One woman waited one-and-a-half hours at the hospital, only to see a nurse who yelled that she was “lying about being in labor.”
Three hours later, her baby was stillborn. Another woman gave birth on the street, steps away from a clinic that twice turned her away, saying her time had not come.
South Africa’s maternal mortality rate has quadrupled, while most African countries have improved theirs, according to a scathing report released on Monday by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The report says some of the increase — to more than 4,500 maternal deaths a year — could be the result of better reporting and a massive HIV/AIDS rate that has 18 percent of South Africans infected, about 5.7 million people. However, the group says the health indicator also has worsened because of a lack of accountability, corruption and poor healthcare.
For example, at least three South African hospitals are being investigated for baby deaths, including one where 29 babies died within a few weeks in January, apparently from a superbug. The hospital had no gloves, disinfectant spray, soap or toilet paper.
Several other women recalled nurses telling them to “shut up” during labor, saying they had enjoyed the sex that made them pregnant so they should not complain about labor pains.
“All South Africa’s good intentions, policies and strategies on paper won’t save women’s lives without strong accountability systems to make sure policies are carried out,” said Agnes Odhiambo, the chief researcher for the HRW project.
South Africa spends the most on health per citizen in sub-Saharan Africa at US$748 a year, and it has infrastructure and expertise unrivaled on the continent. Maternity care is free, abortion is legal, and there is a system of confidential inquiries to assess levels and causes of maternal deaths.
Almost 87 percent of women give birth in hospitals or clinics, though several women told HRW they were avoiding government facilities because of widespread stories of ill-treatment.
Yet between 1998 and 2007, the maternal mortality rate jumped from 150 to 625 deaths for each 100,000 live births.
That means South Africa, sub-Saharan African’s economic powerhouse, has no hope of meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals that require 38 deaths per 100,000 births by 2015.
South African Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi told reporters he agreed with some findings in the report and that officials are “painfully aware” of the problems. However, he added that he has been working for more than two years to lower maternal deaths.
HRW interviewed 157 women, many nurses and community caregivers, as well as health officials between August last year and April this year. Researchers visited 16 health facilities, all in Eastern Cape Province, though the report emphasizes that officials acknowledge the problems are nationwide.
The report quotes witnesses saying HIV-positive women are denied care or given it too late. It quoted the mother of one such woman who went to a community health center where the nurse said the baby was dead and called for an ambulance to take her to a hospital.
They did not treat the woman while she waited for an hour, bleeding. As she walked to the ambulance, the stillborn baby came out.
“The ambulance people did not assist her. She got into the ambulance with the baby stuck in her trousers and she was still bleeding. She stayed that way for many hours at Dora Nginza, with the dead baby, without help,” the mother says in the report.
A week after delivering the stillborn baby, the daughter was still ill. A doctor ordered blood tests and X-rays and told a nurse she was in critical condition. They waited six hours for a nurse who took her blood pressure and left. Shortly after, she died.
Like most victims, her mother did not complain.
The report does not identify interviewees by name, for fear of repercussions. However, one victim, Ethiopian Ruta Araya, agreed to speak about the abuse she suffered when she was admitted to Dora Nginza Hospital in 2008, seven months’ pregnant with high blood pressure.
She said nurses “swore at me and insulted me,” telling her to go back to her own country — an attitude reflecting xenophobia in South Africa.
A doctor who ordered a scan told her “he couldn’t see anything, that I wasn’t even pregnant.”
She appealed to a doctor from Ghana: “I begged him: ‘Please, this doctor doesn’t want to help me, they don’t want to take the baby out, the baby’s dying in my tummy.’”
The Ghanaian persuaded her doctor to operate. Fifteen days after her admission, Araya gave birth to a 1kg baby girl. Even in the operating room, the doctors joked that her baby would be so small they would put it in a shoe box.
Nurses refused to change her bandages from a Caesarean section unless she paid bribes, causing the wound to turn septic and painful.
“I’m 28 years old, but I feel like a 50-year-old woman. I can’t even pick up my own baby ... I don’t know when I will feel young again,” she said.
TARNISHED LEGACY: Woodrow Wilson served as the university’s president before becoming the US’ 28th leader, but his racism was ‘significant and consequential’ Princeton University is removing former US president Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school and one of its residential colleges after trustees concluded that the 28th president’s “racist thinking and policies” made him “an inappropriate namesake.” The Ivy League school’s trustees made the decision on Friday, according to a statement on Saturday. It comes at a time of widespread rethinking of the US’ racial legacy. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, energized by a series of high-profile deaths of black Americans, has resulted in the removal of Confederate monuments, flags and symbols of racism across the US. Deleting Wilson’s name at Princeton
‘FULLY ENCLOSED’: Residents of Anxin County would be confined to their homes and would only be allowed out once a day to buy necessities such as food and medicine China yesterday imposed a strict lockdown on nearly half a million people near the capital to contain a fresh COVID-19 cluster as authorities warned the outbreak was still “severe and complicated.” After China largely brought the virus under control, hundreds have been infected in Beijing and cases have emerged in Hebei Province. Health officials said that Anxin County — about 150km from Beijing — would be “fully enclosed and controlled,” the same strict measures imposed at the height of the pandemic in the city of Wuhan earlier this year. Only one person from each family would be allowed to go out once a
Japan said it opposed changes to the G7 nations as it pushed back against a reform plan by US President Donald Trump that would have rival South Korea this year join in an expanded meeting. Tokyo has told the US it stands against South Korea’s participation on the grounds of differences in policy on China and North Korea, Kyodo News reported this weekend, citing more than one source related to Japanese and US diplomacy. Japan also wants to maintain its status as the only Asian country in the group, the news agency added. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday told reporters that
‘CHAPITOS’: An ex-DEA agent said the sons of the former cartel head are engaged in a battle for control, with the health of the man temporarily in charge a factor The fight for control of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s legacy spilled into the open on Thursday after a gun battle between rival Mexican gangs left 16 dead, authorities said. The 16 men, heavily armed and wearing bulletproof vests, died in a six-hour running shootout near the rural town of Tepuche in northwestern Sinaloa province. “A van with seven bodies was located” after an initial clash, while nine bodies were discovered following a second exchange, Sinaloa Minister of Security Cristobal Castaneda told reporters. Castaneda said that Wednesday’s clash near Tepuche, 25km from the capital of Sinaloa, Culiacan, was “part of a struggle