As Usual

Life has been going on as usual here in Western Kenya. Of course “as usual” is always a little bit extraordinary from my outsider perspective. Recently, there was a large bull fight down the road that was sponsored and televised by a major bank, and during field work we encountered a child whose hands were too full of jiggers to do a finger prick *shudder*.

And while we were working in Bungoma, this was happening right next door:

While this story of a woman delivering unattended on the floor of the hospital (and then being slapped and yelled at by the nurses for “dirtying the floor”) has many people rightly outraged, I’m finding that this account doesn’t seem all that different from what I have heard from nearly every Kenyan woman who has ever given birth. ¬†Even those who have access to “good” care tell me about botched last minute c-sections, being slapped and screamed at by nurses, and even tragic stories of abandonment late at night that have ended in the death of the child and near death of the mother.

Thanks to a story that has finally made the news I am reminded of how unfortunately common an experience like this might be. While the reporter who brought story to national attention has received death threats for “making the hospital look bad” and the woman on the floor has been shamed into silence, this video stands on its own and has demanded attention.

Of course the response of the under-resourced hospital has been to ban cell phones from waiting areas. But even at this little hospital in rural Kenya, we are in the 21st century, and a bystander shooting a video on a cell phone is enough to make the Secretary of Health pay attention. So many studies talk about what a disaster it is that people in the developing world want a cell phone more than a toilet. Bill Gates seems to think that the internet is useless to anyone before we get rid of malaria. But it seems to me like this bystander’s cell phone has the potential to improve health for mothers in Bungoma, if not across Kenya, with only her cellphone.

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