Abeba M., an Ethiopian refugee living in Port Elizabeth, a small coastal town of South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, developed severe high blood pressure during her pregnancy. She went to a district hospital for treatment of this dangerous condition, but left because “the nurses and doctors did not treat me well,” she told me. She had to return when her condition worsened, though, and was admitted. Instead of getting the help she needed, she experienced treatment delays, abuse, and negligence.
A vital scan to check if her baby was alright, a precondition for further treatment, was delayed for 10 days because “the doctor kept saying he had forgotten.” When she complained about severe pain one night, a nurse who Abeba said “was playing a gospel song on her cell phone and dancing” retorted: “I know, and what do you want me to do?” She did not help Abeba and instead “continued whistling and dancing.” Abeba was ordered to clean up her “mess” when she bled on the floor.
Abeba’s daughter was born prematurely in an emergency caesarean section. Although she was able to take her baby home two weeks later, her wound from the surgery became septic and did not heal for three months. ””It was the worst time of my life,” She told me about her treatment at the hospital.
Sadly, Abeba’s case is not uncommon in South Africa. She was one of the 157 largely poor, rural and refugee women I interviewed between November 2010 and April 2011 in Eastern Cape about their experiences with maternity care in government facilities. Women and other witnesses described chilling scenes of humiliation, neglect, and verbal and physical abuse by health workers. Read the rest of this entry →