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Pain of being detained in hospital over unpaid bills

Saturday March 30 2019

Kenyatta National Hospital

A view of Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi. The Retirement Benefits Authority has ordered the hospital to pay 114 former workers a total of Sh126 million in retirement dues. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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For the past three months, Ms Cynthia Mwalekwa and her daughter considered Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) their second home.

She was detained at the hospital over a Sh200,000 bill until her mother produced her title deed as security to have them discharged.

Ms Mwalekwa’s three-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

She used all her savings, and the national insurer could not help her because she had exhausted her cover.

“I wonder why we were being locked in yet there was no treatment we were getting. It is sad to see the mothers struggle in pain just to take care of their loved ones and bring life,” she says

Unfortunately, Mwalekwa’s daughter passed on this week.



Some 20 women are also detained at KNH, most of them over the last six months since they cannot clear their hospital bills.

They are sleeping on the floor and cannot move since most of them were operated on.

Ms Susan Njeri got complications after giving birth through caesarean section three weeks ago. She is not able to raise a bill of Sh53,000.

She has not seen her child since she gave birth. The baby is under the care of a guardian and being fed on formula milk.

She is not sure when she will leave the hospital since her NHIF card is not able to clear the bill.

The women are not being given drugs or food. They are surviving on food brought to them by relatives while others who have not been visited survive on handouts.


A study done by UK-based Chatham House cited Kenya as one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa where hundreds of women are detained for failing to pay medical bills.

The report published in December 2017 revealed that although it is illegal to detain patients, it is not a new phenomenon.

Dr Stephen Ochiel, the chairman of the Private Practice Committee of the Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board, said private hospitals are businesses, just like hotels.

“A cup of tea at Hilton Hotel will not cost the same as the one at your local joint,” he argued.

The universal healthcare coverage where resources are pooled to provide services to all has been touted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of the solutions to this matter.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to strengthen their systems for providing healthcare to all.