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Midwives in Senegal birth scandal get suspended terms

By Malick Rokhy BA
The case sparked widespread anger in Senegal, including a sit-in protest in Dakar on April 23. ©AFP

Louga (Senegal) (AFP) - A Senegalese court on Wednesday handed six-month suspended terms to three midwives in the high-profile case of a mother-to-be who died in agony after pleading for hours to be given a caesarean.

The three were found guilty of the charge of failing to assist someone in danger, while three of their colleagues were acquitted, AFP journalists said.

The case involved Astou Sokhna, a woman aged in her thirties who was in her ninth month of pregnancy.

According to local media, she was admitted in pain to a public hospital in the northern town of Louga, begging to be given a caesarean section.

The staff refused, arguing that the operation had not been scheduled and even threatening to remove her from the hospital if she continued with her demand, the reports said.

She died in agony on the night of April 1 after suffering for around 20 hours, according to these reports.

Her death ignited a storm of indignation in the West African state, where many people took to social media to denounce failures in the healthcare system.

The affair quickly gained political traction, with President Macky Sall sending a message of condolence to Sokhna's family and ordering an investigation into what happened.

On April 14, Health Minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr acknowledged that her death could have been avoided.The director of the hospital has since been fired and replaced.

Prosecutors at the trial, which began on April 27, had requested a term of one month in jail and 11 months suspended for four of the accused, and recommended the release of the other two.

The three convicted midwives were on night duty while the three others who were released were on day shift.

Abou Abdou Daff, a lawyer for one of the three convicted midwives, said the reasons for his client's sentence had not been given, and an appeal was being considered.

"The accused have denied and continue to deny" the allegations, Daff said."A medical team has the duty to respond with what is available, not to provide the outcome."

'Victory'

Sokhna's husband, Modou Mboup, was present in court for the verdict.

He made no comment on the ruling, but said "we did what needed to be done" by bringing the case to public light.

"We highlighted something that all Senegalese deplore about their hospitals," he told AFP, referred to perceptions of negligence.

"It's a victory.If we stand idly by, there could be other Astou Sokhnas.We have to stand up so that something like this doesn't happen again."

Mboup said his wife had been vigilant throughout her pregnancy, going to appointments for ultrasound and other analyses.

On the night of the tragedy, "I took her to the hospital at 9.30 am," he said."Until her death at 5am (the following day), the only thing that she was given, from what I saw, was a drip...if they (the midwives) had done what they should have, maybe it would have turned out differently."

A lawyer for the civilian plaintiffs, Ameth Moussa Sall, said the outcome of the case was not a "disappointment."

"What we wanted, and this was upheld by the court, was a declaration of guilt," he said.

Sall said that he had already filed a new suit against the six midwives, a gynaecologist at the Louga hospital, the hospital's management and the state of Senegal for "homicide, forgery and use of forgery."

"We have asked the state to be declared as having civil responsibility" for Sokhna's death, he said.

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