First Published January 12,2015
…Story of women detained in hospital over inability to pay for maternal care
While millions of Nigerians wined, dined and moved about freely during the Christmas and New Year celebrations, Mrs. Patience Godday, 40, from Edo State was holed up at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), not by ill-health as you would expect but for her inability to pay N700,000, cost of surgery and other medical expenses she incurred during her admission at the hospital.
Godday became an unwilling tenant of LUTH since May 19, 2014 when she was admitted for pregnancy-related complications which affected her breasts. She was delivered of her baby who came premature and had to be kept in an incubator at the ICU of the Children’s Ward. Godday was discharged on July 25, 2014 but has been resident in the hospital ever since because the petty trader could not afford to pay. Her her now six-month old baby was luckier as a good Samaritan paid the bill of about N200, 000 and the baby was allowed to go home. Mother and child have been separated since then.
“Someone outside is taking care of my baby,” Godday said, expressing frustration that she could not be with her baby.
“I am a trader. I sell oranges. I have told the Matron to give me job to do so that from there they will be paying my bill but she told me that there is no job. Where am I going to get that kind of money? I don’t have anywhere I can get that kind of money. My husband doesn’t have. My husband works with a Chinese company as a driver and they cannot even give him a loan of N10, 000. My husband’s family doesn’t have,” lamented the teary mother of five.
Mrs Godday is just one of a number of women who are held in LUTH and cannot go home after they were discharged following treatment for complaints ranging from pregnancy/child-birth complications to road accident.
Mrs Janet Nwachukwu, 30, was pregnant with her sixth pregnancy when she started bleeding and was rushed to a private hospital from where she was referred to LUTH. She underwent surgery. Although she recovered, she lost the pregnancy. She was discharged but could not go home because she could not pay N500,000 for the surgery and other medical expenses.
“I was pregnant and started having bleeding. They took me to a private hospital from there they brought me to LUTH. I don’t know when I lost the baby because the bleeding was much. They did surgery for me. I was given nine pints of blood. From then, I got well and they discharged me.”
But Nwachukwu who said she is a fashion designer could not go home until she pays her bill. Nwachukwu who has since been abandoned by her husband, a commercial driver, lives off alms from kind Nigerians.
“People who come here to visit their people sometimes give me money that is what I live on. My husband stopped visiting me five months ago. He does not pick his calls again.”
Mrs Grace Bassey, 31, was admitted at LUTH in November 2014 following complications from a Casearean Section in a private hospital where she was taken to over complaint of obstructed labour. According to the mother of a 13-year old, she had earlier gone to a midwife near her home at the onset of labour “because the hospital is far” but she mismanaged her.
“I wanted to put to bed. It was a Thursday night. I went to a midwife near my home because the hospital is far. I couldn’t push. The woman spoilt my bladder. By Friday morning, my husband now took me to Comforter Hospital, Surulere. They did CS for me but they couldn’t sew the place because I was leaking urine. So, they now rushed me to LUTH. LUTH now repaired the bladder and sew up where they opened. Urine now leaked into the place and the place opened again and they operated on me again.”
Mrs Bassey who runs an eatery was discharged on Tuesday, January 6, 2015 and referred to another hospital for further treatment but cannot go home or seek more treatment for her yet- to-heal wound because she could not pay an outstanding bill of N500, 000.”
“They referred me to another hospital, Island Maternity, to continue my treatment because the wound is still there. They say I should go there to clean my wound. But there is no money to pay my bill so that I can go there for my treatment. That is why I am here.” she said.
23-year old Abibat Mojemu and her three-month old baby cannot smell freedom until her bill of over N300, 000 are paid by a kind-hearted Nigerian or an NGO comes to their rescue. The duo have been unwilling tenants of LUTH in the last three months after the young mother was referred from a private hospital.
“I came to LUTH through Emergency from a private hospital. I have stayed in LUTH for three months since we have been discharged,” volunteered the young girl whose only relative is a 75 year old grandmother and an absconded partner.
Although not a mother, 23- year old Iyabo Saji shares the fate of Abibat as she has been hospital-bound for her inability to offset N400, 000 medical bill following treatment for injuries she sustained in a road accident in Lagos.
“It was at Iyana-Paja. I was on my way to school. I was standing at the middle of the road in an attempt to cross to the other side of the road. A car came and hit me. It was the car that cut my leg (showing the stump that remained) not the hospital. Since then, my mum has been spending. The first operation was N80,000 . The second operation was N80,000 but we begged and someone helped us pay N32,000. Since then, she has been paying small-small. My bill is N400,000.”
Apart from the bill, the 300 level Mass Communication undergraduate from the University of Osun who lost one of her legs to the accident would need an artificial leg worth about N250 to return to normal life.
Analysts are concerned that such a development would further impeded Nigeria’s effort at reducing maternal deaths. Nigeria remains one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the highest maternal mortality rate(MMR). According to WHO, Nigeria records 560 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Many of these women die due to lack of access to medical care as a result of poverty, long distance to health facility, obstructed labour, haemorrhage and complications from poorly managed deliveries.
Reacting to the story of these women who are being held in hospital for their inability to pay medical bills following treatment for pregnancy/childbirth related complaints and who are thereby incapacitated from earning a living to offset their bill, an activist and the Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Adetokunbo Mumuni decribed the development as ‘unfortunate.’
“It is an unfortunate situation that pregnant women are detained in a hospital because of poverty. If they put their names together, our organisation can take a class action on their behalf,” Mumuni said. Mumuni who noted that, “Ordinarily, government should have as a matter of policy made maternal health free for all women, ” argued that right to health and right to education as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution should be made justiciable.
Efforts to get reaction from LUTH proved abortive as text messages and calls to the mobile lines of LUTH’s Acting CMD, Prof Chris Bode and the Public Relations Officer, Hope Nwaolor were not responded to.