Hospitals never conjure up a “nice” experience for people. But this episode took human rights in childbirth to  another level.

I mean, I thought basic hygiene and cleanliness would be a a basic expectation, from years and years of history and practice.

Alas, these basics were sorely missing in this government hospital in West Bengal, India. As we drove up at 3am the people lining the driveway and outside area stayed asleep as we moved swiftly into the hospital. The metal trolley for an examination bed was cold and stark. The trolley with wheels for moving around was presented to us with fresh and old blood stains. They wiped them away, once we requested them to, before we placed our sheet over the trolley under our patient.

And made our way to the labour room to see the gynaecologist – passing all the ladies on either side of the passage…in various stages of labour, taking up the space on the floor that their bottoms or feet touched. Body to body, no space – the passages were full. Lying over, alongside, curled across another lady – perhaps their friend or mother who was assisting them. When their labour pains got too much it seemed like a hospital assistant came over and sat with her, checking by looking under her skirt with her eyes only. They continued labouring on their colourful plastic sheet – in silence. But their eyes screamed loudly.

We took our shoes off before going into the labour room – as requested. And the doctor treated us nicely, sensitively and respectfully. We also had to take our shoes off to enter the theatre area. And I stepped on a needle, luckily noticing it before it could pierce me. On pointing it out to someone they helpfully pushed it further away under the trolley so it would not harm me…

The postnatal ward was another experience. Beds filled with new mothers, their assistants (a mother, a friend or a sister) and the new babies. All on their own yellow or pink striped plastic sheet they had bought outside at the stall. This was their only protection, as they lay on the hard grass mattress. The nurse came to give pain medication and antibiotics as prescribed. The doctor came a couple of times and felt a pulse and asked if “anything something” was needed? Like pain medication? No blood pressure was taken. No temperature. No bleeding or wound checks were done. Urine catheter bags were emptied.

I looked for a basin to wash my hands. The one in the corner’s tap didn’t work. The bathroom smelled so strongly of urine and I couldn’t bring myself to walk past the heaps of bloody cloth in several piles along the wall. I found a tap in a sideroom with half-filled plates of yesterdays meals on it.

When I came back the Chai – walla was walking up and down with his hot kettle pouring chai for whoever wanted. Mothers and mothers shared beds with their babies and carers. Carers (as in the mother’s sister, mother or friend) helped new mothers latch their babies.

We gathered a crowd at times and had to manually disperse them. They wanted us to stay for 7 days after the caeserian until the stitches were removed. I guess that is how long all these people stayed. We left earlier actually to continue hygienic monitoring at home.

Is this a financial issue?

Is it a social awareness issue?

It is a basic human right to sanitation.

The services are free – following the government’s Janani suraksha yojana implementation. Free pregnancy and birth (including caeserian section) services in public hospitals to encourage hospital births in attempt to decrease the perinatal mortality rates.

My concern truly is how safe and healthy is it really?

And what can we do about it?

View from the enterance. Many beds, pushed together.
Thick layers of dust and grime on the fans.
Another view from the enterance passage.
Mom, carers, babies sharing beds on the brightly coloured plastic they bought themselves.
Our towel on the trolley.
Our towel lining the trolley.
gov hosp
Arranging an early discharge into our care.
The passage lined with labouring mothers and their carers. Remarkably more quiet than the night we were there. (Note their plastic sheets again.)
Showing the mattress lined with one sheet (cloth) made out of dense straw. Very hard.
bathroom at gov hosp
The bathroom.
gov hosp
Visiting time – hence the male visitors too.