Monday, September 11, 2006

Holding patients hostage for their hospital bills

Human rights Watch has just issued a report of how some hospitals in Burundi try to ensure some of their revenue: by physically detaining patients who have not yet paid their hospital bills. Many of those detained are women who unexpectedly needed caesarean sections, and hence found themselves birthing beyond their financial means. Being poor, sick and seeking clinical care in Burundi apparently takes you on a slippery slope to the hospital pokey. Only the help of friends and relatives, selling anything from goats to land plots, can buy you your freedom back.

Human Rights Watch may be wrong to focus on Burundi, because I have heard of the same practice in the Congo, and chances are that patient detention is widespread among African hospitals themselves struggling to make ends meet. Hopefully, the practice will not spread to the United States -- overly fond of locking people up already -- and be recast as a novel form of 'cost-recovery.'


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