04/18/14 (written by dsánchez) — The government of Oaxaca has publicly acknowledged its failure to provide necessary medical attention to a pregnant indigenous woman in labor, and for jeopardizing her right to health, life, physical integrity, and personal security. The apology was issued in response to a recommendation published by Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) in January 2014.
The case involved Irma López Aurelio (29), an indigenous mazateca woman who was forced to give birth to her premature child on the front steps of a health clinic in Jalapa de Díaz, Oaxaca on October 2, 2013. López was denied health care and admittance to the clinic because she was only eight months pregnant; she went into labor quickly thereafter and successfully gave birth to her son on the clinic’s front patio. As detailed in CNDH’s subsequent Recommendation 1/2014, Oaxaca’s state government, which is responsible for the Ministry of Health (Secretaría de Salud), was at fault for the inadequate medical attention provided. CNDH recommended the government provide reparations to López, as well as design and implement training courses for clinics, hospitals, and medical centers to improve their practices, particularly when regarding vulnerable populations like women, children, and the indigenous. The Jalapa de Díaz clinic has since been shut down.
Oaxaca’s Secretary of Health Germán Tenorio Vasconcelos announced on March 29 the state government’s full responsibility for the negligence in providing proper healthcare and infringing upon López’s reproductive rights at the Jalapa de Díaz clinic. According to El Universal, the announcement was published on the government’s website (www.oaxaca.gob.mx), reading, “As a result of the aforementioned responsibility, the Oaxaca government apologizes to Irma López Aurelio and her son for the inadequate medical attention … [with the hope of] contributing to the reparation of the social and community network…”
Despite the government’s applauded ownership of its mistakes, Recommendation 1/2014 was published just over a month before CNDH announced in early March that it was launching two additional investigations into incidences in Oaxaca very similar to López’s. In the first case, the patient died from medical complications due to a C-section after the surgical scissors were left inside her; and in the other, an indigenous woman gave birth in the restroom of a community hospital. According to Proceso, as of early March, six people in the previous six months had to give birth on the street, in restrooms or on health clinic grounds without being admitted “because of the negligence of the Health Services in Oaxaca.” That number increased when another woman delivered her child in an unstaffed emergency room on March 19 at the Ejutla de Crespo Clinic in Valle Central, Oaxaca. The clinic was unattended due to anonymous threats the medical staff had received earlier in the week.
Many civil society organizations seek the resignation of Secretary of Health Tenorio. According to Proceso, Tenorio responded in late January saying he would do no such thing. “The Secretary of Health is not dedicated to childbirth—the secretary of health deals with the press, infectious diseases, water sanitation, regulating spending on nutrition, not to mention epidemics and proper hospital management.”
Nevertheless, various civil society organizations—including Irma López’s legal counsel, Grúpo Información en Reproducción Elegida, (GIRE)—continue to demand improvements in Oaxaca’s medical facilities. GIRE has also criticized CNDH’s recommendation related to their client, arguing that it failed to compensate López for her medical care; and that its suggestions to addressing the problem are inefficient, leaving the responsible authorities with too much subjectivity and discretion in how they will improve their practices. CNDH recently announced, however, that it will soon publish a General Recommendation to all state health services and to the federal government regarding the complaints it has received of medical negligence and human rights abuses, particularly against women, children, and vulnerable populations in their care.