani was admitted at Bungoma District Hospital for an induced labor, since it was past her pregnancy due date. Despite a directive by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta directing all Kenyan public health care facilities to offer free maternity health care services as of June 1, 2013, Josephine had to purchase the medicine necessary to induce her labor. She was not physically checked or monitored by any of the nurses and was informed that if she needed medical attention, she would have to walk from the labor ward to the delivery room herself.

When Josephine began experiencing intense labor pains, she called out repeatedly for help but never received medical attention, so she walked to the delivery room where all the beds were occupied. She ended up collapsing and giving birth on the hospital floor in her attempt to walk back to the labor ward. Rather than receiving appropriate medical care upon finding her unconscious, two nurses repeatedly slapped and verbally abused Josephine in anger because she dirtied the floor when she delivered her baby.  She was then ordered to walk to the delivery room alone to be examined. She was eventually released with her baby the following day. Despite being emotionally scarred from the experience, the hospital has not apologized for the abuse or made any attempt to support Josephine’s recovery to date.

“I was neglected, abused, and shamed during my time at Bungoma District Hospital,” said Josephine Majani. “I’m hopeful that bringing my case to court will force the government to do the right thing and ensure that all women can get the maternal health care they need with respect and dignity.”

In December 2012, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed its first case before the High Court of Kenya on behalf of two women who were mistreated and illegally detained at Pumwani Maternity Hospital for their inability to provide full payment for the maternal health services they received. A decision is still pending in the High Court.   

“This pandemic of abuse and mistreatment pregnant women face in Kenyan hospitals—whether it’s the denial of care or being held hostage because they cannot pay their bills—is an ongoing and blatant violation of women’s fundamental human rights,” said Evelyne Opondo, Regional Director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It’s time the High Court of Kenya hold the government and these hospitals accountable for the human rights violations Josephine and other pregnant women have endured and for failing to provide free maternal health services.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked for more than a decade across the continent of Africa to advance women’s access to reproductive health care through law and policy reform. In 2007, the Center and the Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya released the report Failure to Deliver: Violations of Women's Human Rights in Kenyan Health Facilities, documenting how Kenya’s health care sector suffers from systemic and widespread problems that deny women quality reproductive health care.