GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — My visit behind the scenes of the North Kivu Provincial Hospital in Goma gave me an embarrassing glimpse into the suffering of a dozen women wandering aimlessly inside the enclosure. With despair etched across their faces, they were hoping for a miracle to get out of what they see as the prison they’d found themselves in for months because they could not pay their hospital bills after giving birth.
And how they talk about the reasons they’re unable to return home!
Some traveled long distances to get to the hospital and have no family members to assist them. Jolie Kabishubamo is one of those caught in the claws of this shocking plight. She came all the way from Idjwi Island, 10 kilometers (6 miles) offshore, to give birth in Goma. I understand how thrilled she is to give birth, but things didn’t go as planned: She’s spent months in the hospital — hostage to a $480 hospital bill she cannot pay. She owes her survival to other women who have been good Samaritans to her.
Normally, having a baby should be a joy for the family. Having just given birth myself, and now experiencing that joy, I find it difficult to see women who were not happy at all, because after giving birth they found themselves in what they consider a prison.
Today, all women learn that it’s best to give birth in health care facilities offering perinatal and postnatal services. But, for a large proportion of women, economic constraints are a barrier to heeding that call.
In Democratic Republic of Congo, many people live below the poverty line. When a woman is prevented from leaving the hospital after birth, a family’s economy is shaken to its core. Mired in unemployment, husbands of pregnant women spend their days looking for work.
The government is failing to make good on its promise to create jobs, and insecurity paralyzes economic activity.
In reporting the story, I learned that hospitals cannot be blamed for the ordeal. Government subsidies have dried up for years now. As a result, the sick have no choice but to carry the financial burden of staff, medical materials and supplies on their shoulders.
In any case, the heaviest costs are paid by women, the mothers of the nation. So, I have a hard time diverting my mind from a question that is constantly disturbing me: When will the Congolese woman regain peace and serenity in her own homeland, DRC?
Sylvestre Ndahayo, GPJ, translated this blog from French.