South Africa’s treatment of infants and expectant mothers has come under scrutiny lately as the country boasts some of the region’s highest infant mortality rates and birthing-room horror stories, despite its position as an economic powerhouse.
Critics and advocates say that a tragic mix of corruption, mismanagement and apathy have resulted in poor health care being provided to infants and mothers, causing an increase in the number of birth-related deaths.
In South Africa, nearly 4,500 women die during childbirth each year — a rate that eclipses those of poorer African countries such as Swaziland, Uganda, Ghana, Cameroon, Togo, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, expectant mothers in South Africa routinely experienced physical and verbal abuse by health care workers, including pinching, slapping, and rough-handling during labor. Women also reported apathetic nurses and hospital staff, who ignored calls for help, left women unattended for long periods of time, discharged women prematurely and sent them home without pain medication or antibiotics and, in some cases, refused admission to women in labor, sometimes without examining them.
"There's no excuse for abusing patients," said Liesl Gerntholtz, from the human rights group's Johannesburg office, according to the L.A. Times. "Poor training is not an excuse for slapping patients or abusing patients or leaving women unattended for hours and hours."
The problem has been blamed on a number of factors, among them, the country’s high AIDS rate and the legacy of apartheid that left much of the country’s Black population uneducated and undereducated, leading to a shortage in hospital personnel.
"Undoubtedly, there's a very severe health staff shortage," Robert Pattinson, of the South African Medical Research Council, told the L.A. Times. "There's a problem with the caring attitude. A lot of that will be explained by burnout of people just having too much work to do."
(Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)