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Stories from the maternity ward
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 08 - 11 - 2008

In the best of circumstances, having a baby is a life-changing experience, but here in the Kingdom, it seems like an especially distressing one in some cases. Almost all of us have heard hair-raising stories from women who have had babies here, and the media regularly reports mishaps in government and private hospitals alike.
How bad is the situation really?
“I had my baby at a government hospital in Makkah, and my story is horrible from the beginning,” says Zakiyah Ahmad, a Saudi housewife, who is a qualified nurse and had been working earlier.
“When I arrived at the hospital I discovered that it was full of small insects, which means that the staff were not cleaning the place properly. After I had the baby, the nurse took her and left her on the bed without cleaning her,” says Ahmad.
“Actually, I was in the eighth month of pregnancy and I still had one more month to go, but the doctors induced the labor to make the birth as quick as possible.”
“After I left the hospital, I felt that the baby's skin color had become dark and she was finding it difficult to breathe. I went back to the hospital, but they said that she needed to be kept in an incubator and they did not have a vacancy for one at the hospital.”
“I came to Jeddah searching for another government hospital that would receive my baby, but they asked me to wait, since they expected one of the children in their facility would not make it through the night, and they would give my child his place,” she said.
“Although I was not in a state where I could pray, I started praying and asked Allah to save my baby's life. During my prayer, the mother of the baby who was in danger came to me and said, “God has accepted your prayer and my son has died, so now you can have his place.”
“I had another baby at another government hospital in Jeddah, and this time she developed an infection during her stay at the hospital. The doctors did not discover the cause of infection until six babies had been infected in that ward,” she said.
“According to health regulations, each baby should be taken immediately after birth and nurses should record all the information related to the infant,” says Dr. Abla Dababini, nursing department manager at Bakhsh Hospital in Jeddah. She says nurses on duty at the nursery should have a special uniform, and nobody else should be allowed to enter the section to ensure that a hygienic environment is maintained and that no unauthorized person has access to the infant,” added Dababini.
On the other hand, Umm Fares, a Saudi housewife who has had all her six children in government hospitals, says her experience has been good. “I had my children at the King Fahd government hospital and the service there is very good, I never had any problem,” she says. “I have medical insurance so I can go to private hospitals, but I prefer the government sector, because they have greater accountability,” she says.
“Once, I required some treatment after having my baby, so I decided to go to a private hospital, but they said they would have to do a surgery to treat me. I went back to the government hospital to get a second opinion, and they discovered that I only needed medication and not surgery — the private hospital only wanted to make money by suggesting an unnecessary surgery.”
Another problem that women complain of is the bedside manner of some doctors and nurses in maternity wards. Allegedly, some doctors treat women in labor very badly, even going to the extent of shouting at them or using insulting and bad language. Some nurses also refuse to do anything for patients, and think that service to the patients will affect their prestige in some way.
Umm Fahd, a Saudi citizen who has no medical insurance, says she has no choice but to go to government hospitals. “After delivery, women are usually left to fend for themselves. One even has to go to the washroom on one's own, even if you are feeling weak and dizzy, since attendants are not allowed except at visiting hours.”
Muna Suliman, a nurse at a private hospital confirmed the necessity of helping women after childbirth, especially during the first few hours.
“It is the nurse's duty to take care of the patient's needs, for example escorting her to the bathroom, assisting her while changing her clothes and advising her about the food that she should eat,” she says.
According to her, some women refuse to enter the bathroom with the nurse, so this is a patient's choice. However, she adds, “Nurses should know that in this profession, one's nationality is not important. If a person chooses to work as a nurse, she should respect the obligations of the profession.”
Women also complain of a lack of respect for personal space and privacy in some hospitals, which adds to their discomfort. “When I gave birth at a private hospital, the staff thoughtlessly left the door of the labor room open,” says Maha Bin Ibrahim,an expatriate.
Maha Abo-Laban, a Palestinian housewife, complains of the manner in which staff at government hospitals treat expatriate patients. “Expatriates usually don't have the option of going to government hospitals, but I developed some complications suddenly and the closest hospital to my home was a government one. At first, they refused to allow me to give birth there, but after some time they saw the seriousness of the situation. They dealt with me as if I was an animal and not a human being,” she says.
The Ministry of Health has launched new projects which allow more women to give birth in government hospitals, said Dr.Sami Badawood, Head of the Health Affairs Management in Jeddah.
“Our new project is to develop all the hospitals in Jeddah and Makkah, where the Al-Aziziyah, Al-Mesadiyah hospital will be included in this expansion,” said Dr.Badawood.
A new scheme was launched by the Ministry of Health in April 2008, to avoid problems of overcrowding in hospitals. Under the scheme, any urgent case is allowed to go to a private hospital, and the Ministry of Health will pay money on the patient's behalf to the hospital, added Dr. Badawood.
“I think this system will help a lot of women and will give Saudis and expatriates who are entitled to receive medical care as part of their contract, the opportunity to avail of free treatment in private hospitals,” he said. __

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