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Dignity denied! - Medical doctor confirms that some pregnant mothers are mistreated at public hospitals

Published:Thursday | July 13, 2017 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Dr William Aiken

Medical practitioner and president of the Rotary Club of New Kingston, Dr William Aiken, has joined those expressing concern about how some pregnant women are treated at public health facilities.

With several horror stories from mothers over the year, Aiken recently argued that there is some truth to these claims.

"I also know from what I have heard and what I have seen with my own two eyes that women who come from lower socio-economic strata are really treated very poorly sometimes by both the doctors and the nurses," said Aiken during a forum looking at patients' rights and responsibilities at the University of the West Indies Medical Sciences building.

"They are spoken to in very derogatory ways, they are spoken to as if they are not persons with dignity, and so, there is sometimes very little compassion, especially for the teenage mothers, they are treated very disrespectfully," added Aiken.

The forum was organised by the Women Resource and Outreach Centre and the UWI to coordinate efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality under a programme being funded by the European Union.


Collaborative effort


The collaborative effort will see other organisations such as the National Family Planning Board (NFPB), Child Development Agency and the Caribbean Vulnerable Community working to address the treatment of pregnant women in hospitals.

The Programme for the Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality (PROMAC) is focused on strengthening the health system and improving the health-seeking behaviour of the population, among other things, in an effort to reduce neonatal and maternal deaths.

Aiken noted that maternal and child health is one of the focuses of the Rotary Club, and has pledged his club's commitment to assist with the financing of equipment needed in these areas.

"We know that a society that does not take care of its women and children is destined to not have much of a future," said Aiken.

He was supported by anthropologist and president of Father's Inc, Dr Herbert Gayle, who also took issue with how some pregnant women are treated by health practitioners.

According to Gayle, a study which was undertaken by a group of his students about seven years ago returned some horrible and frightening findings.

"It was seriously discriminatory. Light-skinned women got treated first. The petite women who have a symmetric face got treated in the same group. The disabled, dark skin, too young and all the different frames that we created culturally were treated like dogs. That was just what they found," said Gayle.


Millennium Development Goal


Jamaica failed to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of seeing a 75 per cent reduction in maternal mortality and a two-thirds reduction in infant mortality by 2015.

According to the World Health Organisation Observatory Indicator, Jamaica's maternal mortality ratio was 89 per 100,000 live births while the country's infant mortality rate was 13.5 per 100,000 live births in 2015.

Under the Sustainable Development Goal, Jamaica, like the rest of the region, has been given the task to reduce maternal mortality to 30 per 100,000 live births by 2030.

In Jamaica, hypertensive disorders, haemorrhage, ectopic pregnancies, abortions and embolism are the primary causes of maternal deaths.

The NFPB will be launching three behavioural communication campaigns focused on increasing the awareness of the benefits of prenatal care, and will be looking at some of the issues women face when they visit health centres.

"The research that we have seen that comes out of the ministry indicates that where the risk factors are greatest is in the 30-plus age group, particularly among women who have already had several children," explained Cathy McLure, project coordinator for the PROMAC project at the NFPB.

"Women tend to present late for antenatal care, especially when they have had several children," added McLure.