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.


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

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs