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Women Forced Into Sex to Pay Hospital Bills in Parts of Asia, Africa

Imagine being denied the chance to see your baby in the days following its birth. Imagine, rather than being able to hold your child, you instead find yourself chained to a urinal with up to 60 other women, simply because you can’t afford  to pay the costs of your hospital stay.

This is a reality for poor women, men, and children in many parts of the world where the detention of poor patients who are unable to afford the cost of medical services is shockingly widespread and normalized.

Take Action: Tell World Leaders Health Is a Human Right, Not a Privilege

According to a new research paper by the international think-tank Chatham House, there are potentially hundreds of thousands of patients being held against their will, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In many cases these patients are subjected to a litany of physical and psychological abuses in the process.

“These detentions and associated abuses contravene many international laws and represent a gross violation of human rights,” wrote the paper’s co-author Robert Yates in an accompanying article. “What is particularly shocking is that they take place in health facilities, which are supposed to protect and improve the welfare of vulnerable people.”

The short-term goal of these detentions is supposedly to incentivise family members of poor patients to raise enough money to pay for their bills. In the vast majority of these cases, patients are admitted to hospitals for costly, and unexpected emergency medial care.

For the poorest members of these communities, a trip to the hospital could mean subjecting oneself to a lengthy detention that could result in losing their job, being unable to care for other family members, or experiencing mistreatment and abuse.

Patients at one hospital in Kenya alleged that they were pressured into sex with hospital staff to pay off their bills in 2015. Others reported systematic human trafficking operations that exploited impoverished mothers, with hospital workers offering cash for newborn children. In many cases these detained patients are monitored by armed guards, and threatened with beatings if they attempt to escape.

Read More: The World’s Poorest Women Also Lack Reproductive Care, and It Could Be Driving Global Inequality

Global Citizen campaign on the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Achieving world-wide good health and wellbeing, and reducing inequalities are goals number three and 10, respectively. You can take action on this issue here.

One of the most devastating consequences of this practice is that it deters vulnerable populations from seeking medical treatment in the first place.

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The Chatham House paper cites a number of academic articles linking these abusive practices to mistrust of modern medicine, especially among women delivering children, and those considering antiretroviral treatment.

Read More: This Woman Has Helped Over 12,000 Children Affected by HIV and Sexual Abuse — Despite Getting Death Threats Every Day

In their conclusion, the authors of the paper suggest that enacting laws to ban this practice are a good first step to eliminating it. But that alone may not be enough.  

Taking action to eliminate the root causes of poverty and lack of healthcare in the world’s poorest countries is the key to to protecting the human rights of those most likely to be exploited, the authors concluded.