Little Patricia was eagerly awaited in our community. We had known her gender and name for a few months. She was due to be born on December 12 and named after my mother. However, her mother went into labour on December 10 and that night found her at the clinic with the doctor who had taken care of her throughout the pregnancy. The doctor works at Mombasa’s main public hospital during the day and runs a clinic in Bamburi, during the evening. At around 11pm he went home to sleep as he had work the next day. There were three other staff who he left in charge of the delivery.
As the night wore on there was a problem with the birth. Patricia’s mum was well into labour but the caregivers panicked, passing the responsibility from one to the other until eventually at 4am the last caregiver declared that they had to move to Coast General Hospital, the main public hospital here. Why the original doctor was not woken and called in, I do not know.
The first I heard of this was a call from the very distressed father at 11am the next morning, telling me they were at the public hospital but no-one would see them. They had been sent, by their doctor who works there, in the middle of labour, with complications, and after six hours no-one had even assessed them. Phone calls by friends who knew of doctors who worked there elicited no action whatsoever. By the time I arrived at the hospital at 2pm they were still being ignored by staff and in agony and fear. We managed, with some forceful action from a friend who accompanied me, to determine that the mother was to undergo a caesarean section but blood tests could not be completed because some equipment wasn’t working. She would have to wait.
At around 5pm that day little Patricia was finally delivered but went directly into intensive care. Her mother was placed on a bed in the maternity ward and basically left there for the next 48 hours. A word about wards in Coast General, the beds are about 2 feet apart, have no curtains between for privacy and consist of an old foam mattress and nothing else. Patient care is non-existent.
I left the hospital that night not knowing how Patricia was but I knew her mother was very sick. She was burning with a fever hotter than I had ever felt in anyone but we could get no news about Patricia and no-one could see her. All I knew was that things were not good.
Over the course of the 48 hours Patricia was with us, her father was constantly sent to purchase medicine for his daughter. Once he had to leave the hospital and travel to three other hospitals around the town of Mombasa to locate the drugs prescribed by the doctors. How can a hospital, with an Intensive Care Unit, not carry basic medicinal supplies? How can it be the job of the father to track down life-saving drugs, wasting life giving minutes and hours, as he does the job of those around him who should be caring for the sick? It is a curse of a corrupt society where the resources of the public sector are either never delivered due to corruption from above, or pillaged by staff. The end result is that public health care does not function.
Whilst Patricia clung to life and her mother lay alone, burning up in the ward, her father slept on the ground outside during the hours of 11pm and 6am, when he was not allowed inside. His text to me at 6:25am on the morning of December 12 was simple and heartbreaking, “My baby is dead.”
I arrived at the hospital to find him in shock and confusion. Family were taking care of funeral arrangements for Patricia but his wife was still lying, unattended, untreated, with a roaring fever, in the maternity ward, with mothers and babies all around her, never having held or fed her own little girl. I became seriously concerned that she was going to be left to die. I had heard too many stories of patients who arrived at the Coast General hoping for help, only to leave in a coffin, having never seen a doctor, no matter how many days they lay sick in bed. It happens too often to be part of anything we call humanity. I personally have seen patients in serious pain and injury, left untreated in this place, until money changes hands. I decided that we had to move the mother to a private hospital right away, not just for her physical wellbeing, there was simply no way she should have been left surrounded by mothers with healthy babies whilst Patricia was being prepared for burial.
It took almost six hours from the time we acquired the doctors discharge signature until the required staff finally signed the papers to allow us to transfer the mother into proper medical care. What I saw during this time was inhuman. Staff were deliberately slow, seeking to impede the release, telling us to meet them at a certain office then arriving there without the required paperwork. Telling us to wait and then disappearing for an hour, leaving us to search for them to move the paperwork onto the next step. If I thought there was someone there in authority who cared about this behaviour, I would have taken action, but there wasn’t.
Moving forward one week and Patricia’s mother, Diana, is recovering well after receiving medical attention in a private hospital. She is extremely grateful, as is her husband, that we were able to help her. Access to competent, motivated, professional healthcare, is something denied to the millions of Kenyans who live in poverty. It should be a human right but for a vast portion of the world’s population it simply does not exist. Patricia should not have died. In a strange twist of fate often experienced at such times, a newspaper article that same week reported that Mandera County in Kenya, recorded the highest infant mortality rate in the world. Inadequate infrastructure, unskilled workforce and the lack of drugs, were given as the main causes.
In his book, A Good African Story, Andrew Rugasira talks about the response of governments and organisations from developed nations, to outbreaks of viruses such as Ebola. He was referring to a 2012 outbreak but let’s look at this years’ incident. In 2015 just over 11,000 people died from the outbreak and as Andrew states, that is 11,000 too many, one is one too many. But during that same time around 500,000 people died from Malaria. The world mobilised against Ebola but other healthcare issues that continue to take the lives of so many more humans, are often not the subject of vigorous discussion or action, such as basic and effective healthcare. In his book he states, “Weak healthcare infrastructure – poor supply chain systems, human resource weaknesses, corruption and the theft of public resources – all need to be vigorously monitored and improved. We shouldn’t only raise the alarm for dangerous viral outbreaks, but also for any death that could have been avoided if we offered more efficient healthcare.”
Through the Kookaburra Community School, we are doing what we can to raise and educate children who not only gain an understanding of the world in which they live but also have the moral courage to change the things that are wrong with it. Your support is helping us to do this. Your support has helped to save Diana’s life. When we eventually get the funding to build our community school, we will include a medical clinic, where members of our community can come and get the healthcare that should be available to every human being. The type of care that should have been available to Patricia.