Uganda: Hospital Detains 4 Mothers, Babies Over Medical Bills

14 October 2019

Four mothers and their newly born babies have been detained by St Francis Hospital, Naggalama in Mukono District over failure to pay medical bills. Some of them have been detained since August.

The mothers are Ms Racheal Nakyeyune, Ms Lucy Komuhimbo, Ms Diana Nakyaze and Ms Sharon Nabwanuka.

Mr Henry Seruwo, Ms Nakyeyune's husband, a fortnight ago attempted to sneak his wife out of the hospital at about 11pm, but the guards arrested him. He has since been charged and remanded to Nakifuma Prison.

When Daily Monitor visited the hospital last Thursday, it discovered that the women's medical bills ranged between Shs200,000 and Shs800,000.

Mr Ibrahim Nsereko, a strategic litigation officer with Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development, a civil society organisation, has since written to the hospital management warning that the health facility is not a gazzetted detention centre.

"The act of detaining patients at your facility is in contravention of Article 23 (2) of the Constitution, which restricts detention of any person to only places authorised by law. A hospital is not an authorised place of detention, and in the event that you continue to unlawfully detain these patients, you risk being exposed to criminal and civil liability," the letter reads in part.

"We are, therefore, writing to advise you to use lawful avenues of settlement of the outstanding medical bills and immediately release the mentioned patients. If you fail to heed this advice, your actions will prompt civil and criminal proceedings against you and your health facility," the NGO adds.

Efforts to speak to the hospital administrators during our visit were futile as they were reportedly in a meeting.

Subsequent telephone calls to contact them were also futile. They insisted on Daily Monitor returning to the hospital.

"If you have a question, come to the hospital," one of the administrators, who did not mention their name, said.

The private health facility is owned by the Catholic Church and serves Mukono and Kayunga districts.

Mothers' accounts

Ms Diana Nakyaze, 29. The resident of Namasumbi, Luweero District, arrived at the hospital on August 29 and delivered a baby girl by C-section. She was discharged after four days, but could not leave because of the unpaid bill. "When we went to the counter, our bill was Shs787,000. I had only Shs270, 000 and I was detained," Ms Nakyaze says. "I was told to remain here until I pay all the bills. They have been coming and asking for their money. At one time, they brought police. But if they had allowed us to go and look for money, we would have paid the debt," she adds. She says they are only allowed access to the toilet and to wash clothes.

Racheal Nakyeyune, 16: The resident of Kalagala came to Naggalama hospital in August upon referral from a lower health centre. She gave birth by C-section. Two days later, she was discharged and her bill was Shs784,400. She paid Shs240,000 and failed to raise the balance. "I have since been detained for failing to pay the balance. I am now surviving on well-wishers since my husband is in prison," she says.

Lucy Komuhimbo, 20. She was admitted to the health facility on August 23. The resident of Kalagi near Mukono says she first went to Nakifuma hospital but was told she required an operation. "I was operated and I spent four days before I was discharged. My bill had accumulated to Shs616,700. We still have a balance of Shs260,700," Ms Komuhimbo says. "I asked them to provide us with food, but one sister protested on account that since we owe them money, they could not feed us. So we are here on the mercy of well-wishers," she says.

Sharon Nabawanuka, 17. The resident of Kyabakadde in Mukono District has spent two weeks detained at the hospital. She underwent a C-section. Her husband had only given her Shs40,000 to go to hospital, but upon being discharged, the medical bill was Shs600,000.

Related incidents

September 2016, International Hospital Kampala (IHK) was sued for detaining a patient (Mr Patrick Obiga) for one and-a-half weeks over unpaid medical bills that had amounted to Shs19.5m. Mr Obiga had stated that he found himself admitted at the hospital's Intensive Care Unit after he was involved in an accident on August 4. After completing treatment, Mr Obiga paid Shs20m of the overall medical bill of Shs39m and asked the hospital to allow him pay the balance of Shs19.5m while he was at home, which the health facility rejected and instead detained him.

May 2017: UMC Victoria Hospital, detained Ms Mariam Mutesi over a Shs23m medical bill debt.

September 2016: Nsambya hospital held a 17-year-old fishmonger, John Basalirwa, after losing his arm to a crocodile in Buikwe District for failing to pay his medical bills of Shs4.3m.

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