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Gov’t fined Shs 310m for sudden death of two pregnant women



Rhoda Kukiriza lost her daughter Sylvia Nalubowa while she was giving birth

The Constitutional court has fined government over Shs 310 million for negligence that led to the death of Jenniffer Anguko and Sylvia Nalubowa while giving birth 10 years ago. 

Anguko and Nalubowa lost their babies and bled to death at Arua regional referral and Mityana hospital respectively, and at the time of their death, they were no doctors available to attend and provide healthcare to them. 

Subsequently, in 2011, the civil society organization, Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (Cehurd) together with three others; Prof Ben Twinomugisha and two mothers of the deceased, Inziku Valente and Rhoda Kukiriza sued the government; seeking a declaration that the absence of essential medicines, well-trained health officers and health supplies for pregnant women in government health centres was a violation of their constitutional right.

In the Thursday ruling, the Constitutional court panel of five judges who include Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, Cheborion Barishaki, Kenneth Kakuru, Egonda Ntende and Christopher Izama Madrama agreed with the petitioners and awarded Shs 70 million each to the mothers of the deceased as general damages for psychological torture and violation of their rights to life and health. Court also awarded Shs 85 million each to the families for the loss suffered by the omissions of the medical personnel at Mityana hospital and Arua hospital. 

The judges unanimously noted that the statistics given by the government when dealing with the maternal deaths in Uganda do not add up since the leading causes of maternal deaths in the country remain the same.

The judges concluded with several declarations, key of them is that the failure to provide basic maternal health services in public health centres violates rights to women and it is therefore unconstitutional. Also, that government of Uganda is accountable for the loss of Anguko and Nalubowa since the government couldn’t challenge negligence allegations levied against them by the petitioners.

Further, court ordered the government to compile and submit to parliament and court a full audit report on the status of maternal health in Uganda at the end of each of the next two financial years. The judges also ordered the government through the Health minister to ensure that all the staff who provide maternal health care services in Uganda are fully trained and all health centres are fully equipped within the next two financial years.  

The judges also ordered that to meet the constitutional obligation of the state to uphold the rights of women and fulfil their reproductive rights, the government should prioritize and provide sufficient funds in the national budget for maternal health care in the next financial budget. 

Among others, the petitioners also asked the court to compel the government to increase the health budget and ensure the supply of essential medicines and other equipment to save the lives of women and their babies.  

Their lawyers led by Peter Walubiri argued that government had failed to provide affordable maternal health care services which threatened the ability of mothers to afford essential care. Court also heard that there was a shortage of mama kits at all levels of health centres and as a result of mothers who were dying. 

But the government while defending itself in the case, relied on the affidavit of the then Health ministry permanent secretary Dr Asuman Lukwago. Lukwago argued that the government had put in place and was implementing several policies to ensure improvement in the provision of maternal health services.

According to the evidence on-court record, the policies included a road map to accelerate the reduction of maternal morbidity, strategies for child survival, reproductive health commodities, sexual and reproductive health strategies and clinical treatment guidelines.

Concerning the frequent stock-outs of essential drugs for maternal health, government told court that through the National Medical Stores (NMS), they regularly procured and delivered drugs and commodities to health centres but some of it was always lost through theft due to corruption of some health workers.

However, justice Barishaki noted that although the government had put in place several policies, the implementation and evaluation of those policies was never done. Barishaki noted that the attorney general didn’t tell the court what measures the government has undertaken to realize provision of maternal health care services to women in Uganda. 

He said that whereas Lukwago had alleged that the implementation has always been a challenge, he only made a replication of statements the government normally uses in reports to attract donor funding. Barishaki also noted that even if the government says that it is encouraged by the reduction on maternal mortality rates, the levels reached are still not good enough taking into account the resources available to this government.

“The situation is not as rosy as Dr Lukwago would wish to portray, for example, the ministry of Health’s annual health sector performance report for 2015 to 2016 found that some facilities in Uganda had individual maternal mortality rates as high as 2,578 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births,” said Barishaki.  

According to the 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey, 16 women in die each day in the country from complications related to pregnancy and child-birth.

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