MATERNAL HEALTH RIGHTS

Dignified maternal healthcare a right

Rights violation is a big problem in Kenya’s health system.

In Summary
  • Many pregnant women put up with the degrading treatment because they don’t know they have a right to dignified treatment.
  • Common forms include humiliation of pregnant women, non-consented care, denial of right to privacy and confidentiality, abandonment during delivery.
Image: FILE

Mary, not her real name, was rushed to a public health facility at the onset of labour. Upon arrival she was ignored and despite her cries for help, was left to give birth on the floor at the reception. The hospital attendants blamed her for not waiting for admission and, as punishment, left her newborn on the cold floor. Majority of poor pregnant women who visit most public health facilities have similar tales to tell.

Rights violation is a big problem in Kenya’s health system. Inadequate mechanisms to hold the violators accountable contribute to the vice. Maternal health rights violations are rampant and sadly normalised.

The most common forms include humiliation of pregnant women, non-consented care, denial of right to privacy and confidentiality, abandonment during delivery and detention for non-payment of fees. What can we do to make delivery in health facilities a memorable, safe and dignified experience for child bearing women?   

Many pregnant women put up with the degrading treatment because they don’t know they have a right to dignified treatment and that health professionals have a duty to make this possible. This state of ignorance breeds a culture of impunity and lack of accountability by health workers on one hand and silence, disillusionment and despair by abused women, on the other.

This calls for targeted public education and awareness on maternal health rights.   

Several other measures that will strengthen maternal health rights accountability mechanisms include establishment of toll-free number for reporting violations and suspension of licences of health professionals whose culpability on maternal health injustices are proven.

 

Currently several options are available for aggrieved women to seek justice. They include litigation and lodging of complaints with the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council as well as the Nursing Council of Kenya. These mechanisms may be laborious and at times inaccessible to poor women, particularly when viewed in the context of location, time and resources required.

The Health Act provides for national and county governments to publicly share and implement procedures for the laying and handling of complaints by aggrieved persons. The Kenya Health Professions Oversight Authority has the mandate to ensure that such mechanisms for handling complaints are operationalised and responsive to the needs of patients. These mechanisms must be publicisd, and measures put in place to enhance compliance.      

Several other measures that will strengthen maternal health rights accountability mechanisms include establishment of toll-free number for reporting violations and suspension of licences of health professionals whose culpability on maternal health injustices are proven.

This is in addition to mandatory requirement for wearing of name identification tags by all health professionals in health facilities, particularly to help identity perpetrators, and organising community groups around oversight and accountability initiatives on maternal health justice.

Protecting women from all forms of discrimination, abuse and mistreatment related to access and utilisation of maternal health services will go a long way in enabling Kenya to achieve its national and global maternal health commitments.

This is particularly so in increasing the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel and reduction of the county’s maternity mortality ratio. Time for action is now.

The international Conference for Population and Development that was held in Nairobi from November 12-14 was timely and provided the perfect opportunity to reflect and act in the best interest of women, particularly on access to dignified maternal health services.

Let us seize the occasion and give women the maternal healthcare that they rightly deserve.