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Case of Illegal Detention and Death of Woman at Hospital Heads to High Court of Nigeria

(PRESS RELEASE) A Nigerian hospital illegally detained a woman who could not pay for the maternal health services she received and denied her emergency services later on that led to her death—according to a case filed before the High Court of Nigeria today.  

In the petition to the High Court of Nigeria, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), with technical support from the Center for Reproductive Rights, is holding Lagos University Teaching Hospital—as well as the hospital’s medical director, the Attorney General, the Ministry of Health—accountable for the ill treatment and death of Folake Oduyoye. WARDC is seeking a declaration that the detainment was illegal, unconstitutional, and in breach of her rights, along with financial reparations and a public apology.  

Said Onyema Afulukwe, senior legal adviser for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Pregnant women need medical attention—not cruel treatment when they cannot afford maternal health services.

“Lagos University Teaching Hospital denied Folake Oduyoye her freedom, ignored her cries for emergency medical assistance, and ultimately allowed her to die simply because she couldn’t afford the care she needed.

“The High Court of Nigeria must recognize the treatment Folake received as the gross human rights violations that they are, and order systematic changes in all hospitals so women can get essential health care services without fear of being detained, mistreated, and left to die.”

Folake Oduyoye was admitted to Lagos University Teaching Hospital on September 7, 2014 due to complications from a caesarian delivery at another hospital on August 30. After receiving treatment and being discharged on October 31, 2014, she and her husband received an outstanding bill of N 1,382,700. He paid N 300,000 but that was not sufficient for the hospital and they detained Folake—keeping her in a heavily guarded ward that lacked a toilet, electricity or mosquito netting.

She was denied any medical attention because the hospital claimed she had been discharged, yet was locked in a ward against her will and needed post-surgical care for her caesarian. Her husband made multiple pleas for her release, ensuring that they’d pay the remaining balance monthly. But weeks went by, and she started having serious health complications. Their cries for help were ignored and Folake died in the hospital on December 13, 2014 from puerperal sepsis and pneumonia. 

“The illegal detention of women in hospitals is unfair, unconstitutional and contributes to Nigeria’s high rate of maternal deaths and pregnancy-related complications,” said Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Executive Director of WARDC. “The government of Nigeria needs to change this criminal practice and provide pregnant women the services and care they deserve.”

The Center has filed a number of cases related to the mistreatment of women in maternity hospitals. This September the High Court of Kenya ordered the Ministry of Health to end the discrimination and abuse experienced by women in public maternity hospitals, and provide financial compensation for Margaret and Maimuna, two women who were illegally detained at Pumwani Maternity Hospital for their inability to pay their hospital fees and were subjected to physical, mental, and verbal abuse. The Center also brought the case of Josephine Majani, who was physically and verbally abused and repeatedly denied quality maternal care at Bungoma District Hospital. The case is still pending in the High Court.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked in Africa for more than a decade advancing women’s access to reproductive health care through law and policy reform. In 2008, the Center and WARDC release the report Broken Promises: Human Rights, Accountability, and Maternal Death in Nigeria illustrating the systematic failure of the Nigerian government to live up to its human rights obligations, including access to quality maternal health services.

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