A good number of babies are reported to be held hostage by the Ghana's premier health facility, the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital because their parents have failed to settle their medical bills.
The Public Agenda says its visit to the hospital reveal a repeated tale of baby/patient detentions by hospital authorities whose hands are also tied to recover the costs of treatment for varying ailments.
Barely a year ago over 40 babies were discovered detained at the hospital, and the media exposure led to a huge public outcry which whipped up philanthropic spirits to help secure the release of the affected.
But the Public Agenda says another scenario is playing out at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, compelling the Commonwealth Human Right Initiative (CRRI) to blow the whistle over the detention of the new set of babies for the same reason of non-payment of hospital fees.
CRRI is accusing the management and staff of the hospital of violating the rights of the infants.
According to CHRI the hospital's decision to detain babies and their mothers for the inability of their parents to pay hospital expenses violates the provisions of the 1992 Constitution. It also contravenes a number of provisions of the Children's Act 1998 and an affront to international law to which Ghana is a signatory.
CHRI argues that in cases where vulnerable parents are unable to pay the cost of health care for their children, the government ought to immediately intervene and ensure that such children are released to their parents without strings.
CHRI points out that failure on the part of government to intervene on behalf of children born to poor parents is an outright abuse of the rights of the infants and an illegality against the spirit and letter of the 1992 Constitution, as well as international law.
The Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, according to CRRI, should therefore desist from the habit of detaining newly born babies because of financial reasons.
When contacted, the hospital's management said they were equally unhappy withholding the poor babies. Mr. Mohammed Mustapha, the PRO of the hospital told Public Agenda the hospital cannot release the babies unless they are authorized by the government.
Mustapha said for now there is very little management can do and promised that he will study the concerns raised by CHRI and in due time, give a fitting response.
Mr. Mustapha however advised CHRI to also take on the responsibility of educating the general public to register with the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) so both adults and children will not be denied healthcare in future.
When a team of Public Agenda reporters visited the hospital on Wednesday, teenagers-turned-mothers and wives of run-away hus¬bands were spotted hovering around the corridors of the Children's Block praying for divine intervention so that they could go home with their children.
Nineteen year old Paullina Anyomi, a JSS 3 dropout, whose four month old baby was admitted for convulsion two weeks ago has been discharged, but until she settles her bill of 200,000 cedis, her baby will remain the 'property' of the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital.
"I want to go home but I can't go home with my baby until I have 200,000 cedis to pay the doctor," she told Public Agenda amidst tears.
Portia Owusua, who looks younger than her age of 22 told a similar story.
Her baby-boy of about four months was rushed to the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital for convulsion and has now been given a clean bill of health. But until she pays up her remaining bill of 550,OOO cedis she cannot go home with her baby. Her 'husband', a mechanic apprentice has abandoned them.
Emelia Mensah, a 24-year-old mother of three, whose 5 and 7-year-old children were admitted for convulsion and diarrhoea, owes the hospital 900,OOO cedis. Her husband, a hawker who has been cleared out of business by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) in order to make Accra clean for [email protected] anniversary celebrations, has also bolted, leaving all the burden on Emelia to raise the 900,OOO cedis.
Until she too is able to gather the amount and pay off the bills, she and her baby shall remain detained.
Several other mothers, including Fati Akiilu, 24, and Comfort Asiedu 38 among others are currently marking time at the corridors of the Children's Block of the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, unable to go home because each of them owes the nation's star healthcare provider, some money.