Salon: Imprisoned for giving birth

By Irin Carmon

"Only 43 percent of births in Kenya happen in a health facility (for reference, in 2009, 98.9 percent of births in the U.S. took place in a hospital).

Meanwhile, Kenya’s last two demographic surveys, in 2003 and 2008, show a maternal mortality rate that is either stagnant or slightly worsening — most recently, 488 maternal deaths for every 100,000 births.

The two statistics are intricately linked: Among the women who can even access health facilities, usually in cities, cost is a barrier, one that mounts if you can’t immediately pay and are detained. So is fear of mistreatment or dangerous conditions, particularly for those going to public facilities like Pumwani, which is currently run by the city council of Nairobi. Anyone who can afford it goes to a private birthing center or hospital. 

Maimuna is one of several women working with the attorneys at the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Nairobi office in hopes of building a case; the 2010 Kenyan constitution enumerates a right to health and to be free from degrading treatment.

Detaining women and babies for failing to pay medical bills compounds the fact that the hospital is notoriously understaffed; when I visited Pumwani last week as part of a group of journalists brought to Kenya by the International Reporting Project, the doctor in charge, Omondi Kumba, told us that there are 180 nurses on staff where 250 are needed. And, he complained, the Nairobi city government doesn’t give them the necessary funding.

Read the complete article on the Salon website >