The Kenya Court of Appeal is expected to issue a decision soon in a case defending the rights of Josephine Majani—a Kenyan woman who was physically and verbally abused by hospital staff and left to deliver alone on the maternity ward floor. The appellate decision could also affirm the right to respectful maternal health care in Kenya.
The appeal by the County of Bungoma challenges the 2018 judgment by the High Court of Bungoma in a case brought on behalf of Majani through her attorneys at the Center for Reproductive Rights. In that judgment, the High Court found that Bungoma County Hospital, the Bungoma County government and the Cabinet Secretary for Health violated Majani’s rights to health, dignity and freedom from cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment when they failed to set and implement national standards on the right to safe and quality maternal health care in Bungoma and across Kenya.
The Court’s landmark judgment recognized that the neglect and abuse of women seeking maternity health care services constitute a violation of rights as guaranteed by the Kenyan Constitution and international human rights law.
The Court of Appeal of Kenya—the country’s second highest court—sets precedent and gives guidance to lower courts, so its judgment in this case could carry significant influence throughout the country.
Hospital Staff Neglected and Abused Majani
In August 2013, Majani was admitted to Bungoma County Hospital for an induced labor, just weeks after the President of Kenya issued a national directive instructing all public health care facilities to offer free maternity health care. Despite the directive, she was forced to purchase the medicine she needed for her labor. After taking the medicine, Majani was not physically checked or monitored by nurses and was informed that if she needed medical attention, she would have to walk from the labor ward to the delivery room herself. In the maternity ward, nurses repeatedly slapped and verbally abused her and left Majani to deliver her baby on the concrete floor while entering in and out of consciousness. She was ordered to walk to the delivery room, still unaided. She was released with her baby the following day and suffered severe emotional trauma as a consequence of her treatment at the hands of the uncaring staff.
Maternal Health Care in Kenya
About her experience, Majani said, “I was neglected, abused and shamed during my time at Bungoma District Hospital. I’m hopeful that the court’s judgement today will force the government to do the right thing and ensure that all women can get the maternal health care they need with respect and dignity.”