Thursday January 9 2014

Too many deaths by negligence

By Editorial

Deaths of expectant mothers resulting from the suspected negligence of medical staff is becoming a rather too frequent occurrence.

As a country, we already have one of the highest maternal mortality rates (MMR) in the world which Unicef estimates place at 435 women dying annually from pregnancy or child-bearing complications. The national Safe Motherhood Programme to improve maternal health is clearly facing a huge challenge. It is unlikely we shall meet the Millennium Development Goals target of bringing MMR down to 131 by 2015.

The most recent case of suspected death resulting from negligence was reported out of Lira Regional Referral Hospital. The deceased, a senior nursing officer herself, is believed to have bled to death. Her husband believes this tragedy could have been avoided if she had received better attention.

To lose a life is tragic enough. But in a country where public health services are almost hopeless, the loss of a senior medical worker is a very expensive misfortune. Hospitals are so understaffed that we simply cannot afford to lose existing personnel. As the inquiry into Senior Nursing Officer Feddy Among’s death proceeds, it should be asked how a regional referral hospital could be without blood hence the inability to perform a transfusion?

The courts are already entertaining lawsuits filed by either victims or families of women and children who died at birth due to suspected negligence. Obviously, particular care has to be taken in handling this very sensitive matter. You do not want to intimidate medical practitioners. However, it is also imperative that people should be held accountable.

Going through labour wards in public hospitals across the country can be a traumatising experience. Conditions are so desperate in these crowded facilities it is hard to imagine the government continues to make the claim of commitment to improving maternal health. And of the many horror stories told about these places, the one which is repeated most of the time is how callous and unprofessional some of the delivery and recovery room staff can be.

People die in hospitals. That is an unfortunate and accepted reality. Nonetheless, it is now time for the Health Service Commission to take a deliberate interest into why more claims of maternal deaths by suspected negligence are being reported.