A Windhoek woman is suing Government for N$6 million after giving birth to a disabled child at the Katutura State Hospital on 12 December, 2015.
The baby has since died on 3 July 2017.
According to court papers filed in the Windhoek High Court, Laimi Iipinge is claiming that the birth defects suffered by her child were permanent and were caused by the negligence of the hospital and its staff.
The court documents submitted initially claimed recompense for expenses required for lifetime care of her disabled son, but had to be altered after the child’s recent death.
The status hearing between the Iipinge’s attorneys and Government attorneys was originally set for 4 September, but was postponed to Thursday (7 September) to give the grieving mother the time to mourn her lost child.
Iipinge is alleging that the Katutura State Hospital’s medical staff were careless and delayed performing a necessary Cesarean section (C-section), putting her unborn baby’s health at risk.
She informed the court, through her attorneys, that she arrived at the hospital at 07h30 in a critical condition, but only delivered her baby nearly 16 hours later just before 23h00.
Because of this delay in performing the needed C-section, the baby suffered brain damage due to a lack of oxygen in the womb and continued to suffer from severe disability until his recent death.
Narrating the events that led to the lawsuit, Iipinge’s lawyers said the mother, who was nine months pregnant at the time, arrived at the Katutura State Hospital as scheduled early on the morning of 12 December, 2015, but was only admitted to the maternity ward at 15h30, despite having a prior booking.
“From the admission onwards, Ministry of Health and Social Services’ employees individually and collectively, assumed control and responsibility over the well-being of Iipinge and her unborn child and thus owed them a duty and standard of care expected of healthcare professionals working with pregnant individuals and the delivery of their babies.
“Shortly after admission, Iipinge was examined and her unborn baby’s condition was also checked via a monitor. These examinations revealed, amongst other things, that the baby was getting enough oxygen,” the lawyers argued in court.
However, during the early stages of her labour, doctors established that she was having a problem defined as “very slow labour”, thus she was given a drip to improve her contractions.
Thereafter, there was “little attention paid to her” or her unborn baby, despite the identified problem of slow labour.
“At 20h00, Iipinge went into active labour. She was experiencing extreme pain and also felt very tired. Although plaintiff screamed and shouted for assistance with the delivery of her baby, none of the medical staff on duty came to attend to her.
“After the passage of close to two hours during which Iipinge remained unattended, a male doctor who was passing by the room heard her cries and rushed to assist Iipinge. He performed an episiotomy and delivered the baby,” the court document further read.
Although Iipinge gave birth to a son, it was clear shortly after that the child was not well as he was “neither moving nor crying”. After the baby was taken away from her mother and placed in the incubator, he was being fed through a ‘drip’.
Iipinge’s request to see her child was constantly denied by nursing staff at the hospital and she was only allowed to see her baby the following day after she insisted on a meeting with the head of the hospital.
“On enquiring after his health, Iipinge was informed that the baby had consumed dirty things while in the womb and was tired. Iipinge was also informed that she ought to have been given a caesarian section, but this had not been done.
“Over the next two days, Iipinge and her boyfriend continued to visit the baby, but saw no significant improvement in his health. They then requested a meeting with the head of the hospital to enquire about the baby’s health and this was granted on 17 December when they met with Dr Shonag Mackenzie, Dr Albertina Amupala and Matron Veripunia Katjatenja,”court papers say.
Because of gross medical negligence, Iipinge is claiming N$6 million from the State for the extreme emotional duress caused by unnecessarily losing her child, ‘stress, pain and suffering, medical costs, care and maintenance’ during her baby’s lifespan.
Iipinge is being represented by Happie Ntelamo-Matswetu from Ntelamo Matswetu & Associates legal practitioners.
Dr Mackenzie, who is the Head of Department for Obstetrics and Gynecology at Katutura and Windhoek Central hospitals, admitted that there were various failures and breaches in the standard care extended to Iipinge and her unborn baby.
In his report seen by the Windhoek Observer, Dr Makenzie found that, “The labour was very slow and this should have made the midwives and doctors aware that there was a problem. However, no one alerted the specialist on-call to assist and the plaintiff and her baby were not being monitored from 20h00.
“If the baby had been born earlier, there would be every expectation that he would be a healthy baby boy, that what happened is not the fault of Iipinge, but the medical staff who should have delivered him earlier by Caesarian section.”
Iipinge’s lawyers are arguing that the disability and subsequent death of the child could have been prevented if necessary steps were taken in time by any prudent maternity healthcare worker on duty at the Katutura State Hospital on 12 December, 2015.
According to UNICEF Namibia, the country’s maternal mortality rate has almost doubled since 2000 and is now 200 deaths per 100,000 live births accounting for 52 percent of under 5 mortality. Neonatal mortality is also high (19 deaths per 1000 live births).