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Abandoned baby buried as locals decry stigma against children born with disabilities

NYANZA
By Harold Odhiambo | June 11th 2018
Well-wishers offer prayers during the burial ceremony of baby Stephen Baraka. [Standard]

He was abandoned in life and death. Reason? Baby Stephen Baraka was born with deformities.

Baraka was born in 2016 with a deformed face and a cleft palate.

On May 12, 2016, people believed to be the baby’s parents admitted him to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH) before vanishing. They never returned to check on the child, nor did they ever pay him a visit.

Baby Baraka was to undergo corrective surgery on his face. But JOOTRH could not carry out the surgery because it was a complicated and delicate one.

The hospital recommended that he be transferred to a better equipped hospital for the operation, but there was no one to sign the necessary documents.

Doctors at the hospital believe the baby’s parents abandoned him because of his deformities.

2017 doctors’ strike

Baraka was the face of the protracted doctors and nurses’ strike in 2017, when medics kept off work for more than three months to press for increased pay.

For the period the boycott lasted, Baraka was not attended to, just as was the case with many other patients. He, however, suffered more as he had to remain at JOOTRH for lack of an alternative, while other patients found their way to private facilities.

The child remained in the care of hospital staff and well-wishers after it emerged that the couple that brought him to hospital may have used fake identities.

A group of well-wishers that came to know about Baraka’s plight kept visiting him.

Hospital records show that the infant was admitted to Ward One and was scheduled for corrective surgery. “A man and a woman using fake identities got him admitted before sneaking away the same day,” a source at the hospital said.

Three months ago Baraka died. Still, no one claimed his body. The hospital’s management set out to look for his parents, but the search was fruitless.

When two weeks ago the hospital announced a mass burial for unclaimed bodies, 24 volunteers requested to be allowed to bury Baraka’s body.

The hospital granted their wish and on Saturday they buried him at the Mamboleo cemetery.

One of the volunteers, Duncan Mustapha, condemned the infant’s parents for abandoning him. “This demonstrated how people born with disabilities have been stigmatised,” Mustapha told The Standard.

Since 2016 when Baraka was abandoned at the hospital, Mustapha and some other well-wishers had been visiting him.

End stigma

“We were hoping he would get treatment and live normally, like other children. It is unfortunate that his parents abandoned him,” he said.

“We felt he should get a good send-off. He did not deserve the treatment he got. This is also to send out a message that we should stop stigmatising those with deformities,” said Mustapha.

Finally, Baraka was accorded last respect, complete with prayers, speeches, reading of the eulogy, singing and a short sermon before the body was lowered into the grave in a decent coffin.

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