Kenya’s largest referral hospital has been in the cross fires over the past few days with allegations of sexual harassment within its maternity wing grabbing the headlines and taking hospital’s heads into a spin. The social media posts alleged that the commute between the institution’s maternity wing and its new born unit is nothing short of treacherous, with new mothers staring at rape and harassment at every turn of the maze of corridors interconnecting the different wings and floors of the hospital.
Yesterday, The Sunday Standard sought to put the allegations against the hospital with an average patient turnover of around 30,000 people every day to test through unfiltered, unsupervised access to the hospital as well as interviews with hospital staff and conversations with patients. At any given time, the new born unit has an average of 100 babies, translating to an equal or slightly lower number of mothers factoring in those who ay have delivered twins or whose mothers may have passed away during delivery. Interestingly, the new born unit is designed to cater for a maximum of 60 children only. “We cannot turn away pregnant mothers because of this. We have to work with what we have and accommodate as many as we can,” hospital Chief Executive Officer Lily Koros said. Mothers are accommodated on the ground floor, the first floor as well as the third floor of the hospital. The nursery is on the first floor. Those with breast feeding children follow a strict lactating schedule, whose timelines may fall deep in the night. At this time, the mothers walk in groups to the new born unit. Often, the mothers will walk in groups because they walk out of the wards to their babies at the same time. Those we talked to said in case any mother needs to go to the bathroom or wants to take a walk it is advised that she does so in the company of someone else because since they have just delivered and may be weak, they are advised to be in someone else’s company in case something happens.” Koros for the second day running maintained the hospital has not received any formal complaint of assault from any of their past or current patients. “I am a mother. I cannot be dismissive of these allegations. I am only stating the facts and will not scare the public over allegations that are not backed by evidence,” she said.
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A walk through the facilities shows that for a mother on the first floor maternity wing to get to her baby on the ground floor, she will have to walk through a corridor joining the hospital burns unit, the theatre, the critical care centre, the renal unit as well as the cancer treatment centre, all of which operate on a 24 hour basis. She will then either chose to use the ramps, the stairs or the lift. The lifts, the ramps and the stairs are all covered by CCTV cameras as well as patrols by hospital security staff. When she gets to the ground floor she will again pass close to the hospital’s 24-hour blood transfusion centre and another security desk. She will then turn right to the new born unit. There are six lift cars. All six have functional CCTV cameras that he Sunday Standard team ascertained were in working condition by first calling the control room from a random location and asking the security heads a series of random questions to ascertain they had eyes on the team.
CCTV camera inside the lifts at the hospital. [Elvis Ogina |Standard]
The team later on visited the command centre where it monitors at least 75 locations within and outside the hospitals under CCTV coverage. The team also demanded to see recorded footage from the CCTV archives on random dates from random locations. Koros says she is not denying the possibility of malpractice at the hospital. “But the facts have to be there,” she says. “We have invited the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to look into these allegations.”
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Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) said in a statement that the KNH incident is not an isolated case. “Hospitals should be safe places where mothers can move around without fear of intimidation and abuse,” the statement said. Even as investigations continue, the police have poked holes on the magnitude of women who are claiming to have been raped at the institution for such a long time without any alarm being raised. “Even you do you think those claims are true?” asked Kilimani OCPD Joseph Muthee. According to him it would be impossible for sexual assault to take place repeatedly in a controlled institution and in the same manner with no complaint ever reaching the police.
He says the country’s largest hospital is classified as a secured facility, complete with its own police post. “The last time we had a sexual assault case at KNH is in 2013 and the matter was prosecuted in court. What you see now is just drama but the matter is being investigated by another agency so I can’t say conclusively,” said Muthee. The Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) has sensed politics and boardroom fights over the matter. “Jostling for positions of management of the parastatal called KNH and the Ministry of Health at large could be behind these unfortunate incidents and allegations at KNH,” the union’s secretary general Ouma Oluga said in a Tweet yesterday. “When politics comes into healthcare, the mixture is too toxic for everyone,” he said.
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Just recently the hospital had to defend itself when reports emerged that a number of its key equipment were grounded. “Our equipment, like that of any other institution breaks down once in a while, and when this happens, we take the necessary steps to ensure they are up and running,” Koros said. She however said a replacement of the institution’s MRI which broke down in September last year is being sourced. A previously problematic laparascopic tower has been replaced. In September, the hospital’s laundry machines were undergoing service forcing them to take their laundry to Nairobi Hospital. Kenya’s referral hospital once again finds itself in the middle of a crisis that the nation demands it addresses. It says there is every chance that the crisis is manufactured, but cautiously so, leaving the door open for any eventuality by inviting the directorate of criminal investigations to poke its nose into its affairs.