Published July 7, 2017
At the mention of the word ‘medic’ or ‘doctor’, beads of cold sweat form on Naliaka’s brow. She says she has had a difficult relationship with medics right from her adolescence.
But why would that be the case?
She says a doctor tried to sexually assault her in the sanatorium of the secondary school she attended in the 1980s.
“At the beginning of each term we used to be examined by a doctor to confirm none of us was pregnant. An earlier bloomer, I was disadvantaged by my big body,” she says. “The doctor, after extending his hands beyond what he was checking, said I was pregnant and demanded I visit the sanatorium again the following evening for more checkups.”
She says she refused and the doctor threatened to have her expelled for being ‘pregnant’. Subdued, she visited the doctor who attempted to rape her.
Naliaka says she reported the matter to her headmistress who not only refused to believe her but also accused her of besmirching the doctor and the school.
From that time Naliaka says she vowed never report anything related to her sexuality to anyone.
A year ago, a doctor took advantage of her desperation for a baby and sexually exploited her.
“Having had miscarriages in a row, I was advised by relatives and friends to visit this gynecologist whom they described as the best in the country,” she says, “He promised to help me on condition that I reciprocated his gesture. Even though I am a born again Christian and a leader in my church, I was desperate for a child. I succumbed and the doctor did it right there in his consultation room. I fear I may be infected with AIDS as he did not use a condom.”
Naliaka says she has had four HIV tests and that all of them have so far been negative.
“Although I now have a healthy son, I am traumatised for failing my God,” she says.
Naliaka, who says she has little faith in medical doctors, claims that a married neighbour of hers got a similar treatment to hers. She says she and her neighbour have never reported the predicament for fear of victimisation.
“Which man would want to hear that a stranger has slept with his wife?” poses Naliaka. “Although he is saved, my husband would accuse me of cheating on him and would probably kill me. I dare not open my mouth especially when the secondary school experience is still fresh on my mind.”
Naliaka says that doctors usually exploit married women as they take them to be safe, i.e. HIV-free.
“They also know that we can’t report them as no one will believe us. Instead of sympathy, we would be ridiculed by society,” she says. “I know several women who have been sexually abused by doctors but who prefer to keep mum.”
According to psychiatrist Frank Njenga of Nairobi, women have a problem in the way in which they respond to men in authority.
Dr Njenga’s view appears to agree with that of Carol Botwin, a renowned authority on sexuality and relationships who contends that women are always submissive to men in authority.
Writing in Men Who Can’t Be Faithful, she say women feel special when approached by a man in authority–be they bosses, medical doctors or clergymen.
Aware of this submission of women to men in authority, A Nairobi counseling psychologist say male doctors opt to misuse their female patients.
Until recent Kenyans dared not antagonise doctors on whose mercy and goodwill their survival depends. However the increasing number of cases of impropriety among these hitherto revered professional is eroding public trust.
According to the Hippocratic Oath—taken upon admission in the medical fraternity—doctors are not allowed to get emotionally involved with their patients.
Elizabeth, 23, says a doctor assaulted her in his clinic.
“I had gone to the clinic for a minor operation when he started caressing me. At first I thought I was imagining things but he winked when I looked at him. When I told him off he became furious and stitched my hand without any local anesthesia,” she says. “He probably did this to punish me for turning him down.”
While in university, a doctor tried to have an affair with Gladys, a married woman.
“He kept pushing me onto an affair whenever I went to the college clinic and even threatened me never to treat me if I continued to refuse him.
“Exasperated,” says Gladys, “I gave him a date but never turned up. After this I kept away from the clinic the four years I studied at the university.”
Like Naliaka, Gladys laments that women usually do not report offending doctors fearing they may be accused of having invited the assault.
“I know women who have slept with doctors in their clinics. Had I stopped visiting the university clinic, I too, would probably have succumbed.”
Many of the doctors interviewed for this article said it is women who seduce them.
“Some women, in sympathetic tones, wonder whether we ever have any time to socialise, “says a doctor in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. “When you say no they invite you for an outing and before you know it you find yourself in a steamy relatio0nship you never planned.”
While saying that “Doctors are seduced by patients all the time,” Prof David Ndetei of the University of Nairobi’s School of Medical told us some time back, “We must not just say no to such women but we should explain why it would be inappropriate for us to have a sexual relationship with them without making them devastated as they may think we are rejecting them.” Prof Ndetei, like Dr Njenga, is a psychiatrist.
“Gynecologists, Obstetricians and psychiatrists are the ones who are discrediting us as they want to have affairs with their patients,” a cardiologist in private practice says. “While gynecologists are usually carried away by the beauty of their patients, psychiatrists use the confidences entrusted to them to exploit patients,”
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“By the fact women can strip in front of doctors gives them a privileged position which they should not abuse. If any doctor is caught abusing this privilege, he will have his licences revoked,” Dr Richard Barasa, a former chairman of the Medical Practitioners and Dentists’ Board (MPDB), told us some time back. “If a patient falls in love with a doctor and he in turn reciprocates, then he should refer her to another doctor before he can start going out with her. At least six month should elapse and the patient/doctor relationship declared as not existing before they can become lovers.”
Saying that ethical standards are “very bad” in Kenya, Dr Barasa revealed that murmuring abounds about doctors sleeping with their patients but that there is no evidence for MPDB to take action.
“We are a court and our work is to try cases not go out looking for rumorsto investigate. That would be witch hunting,” Dr Barasa had told us.
Weekly, he had said—and that was almost 20 years ago–MPDB receiving at least two complaints of doctors engaging in unbecoming behaviour.
“MPDB does not usually publicise such ceases because we see no need to.” Dr. Barasa said. “While some complainants usually do not have firm evidence, others usually back out when they realise they have to testify against the doctor.”
Saying it is not just male doctor who abuse their position, Dr Barasa admitted that a woman had reported to the Board about a female doctor who is having an affair with her husband whom she came to know as a patient.
As if contradicting himself, Dr Barasa said, “We usually do not rush into striking an offending doctor off our register. We only do this as a last resort as the investment made the training of a doctor is enormous.”
“Sometimes there is little we can do about an errant individual in a country like ours where the law is shaky and some people are protected by the government.” That was two decades ago.
Like Dr Barasa the then chairperson of Kenya Medical Association (KMA), Dr KhamaRogo, had said that KMA does not act on hearsay.
“There are many rumours about doctors having affairs with their patients but no hard facts to support them. At time some women have withdrawn complaints and even court cases without explanation,” Dr Rogo had said. “There is little KMA can do when complainants withdraw cases.We can’t revive such cases without appearing to be witch-hunting.”
Rogo. a gynecologists, dismissed claims that it is gynecologists, obstetrician and psychiatrists who abuse patient with, “There are no statistics to prove this.”
Even then, Dr Rogo admitted that “these are the people who are most vulnerable because of their kind of work with women. “
To guard against compromising situations, Dr Rogo said that any time a male doctor examines a female patient, someone else–preferably a nurse–should be present.
“It is true some of the patients psychiatrists deal with lack stable minds but that is not to say they are taking advantage of them,” he said. “Not all psychiatrists, obstetricians and gynecologists are male. Anyone smearing these professional should substantiate their claims.”