In a recent report by Uganda Demographic Health Survey, it was mentioned that more than 16 women die daily in Uganda from pregnancy-related deaths, including haemorrhage, sepsis, unsafe abortion, obstructed labour and pre-eclempsia.
After eight years of sustained pressure from the civil society, the Constitutional court will soon rule in a landmark case to order government to implement consequential, lifesaving remedies for poor Ugandan women, writes FRANK BWAMBALE.
In 2010, Valente Inziku and his wife Jennifer Anguko were eagerly awaiting the birth of their fourth child. But at the time her labour pains started, Inziku had travelled on a business trip.
“All was fine when relatives took my wife to Arua health centre to deliver. I remember that day it was raining and she called to alert me. I did my best to reach the hospital in time for delivery,” Inziku says.
On arrival, hospital staff asked Inziku to cater for the wife’s needs, which he complied and bought all the necessities. However, he says midwives told him Anguko had developed complications and demanded extra money for operating on her in the theatre, which he didn’t have. “I insisted to lend them assistance but they could not allow me closer to my wife in the theatre,” he adds.
He noticed something was not right when the mood around became pensive and by the time he forcefully entered the theatre, Anguko was in a pool of blood, lifeless. Her uterus had ruptured and in the process led to severe ooze that left her for dead. “I found her in severe pain and moments later she died in my own hands,” a tearful Inziku adds.
Thereafter, he says, midwives called out the doctor but he disassociated himself from anything to do with the deceased. The baby was then operated out but it was discovered that it had already died too. This marked the beginning of Inziku’s single patronage for his orphaned three children.
Inziku’s experience is one of many tear-jerking narrations that captured emotions last week during a dialogue organised by the Coalition to Stop Maternal Mortality (CSMM), an umbrella of more than 40 women’s rights organisations, hoping to compel the Constitutional court to include the Right to Health as one of the key fundamental human rights.
And, Inziku’s case is not an isolated one. Rhodah Kasikiriza from Mityana narrated how her daughter, Sylvia Nalubowa, died due to negligence at a health centre IV in Mityana.
“My daughter was due to deliver and everything seemed fine until I was asked to avail money for fuel and airtime to the doctors. I just surrendered the Shs 30,000 which I was left with in my life but they said it was too little,” Kasikiriza said as tears rolled out of her eyes.
She added that doctors grudgingly worked on a weakening Nalubowa, who was pregnant with twins. The first one was delivered through caesarean section successfully but the second died during the ill-attended operation. Nalubowa, too, did not make it and died shortly afterwards. “The doctors did not do enough to save my daughter and when I complained, they instead labelled me a saboteur,” she added.
Later, then area MP, Vincent Nyanzi, launched a crackdown on corrupt and negligent health workers in the district but it couldn’t bring back the life of Nalubowa and her child.
It is on this background that in 2011, a coalition led by Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) filed the case on behalf of the families of Anguko and Nalubowa. However, the case suffered a setback in 2012 when the same court dismissed it on grounds that it had no authority to hear a case. In 2015, the Supreme court unanimously overruled the Constitutional court and compelled it to hear the merits of the case.
At the moment, CSMM is leading the petition seeking to declare that government has failed to fulfil fundamental health rights, resulting in an epidemic of preventable deaths of women. On June 27, both sides made their submissions and court will make a ruling later this month.
CSMM argues that if health is turned into a fundamentally-recognised human right in the constitution, government will be mandated to take health as a key priority. In a 2016 report by Uganda Demographic Health Survey, it was stated that more than 16 women die daily in Uganda from pregnancy-related deaths, including haemorrhage, sepsis, unsafe abortion, obstructed labour and pre-eclempsia.
Uganda’s severely high rates of teenage pregnancies also contribute to preventable maternal deaths. Twenty-five per cent of young women aged 15 to 19 years in Uganda are pregnant or already mothers, which forms one of the highest rates in sub-Saharan Africa, a statistic that has remained unchanged since 2006.
Musician Joanita Kawalya, who is also a counsellor, contended that government has not done enough to fulfil its commitments to the UK declaration and the Abuja 2010 declaration in which it had agreed to prioritise maternal health as one of its key goals.
Meanwhile, Flavia Kyomukama of AGHA Uganda also noted that government has on several occasions claimed to have limited resources for maternal health improvements but the 2019/2020 budget contradicts that claim.