‘The health unit is more sick than the patient’: Ugandan maternal care causing deaths say campaigners

June 3, 2011

Posted by The KC team

The Alliance hosts a citizen journalism programme called Key Correspondents (KCs).

Writes Key Correspondent Sharifah

At least 16 women in Uganda die each day in childbirth or soon after, a coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) have disclosed.

The coalition say this figure is scandalously high, considering Uganda’s widely recognized economic growth. They point to the fact that Rwanda and Ethiopia have performed far better in reducing maternal mortality rates, and say Uganda is lagging behind because the government has refused to scale-up investments in the health sector, which would save the lives of pregnant women.

The situation led women to demonstrate last week (May 27) against the government’s failure to deliver services in hospitals. They marched at Busimbi headquarters in Mityana District with signs, posters and banners bearing the demonstration’s slogan Not another needless death.

Two-years-ago, Sylvia Nalubowa, a mother from Mityana died while giving birth to twins, one of which also died. Activists demonstrated in memory of Mrs Nalubowa, who they say died from neglect, and in memory of Jennifer Anguko, a district councilor in Arua, who also died during childbirth.

In Mrs Nalubowa’s case it is believed that no doctor attended the theater during her labour. One of the nurses is reported to have asked Mrs Nalubowa for money but Mrs Nalubowa did not have any. The cases have led the CSOs to fight for a law protecting pregnant women and the lives of their unborn children.

The coalition has lodged an official petition, which argues that none provision of essential services for pregnant women and their newborns violates the fundamental obligation of the country to uphold the constitution, which promises to defend, protect and promote the right to health and the right to life.

According to activists, the cases of Mrs Nalubowa and Mrs Anguko are common in Uganda and many in the country are unhappy with the situation.

“Since the lady died no change has taken place – doctors have not increased, there is only one doctor for 7,000 people. There is no theater and the only ambulance we have is a pickup and in a poor mechanical state, yet everyone is referred to Mityana,” says Senyange Aeneas of Nakaseeta Initiative for Adult Education and Development.

“If you come to the hospital without a mama kit you may end up dying because no nurse can attend to you without the kit,” said Kabasimbi Judith, a resident in Mityana District.

“If one goes to the hospital without money, thinking that as it is a government hospital everything is for free, you may end up going back home and dying because there is nothing there,” said mother Rebecca Juuko.

“Someone is safer to deliver at a private hospital than going to the government health unit because the health unit is more sick than the patient who has come. It is the biggest hospital in the district but yesterday I was shocked when I saw there were no disposable gloves – that is the simplest thing any health worker should have, because as much as we would like to work, we also mind about our own lives”, said Kaweesa Andrew of Integrated Community Basic Initiative for HIV/AIDS.

He added: “They have reported Ebola cases in Uganda. Now tell me, because someone is committed to work, is he expected to still handle a patient without drugs and no gloves? If you bring a patient to the hospital you cannot find even essential drugs. How can you expect a health worker to work?”

Campaigners say the government needs to analyze the major factors that contribute to the high risk of maternal death in Uganda and provide professional health workers in hospitals, access to quality antenatal care, family planning services, life saving HIV/AIDS treatment and malaria prevention in order to avoid maternal death in Uganda.

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