Monrovia - In a room with fewer beds and no bedding and uncovered windows are women who have checked in for delivery in the maternal ward at the John F. Kennedy Center, the premiere medical facility in Liberia.
In the two other rooms situated near the far-left corner wing of the hospital are new mothers, some of them are teenagers who are trapped in the facility because they simply cannot fulfill their financial obligations to the hospital.
Some of the women have just had their babies while others were not so successful and lost theirs during child birth or, according to some, mere gynecological issues.
Some dressed in lappas, tied around their waist and others donning blouses or clothes they wore when they checked in several weeks ago.
Misery, some say have come knocking.
Siah Tamba (not her real name) is the youngest of the seven women.
She slowly counts nineteen thousand Liberian Dollars (LD$19,000) and shows to a reporter which she says is her full bill to the hospital.
Until that moment, she had not laid eyes on her child and she did not even know whether she had given birth to a boy or a girl – the hospital kept the newborn from her because she had not paid her bills.
Since her delivery, she has been stuck in the maternal facility.
“I came here when the clinic I was attending told me that the child crossed and I was bleeding so the ambulance brought me from Kakata to E.L.W.A and they said no bed so they brought me here (JFK) to deliver,” the newly-wed says.
“Since I gave birth, I’m still here; no family member has come to pay my bills for me to be discharged.”
Another mother, Mathaline Kaine (real name with held) who had given birth to a baby girl laments her frustration as she tells the reporter that her family had paid LD$20,000 of the LD$22,000 she owes the hospital, but that simply was not enough for the hospital to allow her to leave - with her baby.
“I came here when I was eight-months pregnant; I had complication so the clinic I was attending referred me here.
Since I gave birth, I’m still here; I’m not eating like a baby-ma should eat and the way my child supposed to breastfeed. "
"My baby sucks my breads a lot. So, you see there is no free water here to drink. I have to buy water to strengthen to breastfeed the baby.”
Luke, the baby’s father bows his head in frustration as he expresses his displeasure on the action by the hospital to confine his spouse for a month and a half.
He narrates that his fiancée was taken to the hospital when she was eight-months on multiple complications during pregnancy.
The mother recalls: “Since I came here three weeks they say I can’t go because I have not paid their money."
"The balance is seven thousand out of twenty-two thousand; I came here the last week in February, the bill went high because I had C-section.”
The mother adds: “You see us in this room; they pushed us here because this is where those who cannot pay are sent. Look around in the room, all our friends have returned home but we are still here and hoping that someone comes to our aid.”
The mother says since delivery, her baby girl has not been given a name because she and her partner are still in a state of confusion over their unpaid bills.
She narrates that since her delivery her family have abandon her, especially when the bill arrived.
At first, some neighbors helped but I’m still here and don’t know when I will go home.
At the hospital, patients and mothers in the maternal wards are not allowed to bring in food from outside.
But the food being provided by the hospital they say are simply not enough and lack nourishment for mothers just out of delivery.
“They say food can’t enter but the hospital food is not encouraging for us, mostly for us who have recovered and are breastfeeding,” she said.
Another mother just out of delivery identified herself as Priceless, 32.
She says she had gone years without a baby but after delivering her first child, she’s still at the hospital as none of her bills have been paid.
Priceless, who took transportation car all the way from Bong County, was referred to the John F. Kennedy following a medical diagnosis of her being pregnant in the tube.
Her surgery was successful but she doesn’t have a dime to underwrite her spending at the maternity center.
Priceless, who says she sells charcoal and does farming for a living, laments that her daughter might spent more days at the hospital because she has no money to pay her bills which has now reached 19,000 Liberian dollars after a month’s stay in the hospital.
“I have no idea when I will return to Bong County,” she says.
Amara Quardu Kamara, Public Relations officer at the medical facility says the hospital has released several persons on gratis and even treats several on gratis for mental disorder, pediatric, Infectious Disease Clinic, abandonment and indigents although he fell short of listing the services that are not free.
Kamara explains that the hospital rooms are meant for people and there is no timeframe attach to their stay.
“We are not an orphanage home, but a health service provider, so, we provide series of free services, so whenever they pay they leave for their homes.”
Liberia is among several low-income countries around the world, cited by the World Health Organization, that have experienced armed conflict and enduring long-term effects on population health.
“The collapse of health systems, which suffer from flight of health workers, looting and physical destruction of facilities, exacerbates this indirect mortality.
Although humanitarian organizations can alleviate suffering in the short run, repairing the health system is a more daunting task.”
The ruling Unity Party-led government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, elected in 2005 in the country’s first post-war democratic election, continues to face dire health situation exposed fully in the wake of the 2014 deadly Ebola virus outbreak.
The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in response to the post-war health challenges, and with assistance from donors and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have embarked on rebuilding the health system but many challenges of low-income families and inflation amid massive economic decline are driving more and more families into poverty.
For new mothers, the lingering problems of unpaid bills is the latest in a long line of added issues keeping that is a reflection of what many single-mothers are going through in a post-war nation on the mends, in a recurring state of economic decline and lack of basic health services.