The Legal Quagmire Baby Travis’ Family Finds Themselves In

When the news of baby Travis’ death broke, there was uproar about how Kenyatta National Hospital handled his case. Perhaps it drew so much ire and vitriol from the public because this is a reputation that KNH and public hospitals in general haven’t fought off.

Baby Travis had a fork jembe stuck in his head and probably his life would have been saved had the first responders acted fast. They arrived at the hospital that evening yet it took more than 14 hours for the hospital to attend to the ailing child who ended up losing his life in a most devastating manner.

One can only imagine the pain and anguish that the mother carries knowing that if she had money, she would still be carrying her son in her arms. But focus still remains on the Kenyatta National Hospital staff and how they would have handled the situation differently.

For starters, being a public hospital, asking for Ksh 20,000 upfront especially from someone who can’t afford it is very inhumane. Public institutions are the hope of the low income citizens and that’s why the government funds them. Even though they’re still in business, their core responsibility is to serve the public so that those who don’t have ways and means can still access good quality healthcare.

They ought to have served that Kenyan citizen whose tax ultimately funds the hospital. Even though they’re doctors, courtesy of being employed by a government which is funded by Kenyans, they’re public servants. They ought to have served the patient regardless of their financial capability then deal with the financial bit later on.

It doesn’t mean that KNH has been all dark and gloomy. There are positives that we can attribute them to. For example they rejoined the hand of a young man back to his shoulder successfully and they gained national praise and acclaim for it.

KNH is also the biggest referral hospital in Kenya and millions of people are served every year from all over the country.

However, the dark shadow of mediocrity and medical negligence has always been cast on the hospital. They can’t seem to shake off that image or project an image of excellence. Perhaps it’s because there are no systems of accountability. If they do exist, they don’t have the teeth or muscle to prosecute and ensure that negligence is punished and penalized expeditiously. 

Moreover, there is a flaw in our country that we have some of the best policy documents but they lack enforcement agencies. Therefore, the taint of impunity will remain with us until we get tired and angry enough to annihilate it once and for all.

I was curious to know what legal path that the family of Baby Travis would follow to find justice for their child. Are there options available to them to find legal recourse? 

We had a conversation with advocate Bonventure Otieno who has worked on such cases for a long time and we explored some of the ways Judy Muthoni the mother can pursue to get justice.

Bonventure was of the idea that the cases of negligence are basically very hard to prosecute. He says that the burden of proof is very high. You need to have the independent input of a professional pathologist to prove that had the child been attended to in time he would have survived. The advocate would then use that report and the account of different witnesses to build a strong compelling case.

But we remember that Judy can’t afford to hire the services of an expert pathologist to prove her case. That leaves her with word of mouth and accusations of negligence. In a court of law that would not fly.

The Senate took up the case and has been making inquiries into the circumstances surrounding Travis Maina’s death. However they act as a quasi-judicial system and can only come up with recommendations which are not binding.

What options are left?

Bonventure recommends pursuing the case from a constitutional petition perspective. He says that an advocate can pursue it from the angle that Travis’ human rights were violated. How was his right to access good health violated?

Allegedly, the hospital asked for upfront payment and the dignity of the patient was degraded. One of the ways that a lawyer can pursue the case is to investigate or assess if there was negligence. And most importantly if negligence contributed to a violation of human rights.

If the High Court determines that there was a violation of human rights then the family can demand for compensation.

It’s unfortunate that Judy Muthoni had to experience all the pain and anguish of the reality that those who could have saved her boy’s life could walk scot free. Apart from that, she had to endure the prying eyes of the public through social media and curious cameras of the media while still grieving and mourning her son.

But our most earnest prayer is that justice will be found and that no other Kenyan has to lose their life to negligence in our public health institutions.

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Nasra Nanda

Nasra Nanda

Nasra Nanda is a Senior Associate in Dentons Hamilton Harrison and Matthews, a leading law firm in Kenya.

Gregor Pannike

Gregor Pannike

Gregor Pannike is the founder and managing director of Agema Analysts.

Liz Lenjo

Liz Lenjo

Liz Lenjo is the Founder and Managing Consultant of MyIP Legal Studio.

Angela Kioi

Angela Kioi

Angela Kioi is a legal compliance expert, negotiator and ADR practitioner.

Roy Mwamba

Roy Mwamba

Roy Mwamba is the founder and managing partner at Mwamba Gitonga Advocates.



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