Ugandan women challenge government on maternal health
A group of 50 NGOs have backed a petition calling for the Ugandan government to be charged with failing to prevent the deaths of expectant mothers.
More than 16 women a day die due to pregnancy complications.
The petition urges the government to boost health services to prevent these deaths and ensure Ugandan women receive their constitutional right to protection.
The petition was presented to the constitutional court but was thrown out on 5 June; however, the petitioners plan to appeal.
The court argued that by upholding the petition, judges would be forced to enter the political arena and act outside of their jurisdiction.
Principal State Attorney Patricia Mutesi, defending for the government, said the petition “was asking the court to do the work of the parliament in reviewing the efficiency of the health sector.”
The petitioners said that the court relied on outdated international law in making its decision.
Moses Mulumba, executive director of the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), the group that originally put forward the petition, also felt that the court’s decision failed to address the fact that women were being denied rights assured to them by the Ugandan constitution.
“I think it was very wrong for the judiciary to rely on very old United States jurisprudence to inform their decisions on clear violations of human rights,” said Mulumba.
On 14 June, the petitioners filed a notice informing the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s office of their plan to appeal the decision. They have 50 days to finalise and file the appeal.
What they are looking for ultimately is that the government invests more in maternal health care, and the health system in general.
In February this year, President Obama’s Head of Global Health Initiatives, Lois Quam, visited Uganda and asked Ugandan officials to “take greater ownership of maternal health.”
Ms Quam told reporters in Kampala:
“Far too many women lose their lives giving birth. When a mother bleeds to death, a nation bleeds.”
For the many thousands of women who have already lost their lives in Uganda, investment and preventative health measures can’t come too soon.
Whether the appeal succeeds or fails, the petition has helped to keep maternal health on the agenda and highlight the role of political and legal institutions – as well as the activism and persistence of NGOs – in ensuring change.