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new Chatham House paper that I co-authored with Tom Brookes and Eloise Whitaker shows that up to hundreds of thousands of people are detained in hospitals against their will each year. Their crime? Being too poor to pay their medical bills. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in several sub-Saharan African countries, notably Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, and Kenya, but there is also evidence of it in India and Indonesia.

The practice of medical detentions is particularly rife in Democratic Republic of Congo. In one study of a health facility over a six-week period in 2016, 54 percent of women who had given birth and were eligible for discharge were detained for the nonpayment of user fees. In many cases, women and babies are held for months and are denied ongoing health care until their bills can be settled.

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