Hospital Imprisons New Mothers: Can’t Pay? Can’t Leave

By Amir Khan on December 28, 2012 9:45 AM EST

Nairobi
A giraffe walks in front of the Nairobi skyline, where the hospital that imprisons women is located (Photo: Creative Commons)

A Kenyan hospital imprisons new mothers that can't pay, a controversial step that is making waves across the world. The director of the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi freely admits that the hospital imprisons mothers who do can't pay their bills, and says it's the only way to keep the medical center running.

Two mothers told the Associated Press that they could not afford their medical bills after giving birth, $60 and $160 respectively, and were beaten by guards while attempting to leave.

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"We hold you and squeeze you until we get what we can get. We must be self-sufficient," the hospital director, Lazarus Omondi, said, according to the New York Daily News. "The hospital must get money to pay electricity, to pay water. We must pay our doctors and our workers."

And while a hospital that imprisons new mothers may seem harsh, Omondi said it's a necessary evil.

"They stay there until they pay. They must pay," he said. "If you don't pay the hospital will collapse."

Now, the Center for Reproductive Rights has filed suit against the hospital, saying the hospital that imprisons new mothers is illegal. They also claim that the only reason Pumwani hospital gets away with imprisoning new mothers is because it is associated with the Nairobi city council.

One mother, Margaret Anyoso, said she was imprisoned in the hospital for 10 days because she could not afford her medical bill.

"I did not see my child until the sixth day after the surgery," she told the Associated Press. "The hospital staff were keeping her away from me and it was only when I caused a scene that they brought her to me."

The Africa director for the Center for Reproductive Rights, Judy Okal, told the Associated Press that her group filed suit so all women are free to seek healthcare without fear of imprisonment. The Center for Reproductive Rights named the hospital, the attorney general, the City Council of Nairobi and two government ministries in the suit.

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