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Maternity hospital locks up new mums over unpaid bills

A maternity hospital has defended its policy of detaining new mothers who can't pay their bills.

One woman says she was detained for nine months and was released only after going on a hunger strike, while others claim they were beaten with sticks by guards.

But Lazarus Omondi, the director of the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, has insisted it's the only way he can keep his medical centre running.

"We hold you and squeeze you until we get what we can get. We must be self-sufficient," Mr Omondi said.

"The hospital must get money to pay electricity, to pay water. We must pay our doctors and our workers."

"They stay there until they pay. They must pay," said Mr Omondi, whose hospital delivers an average of 350 babies each week.

A New York-based group, the Centre for Reproductive Rights, has now filed a lawsuit in the High Court of Kenya aimed at stopping the practice of detaining mothers.

One woman named in the lawsuit said she couldn't pay the $60 (€45) bill after giving birth, and was held with what she believes were about 60 other women and their infants.

"We were sleeping three to a bed, sometimes four," said mother-of-four Maimouna Awuor.

She said some of the women tried to flee but they were beaten by the guards and turned back.

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While her husband worked at a faraway refugee camp, Ms Awuor's nine-year-old daughter took care of her siblings.

She says she was released after 20 days when Nairobi's mayor paid her bill.

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