Pregnant migrants suffer at “hellish” SA hospitals

Priscah Ndlovu is a documented Zimbabwean asylum seeker who lives in central Johannesburg. In June she went to give birth at the nearby Hillbrow General Hospital. She says she will never forget the horrific treatment she received from the staff as she delivered her baby while lying on the floor.

“One dreadlocked nurse came and told me to do a urine sample. I made a few steps and could not walk anymore. I stood still and she screamed at me. When I told her I could not walk, she said I lied because I could still talk. But I was in serious pain,” recounted Ndlovu.

“After a few seconds of standing, I managed to drag myself to the toilet. The nurse then took my blood pressure. She started hurling insults at me, for what reason I still don’t know. She then called an ambulance and told me they would not be able to help me deliver because my blood pressure was too high. She told me that I or my baby would die. I just kept quiet.

A raging bull

“I had to be rushed to the emergency room to wait for the ambulance. The same midwife examined me again and said my baby was no longer breathing well. Within two minutes of getting in that room, I felt like pushing. I called her, but she insulted me. I tried to hold it. I tried to breathe the way she had directed me to, but I failed. I called her again. I heard her tell a nearby cleaner that I should not be bothering her because I was still far from ready to deliver.

“Then she came raging like a bull, screaming and hurling unprintable insults at me. When she examined me again, the baby’s head was already visible. She ordered me to walk to the delivery room. How could I walk with the baby’s head already visible? She turned her back on me and left.

“The cleaner saw that I could not walk and tried to support me. I just managed two steps, the third one, I could not do. I knelt down because I had realised that if I kept walking, I would hurt my baby. Kneeling down was my only option to save my baby. One push and the baby came out, onto the ground. The cleaner rushed to the nurse and told her what had happened. That opened more floodgates of insults.

Big problem

“She insulted me and said Zimbabweans were a big problem. She said we should go back to give birth in our own country. My baby was still lying on the floor. I was very weak, but I had no choice but to pick up my baby.”

Priscah is not the only Zimbabwean woman to have gone through such ill-treatment at the hands of hospital staff here.

Nonkululeko Moyo* was barely 19 when she went to give birth at Alexandra Clinic in 2003. “My boyfriend accompanied me to the clinic on the first day. After a short examination, the nurses directed me to the waiting room, where I had to share a bed with four other ladies because there was a critical shortage.

“Without feedback, I was discharged the following day and spent the whole day rolling on the bed, in deep pain. I returned to the clinic that night, on a Sunday and after they examined me in the same manner as the previous day, they told me to wander around the yard, till dawn the following day.

Stinking blood

“At around 5am, I was called in and given a bed. The midwife who assisted me said she wanted to go home from her night shift. She did not clean me or the baby, but ordered me to go to the toilet and squeeze my tummy. I did not know what exactly to do there alone and in pain, so I just slightly squeezed my tummy and went back and sat down with my baby – unattended till about 9am, when I was discharged.

“When I got home, I immediately got sick because of the clotted blood that was still in my womb. I got help from an old lady, with whom I shared a flat, when she prepared some aloe and gave it to me, to help that stinking blood come out.”

Sithembiso Nkosi delivered at Thembisa Hospital in August. “On my first day at the high-risk antenatal care clinic, the sisters at the reception took a look at my card and when they realised that I was from Zimbabwe, they became bullish. They insulted me, claiming Zimbabweans were increasing their work load and loved getting pregnant on South African soil,” she said.

Hell on earth

“They even claimed I was an illegal immigrant, but when I produce my valid documents and told them I was a tax-paying citizen like them, they ordered me to join the queue. Every week I attended, I was subjected to verbal abuse about how Zimbabweans were affecting service delivery and despite arriving early, I would still be taken to the back of the queue with fellow Zimbabweans and told that we were not some special cases.

“I tolerated this because I had no choice. Even when I went into labour, I and the other six Zimbabwean women went through hell on earth.”

South Africa’s national health policy guarantees asylum seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants from other SADC countries the same rights to treatment at public hospitals as local citizens. The national health department’s Patient Classification Manual dictates that pregnant women and children under six are entitled to free treatment, whatever their nationality.

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