A pregnant woman who was physically and verbally abused by hospital staff has won a landmark case against staff at Bungoma country hospital in Kenya who left her to deliver on the floor.
A high court judge ruled that the hospital, the country government and the secretary of health in the government cabinet had violated Josephine Majani’s human rights—both under Kenya’s constitution and international law when she gave birth at the hospital in 2013.
The court ruled that the physical and verbal abuse the patient suffered infringed upon her rights to health and dignity and was inexcusable.
The court also ruled both the national and county governments failed to ensure health care facilities provide quality maternal services by neglecting to allocate the necessary resources and put in place minimum standards for provision of these services.
Majani’s ordeal at the hands of hospital staff in 2013 was captured on camera by another patient and got widespread media coverage.
In August that year, she was admitted for an induced labour and made to pay for the medication to induce labour, despite a government directive two months earlier instructing all public health facilities to offer free maternal health services.
No nurse checked her. She was told if she needed medical attention she would have to walk from the labour ward to the delivery room herself.
When labour started, she called for help—and had to walk unaided to the delivery room to find all the bed occupied.
She collapsed and gave birth on the floor as she tried to return to her bed.
Two nurses found her unconscious on the floor and repeatedly slapped and verbally abused her because she had dirtied the floor when she gave birth.
Once conscious, she was ordered to walk to the delivery room, still unaided, to be examined.
She was released with her baby the following day, and suffered severe emotional trauma as a consequence of her treatment at the hands of uncaring staff.
“I was neglected, abused, and shamed during my time at Bungoma District Hospital,” said Josephine Majani. “I’m hopeful that the court’s judgement today 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.”
Around 8,000 Kenyan women die from pregnancy-related complications each year.
Their deaths have been linked to inadequate training and supervision of health care workers, negligence, and unethical practices.
“Josephine’s experience is not a lapse in judgement or temporary failure to provide an appropriate standard of care,” said Evelyne Opondo, Senior Regional Director for Africa at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, which supported her struggle with the court case.
“It is a systemic culture of institutionalized negligence towards women’s health, dignity and human rights, which seems to permeate the country’s health services at all levels.
“It is the duty of the government to ensure that all Kenyan women have access to quality reproductive health services guaranteed by Kenya’s own constitution.
Opondo called it a landmark case sending clear message that neglect of Kenyan women in health care settings “will no longer be tolerated—nor will it be without consequences for those responsible.”
The Centre 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.