Durban – Medical experts blame a poorly functioning health system as the leading cause for the increasing number of abandoned newborn babies in KZN.
A baby was rescued this week after being dumped in a medical waste bin at King Edward VIII Hospital. It was confirmed on Thursday that the baby had died.
The case follows that of another newborn who was rescued alive from inside a stormwater drain in Newlands East a week ago.
Several experts in the medical field said they were concerned that not enough was being done to help mothers in need.
“These incidents indicate the development and health status of our country, including the effectiveness of child protection and health services,” said Glynnis Dauth, founder of non-profit baby homes Isaiah 54 and Open Arms SA.
“We receive more than 50 calls a day from mothers who are considering giving away their newborn babies and this number is increasing every day,” she said.
Dauth said abandoning a baby was a sign of a mother in desperate need of assistance.
“It is sad that a woman’s last resort is to commit a crime by abandoning or killing their own baby. It is easy for people to shame and judge without knowing the reasons,” she said.
In Durban North, the Fairhaven Baby Home confirmed it had also seen a rising number of mothers who needed help with their babies. It is one of a few homes which offer a “baby box” safe, where an unwanted baby can be anonymously left.
“We are only allowed to look after six babies at a time in the home. In an emergency case, where a baby has been dropped in our baby box, we keep the baby overnight, but the next day, we have to take the baby to the Department of Social Welfare. The department then allocates the baby to another home that has space,” said Precious Thabethe, a crisis mother at the home.
Experts said non-profit baby homes were not coping with the number of babies who needed their help and suggested that public hospitals introduce “drop-off” facilities where a baby could be left. This, they said, would avoid situations where a baby could be dumped.
The health department would not be drawn conclusively on the matter and said it would need resources.
Meanwhile, many people have questioned why a mother would abandon her child.
Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said: “As the department, we look forward to being educated on the reasons from the mothers who have just been arrested, the one who dumped the baby in the stormwater drain and the one who dumped the baby in a medical waste bin at King Edward VIII Hospital. The psycho-social reasons they will give will educate us as a society and department on what more we could have done to prevent these incidents from happening.”
Professor Nirmala Gopal, from the department of criminology and forensic studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said there could be a myriad reasons for women to do this, but the more common ones were that the babies were born as a result of rape.
“It could be economic inability, or it could be post-partum depression that makes mothers engage in completely irrational behaviour. This syndrome is called post-partum psychosis, which is a mood episode with psychotic features such as paranoid thoughts, auditory hallucinations, or disorganised thinking,” said Gopal.
She said there were no statistics on the syndrome in South Africa, but one American study concluded that it occurred in one to two mothers per 1000 who give birth. This is according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
“Each case has to be investigated fully to uncover the underlying psychological reason for the act. What is best for these women depends on each individual’s behaviour, personality and circumstances. These cases are a little more complex because ideally, the mother should undergo psychiatric evaluation and psychological counselling to determine the actual intent or reason for her actions,” said Gopal.
“Childhood trauma in her own life could lead to this kind of behaviour. She herself could have been abandoned either physically or psychologically as a child. Our society is still not empowered on how to deal with stressful situations, nor are we empowered on how to support those who are undergoing stress.”