Tanzania Journal of Health Research

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Mob justice as an emerging medico-legal, social and public health problem in north-western Tanzania: a need for immediate attention

Phillipo L. Chalya, Isdori H. Ngayomela, Peter F. Rambau, Kahima J. Kahima, Anthony Kapesa, Sospatro E. Ngallaba


Background: Mob-justice poses a medico-legal, social and public health problem in most developing countries including Tanzania and has shown to have negative effects on social and health of the country, communities, and families. This study was conducted to analyze the mob-justice situation in north-western Tanzania to determine the causes and injury characteristics of mob-justice cases and the outcome of treatment among survivors.

Methods: This prospective study involved non-consecutive cases of mob-justice that were reported at Bugando Medical Centre in northwestern Tanzania from August 2006 to June 2014. Bugando Medical Centre in Mwanza, north-western Tanzania. Recruitment of cases to participate in the study was done in the pathology and surgery departments. All mob justice cases that were brought in dead (deceased) underwent autopsy examination in the pathology department and those who were severely injured (alive) were managed in the surgical wards by the admitting surgical team. Information on the cases was obtained from police, the relatives, friends and other witnesses if available. Variables studied included socio-demographic data of victims (age, sex, occupation and education), causes of mob-justice, weapons and methods used in executing mob-justice, body region affected and the type of injury.

Results: A total of 234 cases (i.e. 170(72.6%) deaths and 64 (27.4%) seriously injured patients) of mob-justice were studied. The median age of victims was 28 years. Males outnumbered females by a ratio of 6.1: 1. The most common reason for a mob-justice was theft/robbery in 63.2% of cases.  Stoning (50.4%) and burning (43.6%) were the most frequent methods used in executing mob-justice. The head (95.7%) and the musculoskeletal (63.2%) were the most common body region injured. Open wounds (97.4%) and fractures (47.9%) were the most common type of injuries sustained. More than 70% of the victims who were brought in alive (64 cases) were treated surgically, of which wound debridement (75.6%) was the most common procedure performed. Complication and mortality rates were 51.6% and 51.1% respectively. The age > 60 years, late presentation > 48 hours, severe head injury (GCS 3-8) and admission systolic blood pressure < 90 mmHg significantly influenced mortality (p < 0.001). The overall median length of hospital stay was 28 days. Patients who had long bone fractures stayed longer in the hospital and this was statistically significant (p < 0.001).

Conclusion: Mob-justice constitutes a medico-legal, social and public health problem in Tanzania that needs immediate attention. Addressing the root causes of mob-justice such as poverty, lack of education, unemployment, and substance abuse will reduce the incidence of mob-justice in our environment, hence saving life.

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