On July 7, the Constitutional Court of Uganda will begin hearing arguments in a landmark case that alleges that the Ugandan government is violating its constitution by failing to promote the right to health and the right to life of mothers.
Constitutional Petition Number 16 of 2011 was filed in court on March 3 and represents the families of two pregnant women—Jennifer Anguko and Sylvia Nalubowa—who died following complications with obstructed labor. Sylvia Nalubowa died in the Mityana public hospital on Aug. 10, 2009, after delivering one of her twins. Jennifer Anguko died in the Arua regional referral hospital on Dec. 10, 2010, after her uterus ruptured following 15 hours of obstructed labor. According to Nalubowa’s son, Godfrey Kisiga, Nalubowa died after medical workers asked for bribes and refused to treat her. In Anguko’s case, she was one of four other women to die in the government hospital that day. According to UN statistics, at least 16 women die every day because of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications in Uganda.
“My mother would not have died if the nurses had attended her and if the clinic had had more money,” Kisiga told the Agence France-Presse.
The petition is calling on the judiciary to decree that the extremely high rate of maternal deaths directly violates Ugandans’ constitutional rights and compel the Ugandan government to “increase budgets and spending,” on maternal health care, Nool Nakibuuka, a lawyer representing the families, states.
The petition argues that the Ugandan government is failing to live up to its promise to spend $1.40 per capita on maternal health care, as specified in the World Health Organization’s mother and baby package. Instead, Uganda is spending only 50 cents. As a result, mothers are denied the care and facilities they need and should be afforded as Ugandan citizens, the petition argues. A lack of doctors, nurses, and trained midwives, ill-equipped maternity units, insufficient drug supplies, and abuse, contempt, and extortion at the hands of health professionals violates the right to life of Ugandan mothers, the families argue.
Specifically, the petition is demanding that the Parliament and State House agree on a supplement budget for financial year 2011-2012 that dramatically increases investments in essential medicines, in recruitment and pay for health workers, and in improving lower level health facilities to expand the reach of quality maternal care services.
Here’s how you can help
There are three actions you can take right now to support the families of Sylvia Nalubowa and Jennifer Anguko in their fight for the right to life for all Ugandan mothers.
1. Sign the petition and open letter in support of this case by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Please only include your organization’s name and location and a statement saying you would like to support the petition and open letter. The open letter reads:
"We, the undersigned, are outraged by the crisis of preventable maternal deaths around the world. In Uganda, where 16 pregnant women die each day, we are expressing our strong support for Constitutional Court Case Number 16 of 2011, a landmark case arguing that, by not ensuring that the health sector provides the lifesaving essential medicines, trained health workers, family planning commodities, emergency obstetric services, HIV treatment, malaria prevention and treatment, and other critical maternal health care services, the Government of Uganda is violating the Constitutional enshrined right to health and life.
We are hopeful that the Justices will acknowledge the plight of mothers in Uganda, and deliver a ruling that compels government to dramatically increases investments in essential medicines, in recruitment and remuneration for nurses, midwives and other clinicians, and in equipping lower level health facilities so that women get the services they need to survive and thrive before, during and after delivery.
2. Send a short message to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Speaker of the Parliament Hon. Rebecca Kadaga to take urgent action and pass the supplementary budget in 2011-2012 to invest in better maternal care. Here’s a suggested message:
"Dear [President Museveni/Hon. Speaker Kadaga]:
I am writing today to express my strong support for Petition Number 16 of 2011, a Constitutional Court case suing the Government of Uganda for violating the Constitutional rights of Ugandans to health and life by not providing life-saving essential health care services for pregnant women.
We are monitoring this landmark case closely, from around the world. We call on you to show your support for the right to life and the right to health by passing a supplementary budget in 2011-2012 to scale up investments in the life saving health services pregnant women need.
[NAME and CITY and e mail address]"
3. Support the coalition pushing for this change by contacting Mabel Kukunda at Uganda National Health Health Consumers Organization (email@example.com) or Primah Kwagala at Centre for Health Human Rights and Development (firstname.lastname@example.org).