16-Year-Old Boy Held in Hospital Over Unpaid Bills

A 16-year-old boy in Kisoro district is detained at St. Francis Hospital Mutolere over failure to clear 6.25 million Shillings in medical bills.

Jonas Mfitumukiza, a primary six pupil at Gakenke Primary School and a resident of Mburabuturo village in Nyakabande sub-county was admitted to the hospital on February 15, 2023, after suffering from chronic osteomyelitis with a pathological fracture.

Chronic osteomyelitis is a progressive inflammatory process caused by pathogens, resulting in bone destruction and sequestrum formation. The infection is caused by bacteria or fungi. It causes painful swelling of bone marrow, the soft tissue inside the bones. Without treatment, swelling from this bone infection can cut off the blood supply to the bone, causing the bone to die.

Geoffrey Ndagijimana, the father says that Mfitumukiza underwent surgery and is now recovering. Ndagijimana however says that at the time of discharging him, he was charged 6.2 million Shillings.

When Ndagijimana failed to raise the bill, the victim was detained and ordered not to leave the hospital premises until the money was paid to zero balance. Ndagijimana says that his pleas to the hospital to give him time to look for money have hit a dead rock.

Aloysius Nsengiyumva, the in-charge of St. Francis Hospital Mutolere admits holding Mfitumukiza since his parents failed to clear the bills. He adds that the hospital incurred a lot of costs to treat the patient and the hospital cannot accept to lose that money.

In February, the High Court in Kampala ruled that the practice of private hospitals detaining patients who fail to pay their medical bills is illegal.

The ruling stemmed from a case that was filed by the Center for Health, Human Rights, and Development- CEHURD and Mugerwa Raymond suing through his father Sentongo Robert.

Mugerwa was detained by Jaro Hospital in Kyaliwajjala after he failed to pay the bill arising out of a surgery that had been performed on him following an accident.

Justice Douglas Singiza ruled that hospitals are not legal detention centres and therefore cannot purport to retain anybody regardless of the circumstances.

Singiza added that if the court were to allow the practice of hospitals detaining patients who fail to pay their medical bills to go on unchecked, many hospitals could choose to incarcerate their clients in the basements of their premises until medical bills are cleared and that this would easily pass on as a green light for hospitals to establish private prison cells as a debt recovery method, a phenomenon that he said is antithetical to the rule of law.

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