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In the modest family home, the pain is read on the faces. Aunts, sisters and neighbors unite around Astou Sokhna’s mother, who died on 1it is April at the regional hospital in Louga, 200 kilometers north of Dakar. Holding in her hands an album full of photos of the young woman in her thirties, Maïmouna Ba bears witness to the twenty hours of agony experienced by her daughter. Nine months pregnant, she waited in vain and with great pain for a caesarean section.
“He called the midwife many times because of the severe stomach pain and dizziness, but no one attended to him.the mother of the family indignant. My anger is directed at the nursing staff because they neglected her. They have no regard for human beings. » The family filed a complaint on April 7 against officials at the Louga hospital.
The tragedy aroused great emotion in the Senegal, to the point of becoming the symbol of the violence suffered by women in health establishments. Given the outcry, the Minister of Health, Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, had to intervene publicly on Thursday, April 14. He admitted that Astou Sokhna’s death could have been prevented if there had been “good risk assessment and optimal follow-up” during your stay in the maternity ward.
An investigation has been opened while the director of the hospital has been removed from his post and the staff on duty during the death suspended. These caregivers held a sit-in on April 14 in front of the Louga hospital to deny the thesis of negligence and point the finger at their precarious working conditions.
Among their recriminations: the loss of an operating room, the reduction in the capacity to receive pathological and postoperative pregnancies, sometimes reaching two or three parturients per bed, the lack of human resources (409 agents in 2022 for more than 25,000 consultations) . The health personnel also accuse the structure of not paying the guards and guards since September 2021.
For his part, Minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr insisted that this tragic death “It does not reflect the current state of the health system, which, in recent years, has experienced significant progress.” Between 2000 and 2020, the infant mortality rate fell from 6.7% to 2.9% in Senegal, according to the World Bank.
This observation does not reassure the hundreds of protesters who marched on Friday, April 15, in Louga to demand justice for Astou Sokhna, but also to denounce the recurrent violence in the regional hospital of this small town in the interior of the country. Many women shouted in the procession, despite the heat and fasting of Ramadan.
“This is the first time I have seen such a mobilization in Louga. This is because each of these women was a victim of violence or abuse in the hospital.”says Mamyto Nakamura, a member of the Justice for Astou Sokhna collective at the initiative of the march. An online petition to demand “end all forms of violence against women in Louga hospital” it reached almost 85,000 signatures in less than a week.
The culture of fear of the gaze of the other
At the end of the mobilization, Mamyto Nakamura transmitted to the governor of the region a list of demands, including the improvement of the platform and medical equipment. The group also wants to set up civil society monitoring centers in all hospitals in Senegal, because the Astou Sokhna case goes beyond the Louga case. “For a long time we were accomplices because we did not denounce this violence and abandonment. Today is an opportunity to try to win in this national fight”supports Mamyto Nakamura.
This feminist from Lougatoise claims to have received since the tragedy hundreds of testimonies from women denouncing cases of abuse. But most don’t want to talk because of the “Suture”that designates in Senegal the culture of discretion and fear of the gaze of others.
“I fight against the suture because there are human lives at stake. If everyone had denounced this violence, Astou Sokhna would be among us today with her baby”, strikes down Badiane Diop, 26. She herself did not dare to file a complaint when her baby died after giving birth to her in March in Louga.
“Despite the urgency, I waited more than five hours before I was seen. I called the nursing staff several times, but no one answered me. They only asked me to put on three sanitary towels to prevent blood or water from coming out, they told me that it was normal to have pain”she testifies.
“No one is ever named”
His family opposed his going to trial. “But I will never forgive what they did to me and what they did to my baby”this young seamstress, who can no longer fall asleep since the loss of her infant, launches in a bitter tone. “All pregnant women are afraid of giving birth in this hospital, but they do not have the means to go to private clinical structures”she says.
According to certain feminists, the silence of women is also explained by the trivialization of suffering during childbirth. “We are taught to give birth in pain. But how do you become aware that you are a victim of violence if you are conditioned to endure it? »outraged Khadidiatou Tida Dansokho, president of the collective Never again that, since 2020, fights against gynecological and obstetric violence. “We had problems getting people to dare to speak out, but tongues are loosening, and this Astou Sokhna thing is an accelerator.”recognize.
Problems of abuse and neglect in public health facilities are not limited to maternity wards, according to the Patients in Danger collective created in the aftermath of the Astou Sokhna affair. “Senegalese are victims of a failed system, but no culprit is ever named. Impunity revolts us”, explains Gahëls Babacar Mbaye, spokesman for the movement. This mobilization, he specifies, is not intended to stigmatize medical personnel, but to propose reforms to the health system.
The Health Department says it is aware of the problems. In two years, 3,000 caregivers were recruited, but this is not enough to compensate for the flight of specialists to private health structures. “Beyond hiring, we must strengthen the training of health personnel in ethics and deontology, while supporting them in income. But we also have to focus on sanctions to fear misbehavior.”says Ousmane Dia, director of public establishments in Senegal.
A new demonstration is scheduled for April 23 in Dakar to demand justice for “Astou Sokhna and all the other victims” and claim “Quality health care adapted to the Senegalese”.