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When Hospitals Turn into Havens of Rape and Abuse

When Hospitals Turn into Havens of Rape and Abuse

Hospitals are expected to be places where one gets treatment. But behind the hospital curtains in the treatment and consultation rooms, there is a harsh reality of sexual abuse.

In this analysis, Chikondi Mphande tells the story of an expectant 15-year-old girl who was defiled during delivery by a midwife technician.

The girl was tricked into thinking that the sexual activity would hasten labor and relieve her of her labor pains.

When this 15-year-old girl reported the abuse, more women in her community opened up, reporting having been subjected to similar abuses.

"The doctor asked me to undress and he raped me saying that is how they open the birth canal," said Rose.

It was on Monday, September 2023. This girl, whom we shall call Rose, had just arrived on time for her appointment here at Kasinje Health Center in Ntcheu district.

At the age of 15, Rose is pregnant, in the final days of her third trimester, and due for delivery. This is a new experience for this young girl.

During pregnancy, medical experts say it is normal for women to have pregnancy fears. These relate to childbirth, child health, and the ability to take care of the child.

For a 15-year-old girl, such fears are now becoming more intense. The male midwife technician attending to her notices this, and he takes advantage.

Rose was in deep pain. Intense abdominal cramps, an aching groin, and back pain—she was just powerless to argue with this midwife technician.

"It was on Monday. I was not feeling well and l went to the health centre to seek medical treatment; the doctor asked me to undress and sleep on the bed. He then slept with me, saying he wanted to open the birth canal...He threatened me not to tell anyone or else he will inject a dangerous medication to kill me," said Rose.

When she gave birth, Rose was referred to Balaka District Hospital for further treatment.

This is where she narrated her ordeal.

Hospitals are expected to be safe places where people go to seek medical services.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. The story of Rose is just the tip of an iceberg. Sexual abuse, especially by expectant women, is common.

In Ntchisi and Blantyre, health workers were also arrested for raping patients.

Chairperson for the Kasinje Health Center Management Committee, Martin Tsitsi, says Rose’s story shocked the entire community.

In fact, he says it led to more women opening up and coming up to report being subjected to such sexual abuses at this particular health facility.

"We are very concerned after this issue came out. We received complaints from other women that this medical person has been doing that to them. Health officials should scrutinize the behaviour of the health workers before sending them to rural hospitals because this doctor was sent to our facility as a punishment for what he was doing to his previous hospital; safe motherhood will not be possible if women are being sexually abused,” says Tsitsi.

Police in Ntcheu identified the midwife technician who sexually abused Rose as Moses Chimalizeni.

They say that Rose’s mother reported the matter, and before they could arrest him, Chimalizeni committed suicide.

Nonetheless, for Rose, the memories of the traumatic experiences are still fresh.

A psychological scar she will live with forever. And a mental health expert, Mwiza Mphande, agrees that women sexually abused develop mental health problems.

"Health workers raping patients. That is not good considering the issue of trauma that happens to patients; it resorts to mental health complications. It is an impact that patients find it hard to heal,” says Mphande.

Ntcheu District Health Office spokesperson Stella Kawalala says the office has now put in place measures to ensure that such an embarrassing incident should not happen again.

Senior Chief Kwataine, who is well known for being a hero of safe motherhood, is startled by the fact that hospitals are turning into places of sexual abuse.

"We are encouraging women to deliver in hospitals not at traditional birth attendants so pregnant women being sexually abused in hospitals is bad news. It defeats our campaign. Such health workers should be given a stiffer punishment,” says Kwataine.

George Jobe of the Malawi Equity Health Network says the government needs to introduce deliberate measures to end sexual abuses in hospitals.

He suggests the need for an extra person during consultations.

Rose is pleading with the government and all stakeholders to take decisive action to stamp out any type of abuse in hospitals.

She believes no expectant woman, let alone one, deserves to experience what she went through at a place they go to seek medical assistance.

"It is unfortunate that the doctor sexually abused me. I am still traumatized. Human rights defenders and the government should intervene to make sure what happened to me does not happen to any other woman in the hospital," Rose adds.

The Ministry of Health is disappointed with the unprofessional health workers.

The ministry’s spokesperson, Adrian Chikumbe, says such bad apples dent the image of the ministry.

He, however, advises patients or anyone else to report any abuses at hospitals.

The Presidential Advisor on Safe Motherhood, Dorothy Ngoma, says that the fact that women are getting abused in hospitals will erode people’s trust in health workers.

"Am so disappointed with this, l suggest female patients should be assisted by a male health professional in the presence of another female health worker," said Ngoma.

Nursing is regarded as a noble profession. Every nurse makes a pledge to God that they will practice their profession faithfully.

It is sad; therefore, hospitals are turning into places of sexual abuse. Instead of being treated, women are put at risk of sexually transmitted infections and left with a psychological scar.

This is an issue that requires a thorough investigation. Women, or everyone, deserves to be treated with dignity when at the hospital.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 12/03/2024

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