Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
All over the world, the birth of a new child ordinarily brings joy and happiness into a household. In some climes, special kind of celebrations begin from the day of the child’s delivery and such celebration is usually climaxed with a party on the day of the naming ceremony.
In some parts of Nigeria, the nursing mother is usually presented with gifts by her husband, family members, friends, and relatives just as she is usually pampered and cared for, having literally finished her nine-month-old journey successfully.
But that is not the case of 22 women who, at the moment, are being ‘detained’ at the first phase of the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki (AEFUTHA 1) by the management of the hospital.
Coming from different communities and backgrounds and, of course, delivered of their babies through different means – normal delivery and caesarean sections – the women have, by virtue of their common fate, been united.
Going into the hospital through the old gate, and subsequently walking through the thoroughfare of some buildings dotting the landscape, one meets a somewhat dirty building where these nursing mothers and their babies are camped.
The building which hitherto served a different purpose was converted to Awaiting Bill Settlement camp (ABS) and is known as such by the hospital community. From the same direction, it succeeds the School of Nursing and Midwifery inside the hospital.
Some of the doors and windows of the building are broken and it has no electricity power source. The facility has no beds and foams and it has no toilet and bathroom; neither has it a kitchen. Broken hospital equipment that are no longer in use were also packed there.
The Awaiting Bill Settlement camp (ABS) and the hospital’s mortuary have close proximity and its environment is bushy such that mosquitoes and some dangerous reptiles could find it a safe haven for breeding.
In all, the building is dirty and it’s by no standard fit for human habitation. It can at best serve as a place where domestic animals are kept.
Sadly, that is where these 22 nursing mothers and their newborn babies are camped; and there, according to them, they would remain pending when their hospital bills are paid.
When Sunday Sun visited the ‘inmates’, some of their newly born babies were lain on cartons covered with some pieces of cloths which were flattened to serve as a sleeping mat while some lay on mats.
The interior of the building housing the ‘inmates’ was filthy and smelly; and had some cooking utensils serving them. There were also some dirty mosquito nets hanging on some corners of the rooms.
The situation in the Awaiting Bill Settlement camp is captured in an account given by a worker in the hospital (name withheld).
Hear him: “This is a place where nursing mothers who could not settle their hospital bills are kept. Some are married, but their husbands do not have money to pay their bills.
“This place has no beds, no mats. When they bring you here, you go and look for what you are going to sleep with. It is not that they built this place for them, but it’s just that this is where space is available. That is where they will stay till they pay their bills.
“Life is not easy for them here. There is no toilet and bathroom here. There is no kitchen for them to cook. If you want to ease yourself, you arrange yourself in one corner and there is a way you go about it, they will catch you and hand over your matter to the authorities.
“We feel pity for them. The hospital management is doing their best. At least, they attend to them first without asking for money. They make sure they save life first. It is after the medical attention that they bring them here to see if help could come.
“The hospital has tried. If they tell you to go, from where will they bring money to buy the drugs and other materials used on you in order to replace them or pay their staff?
“Some of them, their newborns didn’t survive; they died in the theatre, but still they were given bills to pay. They find it very difficult to eat. Some depend on others to eat; some depend on foods brought here by good spirited individuals. Some stay here from morning till evening before they see garri to drink.
“Mosquitoes bite them too much here. If they show you their bodies, you will pity them. That’s how they manage every day. It’s not all of them that have mosquito nets. Mortuary is close to this place. There is no light in this building.
“There is no toilet and bathroom here. There is a pit down there. After defecating, they throw their excreta into the pit. To take their births, if you’re the type that feels shy, you will have to wait till night before you take your bath”, he narrated.
One of the nursing mothers, Mrs Martina Nwofoke, who hails from Ogbala, Ishieke community in Ebonyi Local Government Area of the state was delivered of quadruplets at home before she proceeded to the hospital because of bleeding that started after the delivery.
Mrs Martina told Sunday Sun that she had earlier been delivered of sextuplets in her first pregnancy about 14 years ago.
“I was delivered of my quadruplets at home. Shortly after that, I started bleeding. They rushed me to this hospital immediately for proper medical care. This happened on the 18th of May.
“The first baby came out around 8:00a.m, the second and third came out around 11:00a.m and the fourth one came out around 1:00p.m that day. It was around 5:00p.m that day that I started bleeding.
“The hospital charged us a total of N199,970. My husband was able to pay N80,000. He does not have money again. We were driven to this place on Friday, 14th June.
“My husband was an Okada rider before, but his motorcycle has broken down and he does not have money to buy another one. Now, he farms. That day I put to bed, my husband had accident. It was my husband’s brother that brought me to this hospital.
“In my first pregnancy which was about 14 years ago, I was delivered of sextuplets. There were two males and four females. This quadruplet is made up of two males and two females.
“Right now, we are living with one of the sextuplets as some persons have taken others away to different cities. Three are living with a reverend father in Benue State while the two are living with some people in Lagos” she narrated.
Another nursing mother, Mrs Patience Ogonnaya, a 23-year-old who hails from Amanato in Onicha council area of the state was delivered of twins through caesarean section.
She told Sunday Sun that she was billed N102,210, but was driven to the ‘detention camp’ because she could not pay her bill.
Mrs Patience said: “I put to bed on 24th May and I was brought here on June 18 because I could not pay my hospital bill. I was billed N102,210. I have not paid any amount because we don’t have money.
“This was not my first pregnancy. I have had two, but one died. In this last pregnancy, I was delivered of my babies through caesarean section.
“My husband is in the village. He is an iron bender. After he had made some expenses, there was no money again to pay the bills. I trained as a seamstress, but I don’t have money to buy sewing machine”, she said.
Mrs Susana Igwe, was delivered of twins – a boy and a girl – on 27th April, but was driven to the ‘detention camp’ on the 14th June. The nursing mother who hails from Ezza suffers the same fate with others.
Another nursing mother, Mrs Favour Igwe, a 25-year-old who hails from Ezagu in Ishielu Local Government Area of the state, but married to one Chinonso Kalu from Ohofia Abam in Abia State was delivered of her baby through caesarean section.
She said: “I was delivered of my baby on 31st May through caesarean section. They drove me and my baby to this place on Tuesday, 11th June. This is my first pregnancy. My husband is a trader. He lives in Anambra State.
“My husband visited me once and said he was making efforts to raise money. He has not come again. I was charged N107,070. We are finding it very difficult to cope. There is no good food to eat”, she stated.
Mrs Janet Uka, a 40-year-old nursing mother from Igonigoni community in Abia Local Government Area of Cross River State has a pathetic story. She was delivered of her baby through caesarean section.
Janet who told Sunday Sun that she never set her eyes on her parents as they died while she was still suckling said that she has no helper. She said that her husband has no money to pay her bill.
Hear her: “When my time was due for delivery, I went to Mata Hospital, but they referred me to this hospital. When I got here, they said that I need caesarean operation so signed the papers. Since that day, my husband has not come here. We find it difficult to eat.
“After the caesarean operation, the thing broke again. I returned to the theatre, but till date, the wound has not healed. They pursued us from the ward because we could not pay up.
“I was billed the sum of N370,000 but now my money remains N100,000. Somebody paid N270,000 and I don’t even know the person”, she stated.
Another nursing mother, Mrs Evelyn Chigozie Jioke, who hails from Enugu State, but married to Mkpuma-Akpataakpa community in Izzi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State alleged that since her husband died, she has been facing series of persecutions because she had no male child.
She said that apart from the last baby, she was delivered all her babies at home because the family insisted that she must put to bed at home.
Evelyn said: “Since my husband died, they don’t take care of me. They don’t ask about our wellbeing. They collected my husband’s property, including his land. They said that I didn’t give birth to a male child.
“My husband died on November 1, 2018 in an accident which took place in Abangwa, Abia State while returning home. To the glory of God, I was delivered of this baby.
“Before now, I engaged in petty trading. I cooked and sold agidi. When my time was due, I could not be delivered of the baby at home so I came here and was delivered through caesarean section.
“It’s about two weeks now that I was delivered of my baby. My husband’s family never cared about my condition till today. I have sent messages to them, but I didn’t see any of them.
“I have seven children at home, but I don’t know how they are coping. While I am here thinking of how to eat, I am also thinking of how my children at home manage to eat.
“This is my first time of coming to the hospital for delivery out my eight pregnancies. I was delivered of all of them at home”, she narrated.
Meanwhile, Sunday Sun gathered that some of the nursing mothers lost their babies after delivery. One of them is Mrs Helen Eze who hails from Umuebe, Ezzamgbo in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of the state.
She said: “I put to bed in the hospital, but the child died. I was told that I convulsed and in the process bit my tongue. My tongue was sutured. It was just lately that I started talking.
“This happened towards the end of May. I have stayed in this Awaiting Bill Settlement camp (ABS) for about two weeks now. My husband said that I was billed the sum of N150,000. He was able to pay N10,000.