We must do all we can to protect expectant mothers

I read a story in today’s issue of The New Times that left me gasping for breath in horror. Titled ‘Medic held over suspected rape of pregnant woman’, it recounts the shenanigans of an unnamed senior nurse who was arrested last week for sexually assaulting a woman who had gone to Kimonyi Health Centre for antenatal care.  While the attack itself was vile, and the arrogance of the nurse bloodcurdling, (he told the unfortunate woman that “all the nurses were his friends, and no one from her family will get treatment if you report me to the Police”), what really outraged me was the fact that this suspected predator had left two other medical facilities under a dark cloud. He had been dismissed from Ruhengeri Central Hospital over accusations of sexual harassment, indiscipline and neglect of duty before he was transferred to Kimonyi. And, in 2004, he was similarly dismissed from Kirambo Health centre after allegedly defiling a young girl.

While I must allow the court system to find him guilty of innocent, and not try him in the court of public opinion, I can’t understand why, or how, he kept his job. While the spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, and my fellow columnist, Arthur Asiimwe, ably defended his institution for accusations of a lack of oversight saying “public service regulations stipulate that he had to be referred to District officials his file (after his dismissal from Ruhengeri Hospital)… it from the District that he was re-deployed to the health centre”, I feel that simply referring this case to the Police and moving on, is wrong.

The Catholic Church is currently being hammered for its inaction over paedophile priests. In Europe and North America, priests who did horrendous things to children under their care were, instead of being defrocked and thrown into the penitentiary (or at least investigated), were simply transferred to different dioceses. The Diocese leadership were simply playing musical chairs with these errant clergymen, making these evil men another person’s problem. It was only after the victims started speaking out and naming names did the Church do something about these predators; the problem was that many of these men were already deceased. Rome is now paying millions of dollars in damages and I wonder whether it will ever live down this scandal, I doubt it.

I’m not saying that there is widespread rape in our medical profession; that would be disingenuous to all the hard work that’s been put in by our nurses, doctors, pharmacists and other medical staff. What I’m saying is that perhaps the system of oversight can be improved. Maybe it isn’t a good idea to give the District authorities oversight of medical officers or perhaps the Ministry of Health can have a representative on these District Boards. I feel that, if there was improved oversight, the nurse could have been stopped in 2004, and not in 2012.

I feel extremely sad for all the women who weren’t able to seek proper medical treatment in Kimonyi because they feared sexual assault. Rwanda is attempting to make sure that as many women give birth in health centres in order to reduce deaths during labour. This strategy, which has been extremely successful so far, can only remain so if women, first of all, feel safe enough to go to the health centre, and if they are confident enough in the professionalism of male staff. In the aforementioned case, the victim said, and I quote, “pregnant women had stopped coming here (to the Kimonyi Health Centre) for fear of this man”. Simply for this reason, the Ministry needs to make sure that this scandal is never repeated again.


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