News / Africa

Ugandan Activists Pressure Government to Reduce Maternal Deaths

Activists hold a peaceful march in the capital Kampla to protest the delay by a Ugandan court to deliver a ruling in a landmark lawsuit regarding the cases of two women who unattended bled to death during childbirth.
Activists hold a peaceful march in the capital Kampla to protest the delay by a Ugandan court to deliver a ruling in a landmark lawsuit regarding the cases of two women who unattended bled to death during childbirth.
Andrew Green
KAMPALA - Uganda’s health activists are demanding an increase in skilled medical workers to save the lives of the country’s mothers. An advocacy coalition has kept national attention focused on the issue for more than a year. But, as 16 women continue to die every day from complications giving birth, activists have yet to realize any new funding for health workers.

Tragic case recalled

Jennifer Anguko bled to death in a government hospital in October 2010, waiting to deliver her child. As her husband, Valente Inziku, begged health workers for attention, he says his wife told him she was dying and then lost consciousness. By the time Inziku convinced someone to help, it was too late. Their unborn child died as well. More than a year later, Inziku says he is still struggling to raise their older three children alone.

“How am I going to bring up the children? That’s now the question I’m asking myself,” Inziku wondered.

Calls for change

Anguko’s death became one of the rallying points for a coalition of Ugandan health activists to reduce maternal mortality. Uganda has seen maternal death rates almost cut in half in the past 20 years, but it remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world to give birth. The United Nations Population Fund says Uganda registers 310 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

Activists argue the majority of maternal deaths could be prevented with more health workers and consistent access to medical supplies.

Uganda has 2,500 government health centers, but nearly 50 percent of the positions are unfilled. That means at least one out of every two pregnant women has no skilled medical person to help them give birth. The U.N. Population Fund says at least 2,000 more midwives are needed to address the situation.

Without more midwives and nurses in the system, Rukia Nansubuga, a grassroots organizer in Kampala, says expectant mothers will continue to suffer and die, so they will not even go to medical centers.

“They fear to go to health centers, because the health centers are not well-facilitated. The health workers are not well-facilitated,"Nansubuga said. "The ones who go there are neglected.”

Civil society groups joined forces a year ago to more effectively pressure the government. Robina Biteyi is the national coordinator of the White Ribbon Alliance. “This is a very good development, because we have all worked on maternal and newborn health, but separately," she noted. "We felt we needed to come together and make sure we have more strength in demanding for accountability for maternal, newborn and child health.”

The coalition took the unusual step last year of suing the government in constitutional court, arguing that women’s right to life was undermined by health worker shortages and a lack of supplies. They also initiated an international resolution calling for governments to prioritize safe motherhood, which was passed in April at a meeting in Kampala.

Setbacks

Although the efforts have raised the profile of the maternal mortality crisis, they have not yet resulted in a concrete victory. In early June, the constitutional court threw out the case against the government, saying it was a political issue.

Sylveria Alwoch, of the Uganda National Health Consumers Organization, says the decision was a setback, but it will not undermine the coalition’s larger efforts.

“We are still there and we are going to continue advocating. Advocacy doesn’t end in one day," said Alwoch. "And, when you get disappointed, it doesn’t mean you go and cover your head and stop there.”

Despite the court setback and the Ministry of Health’s announcement that there would be no new funding for health workers this year, the groups are continuing to lobby the government ahead of the release of the budget this month, hoping money will be reallocated for hiring.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs