'This baby isn’t breathing!': Video highlights failures in Peru’s hospitals

Screengrab of a video filmed in Las Mercedes hospital in Chiclayo, Peru on April 30 and shared on the "Ni una menos PERÚ" Facebook page on May 6.
Screengrab of a video filmed in Las Mercedes hospital in Chiclayo, Peru on April 30 and shared on the "Ni una menos PERÚ" Facebook page on May 6.

When Alan Rojas went to a public hospital in Peru with his wife, who was in labour, on April 30, he was so shocked by the lack of equipment and failures of the medical personnel that he got out his phone and began to film what was happening. When the video was put on Facebook, it was viewed more than 7.5 million times and sent shockwaves across the country. Many Peruvians took to social media to share similarly horrific experiences.

This video was filmed in the Las Mercedes regional hospital in Chiclayo, one of the largest cities in the country, before being shared on Facebook on May 6.

Screengrabs of the video posted on May 6 on the Facebook page "Ni una menos PERÚ" ("Not one less Peru"), which fights against violence against women in Peru. This video has already garnered 7.5 million views and 261,000 shares.

"Call the paediatrician, quickly!"

The video shows a woman taking care of a female patient, who is lying on the bed. She keeps calling for the obstetrician on duty, but the other people in the room, who seem to be medical personnel, don’t react at all. All alone, the woman delivers the baby. However, when he comes out, he doesn’t cry and is barely moving.

“Call the paediatrician, quickly! Give me something to dry him off! Gauze!” the woman yells.

The FRANCE 24 Observers team showed the footage to Marie-José Tschupp, a French gynecologist-obstetrician and asked her to explain what is happening.

"The baby doesn’t seem ok because he isn’t moving. So it’s understandable that she is calling for a paediatrician. When a baby is born, it is important to dry him off quickly so he doesn’t get cold."

"What am I supposed to cut [the umbilical cord] with?"

“Why are you leaving?” the father, who is filming, asks a man in white who is leaving the room.

At the same time, the woman calls out again for the obstetrician on duty and something to use to dry off the baby. Someone brings out some gauze-like material and she uses it to rub the baby.

Then, she asks for an instrument to cut the umbilical cord.

“This baby isn’t breathing! What am I supposed to cut with? This baby needs to breathe! I need to cut it quickly!”

"When there is a problem, it’s important to cut the umbilical cord quickly so that you can bring the baby somewhere where it can be cared for better," says Tschupp. "If the baby isn’t breathing well, that means that its brain isn’t getting enough oxygen.

You have to act quickly because, if a brain is getting insufficient oxygen for even just a few minutes, there can be long-term consequences. That’s why the woman is yelling and rubbing the baby, to try and stimulate it. But the people around her don’t seem to be very concerned."

"You won’t stop me from filming!”

Next, the father says that he is going to file a complaint. Two security guards enter the room and try to force him to leave. He resists.

“You won’t stop me from filming! I am the father, that’s my wife, that’s my son and he is dying!”

"I started filming because the medical resident didn’t want to take care of my wife”

Alan Rojas is the baby’s father. He told the FRANCE 24 Observers what happened that day.

My wife was having pains so I took her to the hospital in Ferreñafe [Editor’s note: About 20 kilometres away], where an obstetrician saw her almost immediately. We realised that the baby was about to be born, even though it was too early.

So we needed to be at a hospital with an incubator, but there wasn’t one at that particular hospital. [Editor’s note: Premature babies need to be put in an incubator to protect them from, among other things, the cold.] We called three other hospitals but none of them offered to take us.

Finally, the obstetrician took us to Las Mercedes hospital, because it was the closest. We thought that they’d be obliged to take care of my wife. We went to the ER department and then to a unit especially for gynecological emergencies. But there was only a resident, who was very new, and several interns. We couldn’t find the gynecologist on call. I started filming because the resident didn’t want to take care of my wife. My son was born at that moment, with the help of the obstetrician from Ferreñafe. I kept filming because I saw that people were looking for the tools and material we needed but they couldn’t find anything.

"I was filming because I thought it could serve as proof when I filed a complaint”

I started filming what was going on because I thought it could serve as proof to show a lawyer and to use to file a complaint. That’s what I ended up doing. I didn’t film this to post it on the Internet. I actually don’t know how it ended up on Facebook.

That said, I am glad that it was posted online because that will prevent a similar situation from happening again in the future. Since then, the Defender of the People [Editor’s note: A body tasked with defending citizens against abuses committed by the state] contacted me to say that he would help me.

"I hope that my baby doesn’t experience long-term consequences”

I think that the security guards in the hospital didn’t want me to film because they didn’t want me to show that there are problems within that medical department. Shortly after they entered the room, a resident working in pediatrics arrived. She massaged our baby and he started to breathe and cry. Then, she brought him to an incubator in the service for newborns. By that point, he had a neonatal infection. But the doctors took good care of him and we were finally able to leave the hospital on May 15. Currently, he is doing well, but I hope that he doesn’t have any long-term consequences.

This isn’t the only time that I’ve had a horrible experience at this hospital. About three years ago, I brought my father to Las Mercedes because he had a foot infection. But there wasn’t a doctor on call and there was no medicine. No one really took care of him. About a week later, he had to have his leg amputated. He ended up dying three days later.

Outcry on social media

The video that Rojas filmed sparked an outcry on social media. Many Peruvians were shocked by the lack of material but were especially horrified by the attitude of the staff. Other people reported similar instances in other hospitals across the country.

FRANCE 24 spoke to a Peruvian woman who is currently in medical school.

"That’s something that happens regularly because public hospital often aren’t well-equipped and sometimes the staff are inefficient,” she said. “It’s a reality, even if it is shocking.”

Hospital director replaced after several similar incidents

After this video was shared, the director of the hospital admitted that the patients had been treated inappropriately. In mid-May, he was replaced by a new director.

His ouster is linked to the fact that this isn’t the first scandal at the hospital to make headlines. In the past few weeks, a 34-year-old woman died after giving birth to twins. In another incident, the staff removed a 15-year-old woman’s uterus after she contracted an infection while giving birth.

Several different institutions launched investigations into the hospital after these incidents. The hospital also announced that it was opening an internal investigation. Our team tried to contact the hospital on several occasions, but we haven’t yet received a response.

This article was written by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).