Is it the desire to have a particular sex or just a baby that has made some people so desperate that they connive with health personnel to steal or swap newborns? Chris Kiwawulo highlights the cases of baby theft over the years
As the country is still grappling with kidnap and trafficking of children to foreign countries, child theft involving health personnel appears to be rising.
In all the baby thefts reported, health personnel are accused of swapping female babies with male ones (in cases where a mother has only one sex) or at worst, swapping live babies with dead ones.
According to records, on average, between 70 and 90 babies are born at Mulago every day. However, some mothers have ended up going back home empty-handed.
The Police on August 19 interrogated Dr. Asinja Kapuru over his role in the alteration of medical documents leading to the swapping of a live male baby with a dead female one in 2006.
For six hours, Kapuru appeared before detectives of the Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Directorate (CIID) to explain his role in switching the babies.
On July 12, 2006, the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioner’s Council (UMDPC) heard that Kapuru was involved in switching Farouk Bukenya and Sauda Nabakiibi’s live male baby with a dead female one at Mulago Hospital.
Last week, UMDPC suspended Kapuru from practising medicine for two years in Uganda and the rest of the world over the case. According to the council, Kapuru reported that he delivered Nabakiibi of a baby boy by caesarean section, but it was in poor condition because of severe asphyxia (breathing complications at birth).
During the council’s investigations, Kapuru further stated that he filled in two reports, the first one indicating that the baby was male and the second one indicating that the baby was female.
Kapuru also explained to the council that he was convinced to change the record by a senior nursing officer, who insisted that the baby was a girl, arguing that all other records indicated that it was a girl, except his, which stated the baby was a boy.
Kapuru stated that he believed the nurse that he could not have been keen in recognising that the baby was a girl and rewrote the theatre notes.
On May 29, 2010, New Vision published a story in which Rehema Nakuya, 25, stated that she delivered twins in the wee hours of June 2, 2009 at Mulago Hospital.
In that story she claimed that when she woke up from a caesarean operation, she was presented with only one baby. Nakuya reported to Wandegeya Police with a scan, which showed she was expecting twins.
Unhappy with the way the case was being handled at Wandegeya, Nakuya appealed to Kampala Metropolitan Police at Central Police Station, who called her file from Wandegeya and took over the investigations.
Nakuya, a resident of Kalerwe, a Kampala suburb, explained that in October 2008, when she was eight months pregnant, she had a scan done, which showed she had twins.
As the pregnancy progressed, she continued visiting both Mulago Hospital and Mengo Doctor’s Clinic in Katwe, a Kampala suburb. The owner of the clinic, Hamisi Kabanda, said she first saw Nakuya when she was about four months pregnant and after checking her, she suspected she was expecting twins.
Kabanda recommended a scan, but Nakuya reportedly had no money, and she went for a scan at around the eighth month. When the scan showed two babies, Kabanda advised Nakuya to deliver at Mulago.
The hospital, however, insisted that the twin story was a creation of people who wanted to tarnish its image.
The then hospital executive director, Dr. Edward Ddumba, said Nakuya used a dubious ultrasound scan, where the image of the foetus was frozen twice to give the false impression that there were two babies in the womb.
On December 3, 2012, Goretti Kajumba, 33, reportedly gave birth to a baby by caesarean section at a hospital in Kampala. When she gained consciousness, she walked to the newborns’ special care unit and asked to see her baby.
The unit attendant reportedly stopped her from entering the room and asked her what she wanted. On saying she wanted to see her baby, the attendant asked Kajumba to present documents as evidence that she had given birth.
“As I walked away, she (attendant) called me back and asked what my name was. After I answered her, she told me my baby had died. When I asked for the body, she told me it was not in the special care unit,” Kajumba told New Vision recently.
Kajumba went home after four days, but when her relatives read her documents, they discovered her baby had not died. On getting back to the hospital, she was told her baby had been buried.
Her relatives later contacted the Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura, who directed the commander of Kampala Metropolitan Police, Felix Kaweesi, to take up the matter.
Nasta Namugga, 18, of Nsagu in Mpigi district claims she gave birth to twins on February 23, 2009, but was handed only one baby. Namugga said the health personnel where she attended antenatal care, informed her that she was carrying twins.
Namugga said she was referred to a bigger hospital for a caesarean operation because she had failed to deliver after a day of labour pains. Health personnel at the hospital maintained that she gave birth to one baby.
On July 18, 2013, Jennifer Musimenta and her husband, Michael Mubangizi, dragged the office of the executive director of Mulago Hospital (Dr. Baterana Byarugaba) and the Attorney General, Peter Nyombi, to the High Court over the loss of one of their twin babies delivered on March 14, 2012 at Mulago.
The couple alleges that the hospital staff told them that one of their babies died at delivery, but the hospital could not locate its body. Three days later, they were given a body, but the couple protested forcing the Police to order for a DNA test.
The results were negative for both parents.
Who are the likely buyers?
Couples with fertility problems. Some health complications prevent a woman from carrying a pregnancy to full term.
Couples without boys. This is brought about by the traditional belief that boys are superior to girls.
What the Police say
Police deputy spokesperson Patrick Onyango said they did not specifically have compiled cases of baby thefts at Mulago, but he referred New Vision to the Police annual crime report 2012 for data on child thefts.
According to the report, out of 3,984 child-related cases investigated in 2012 where children/juveniles were the direct targets/victims of crime, 307 cases were for child stealing.
This shows a rise in child stealing cases compared to the previous year (2011), where out of the 3,329 child-related cases investigated, 261 cases were for child stealing.
More boys are stolen than girls. This is because traditionally, men prefer boys to girls as heirs and some even go as far as looking for boys (heirs) outside the marriage if a woman is only giving birth to girls.
How babies are stolen
Usually, the midwife will recommend a caesarean operation even when a mother can deliver normally. This will give them a chance to swap the baby as the mother recovers from anaesthesia.
In other cases, medics always behave strangely and will restrict the caretaker from entering some rooms where they take the babies.
Since some mothers are ignorant about babies, a medic can easily take the baby to a nursery as a premature yet it is not. This will help them swap the baby with a different sex or at worst a dead one. Some medics reportedly alter documents.
Tips to keep your baby safe
Mothers should always have a trusted attendant to follow the baby after birth, especially in caesarean cases.
Always insist on knowing the sex of the baby immediately after birth to avoid swaps.
Look out for midwives who behave in a strange way during delivery as they might be up to something sinister.
Always ask for documents bearing details of the mother and baby.
Do not entrust your baby with strangers.
Beware of relatives who all of a sudden become friendly.
For premature babies or babies born with complications, insist on labelling the baby before it is taken to the nursery or special care room.
Avoid being lax with your baby.
Whereas some desperate people are said to be directly approaching medics (especially midwives and doctors who carry out caesarean operations) for babies, others pay hefty sums of money to fertility centres to help them find surrogate mothers who can carry their babies.
“But when a surrogate mother is not found, some of these officials resort to conniving with medics to steal babies,” a source privy to investigations into baby thefts at Mulago revealed.
A source at Mulago revealed that some senior nurses and midwives (names withheld) have been implicated in baby thefts by mothers and arrested suspects, but they always deny and somehow manage to get away with it.
A surrogate mother is a woman who agrees, usually by contract and for a fee, to carry a baby for a couple who are childless because the wife is infertile or physically incapable of carrying a pregnancy. Usually, she has no gene attachment as a fertilised egg is put in her womb.
In 2008, the cost of the procedure for surrogacy was around sh13m, which includes sh5m for gynaecological services, sh3m for antenatal care with other medicines and sh5m for counselling and psychological support to the surrogate mother.
This is because the surrogate mother develops an emotional attachment during pregnancy and needs a lot of counselling to enable her readily give away the baby after birth. “Some mothers even want to change their mind after giving birth,” revealed a source at a clinic.
However, sources revealed that the fee has of recent more than doubled with some desperate couples paying as much as sh30m and more for a child.
In 2005, a 29-year-old mother (name withheld) was paid sh4.5m to carry a pregnancy for another woman. She delivered healthy twins and immediately handed them over to the woman, who had hired her to carry the babies. She was not allowed to see the babies even for a minute. This woman became the first surrogate mother in Uganda.
Six years down the road in December 2012, over 50 Ugandan women had rented out their wombs, Dr. Tamale Ssali, the director of Women’s International Hospital in Kampala told Sunday Vision in a December 27, 2012 dated story.
Meanwhile, New Vision has learnt that some baby thefts are carried out by women, who pose as Good Samaritans.
These usually target mothers who have no caretakers, a source at Mulago revealed.
“When these ‘Good Samaritans’ get the opportunity to hold the baby, they will vanish with it,” the source said, citing a case last year where a mother lost a baby to a veiled woman, who asked her to enter a bathroom to clean her legs, which had blood stains.
In another case, a woman from Itojo, Ntungamo district, was last August arrested hiding in the Ebola Isolation unit at Mulago after she had reportedly stolen a baby belonging to a woman called Safina Birabwa.
The suspect, according to Police sources at Mulago, first chatted with Birabwa and when she (Birabwa) fell asleep in the immunisation room, took off with the baby.
Mulago Hospital institutes measures to address baby theft
Mulago Hospital publicist Enock Kusasira said the hospital administration has put up a number of measures to address disappearances and/or thefts of children.
“We changed a recording system where babies were entered as male and female to boy and girl. It was easy for someone to alter words by affixing ‘fe’ in front of male or using white wash to remove ‘fe’ from the word female so as to remain with the word male,” he explained.
Kusasira said the hospital also put in place a theatre record for every born baby, which traces the baby from the time of delivery to the time of discharge.
“It captures the name of the midwife who facilitates the delivery, the nurse who receives the baby, the doctor who treats the baby in case of a post-delivery complication and the nurse who discharges.
It is currently difficult for anybody to tamper with this process because there is covert but close monitoring. That is why in the last one year, there have not been cases of this nature.”
Early this year, Kusasira added, a digital display board was installed in the labour suite. This tool displays the names of the doctors, interns, nurses and mid-wives on duty. It also displays the number of deliveries in a day, nature of delivery, names of the mothers, the sex, condition and weight of the babies.
All this information is captured as soon as the baby is born in the theatre, he said, adding that this means that the attendants can easily follow the status of both the mother and child because the electronic board is in an open area accessible to the public.
Once babies are taken to the special care unit, he said, they are labelled immediately and the label is tied on the arm of the baby, bearing the sex of the child, mother’s name, in-patient’s number and birth weight.
“This makes it hard for anyone to think of swapping these babies. At discharge, a mother is required to present a note that is given on admission to a security officer.”
Kusasira admitted that although they have made strides in controlling attendants, there were still many challenges. “Our major challenge is that one patient comes with five attendants, and some of the attendants have ulterior motives, which could include child trafficking,” he noted.
On Dr. Asinja Kapuru’s case of alteration of medical documents leading to the swapping of a live male baby with a dead female one in 2006, Kusasira said the case happened in 2006 when Kapuru was a post-graduate student attached to the department of obstetrics and gynaecology.
“Mulago is a teaching hospital and as such, it takes on students from the college of health sciences. Post-graduate students are also known as senior housing officers. Kapuru, therefore, has never been an employee of Mulago Hospital.”
Kusasira said the people who would have answered questions relating to the case were not at Mulago as some have changed workplaces, while others have since retired.