This protester holds a placard saying: “I give live, I have a right to live”

Six midwives have gone on trial in Senegal following the death of a pregnant woman and her unborn child in a public hospital in a case which caused a national outcry.

They have been charged with failing to assist a person in danger.

Astou Sokhna died last month after reportedly spending 20 hours in labour.

Her pleas to doctors to carry out a Caesarean were ignored because it had not been planned in advance, local media reported.

The lawyer for the six accused women said his clients felt victimised. In recent weeks, health workers have gone on strike in defence of the midwives, saying that they should not be prosecuted.

Ms Sokhna, who was in her 30s, was nine months’ pregnant when she went to hospital in the northern town of Louga.

But the hospital refused her request to have a Caesarean on the grounds that the operation had not been scheduled, and threatened to send her away her if she kept insisting on the procedure, according to local press reports. Her husband lodged a legal complaint.

Reports said that doctors refused Astou Sokhna’s request for a Caesarean

The authorities responded to the death by dismissing the director of the hospital.

Health Minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sall said that it could have been avoided with more vigilance.

Ordering an investigation, President Macky Sall said on social media that “failure will not be tolerated”. The results of the investigation have not yet been released.

The circumstances of the deaths of the mother and child sparked an outpouring of complaints on social media with people describing the deficiencies of the public health system.

The strike by the National Association of Midwives and other unions was also linked to demands for better working conditions and the enforcement of wage agreements.

Death during childbirth is a leading cause of mortality in Africa.

In Senegal, the government says that rates have been falling in recent years with current figures around 156 deaths per 100,000 live births – down from 392 four years ago.

The UN goals is for countries to have fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030.

Written Nicolas Négoce
BBC News, Dakar.