A Ugandan court has ordered the government to increase its health budget and ensure that women get quality maternal health care.
The ruling, which was reached unanimously by a panel of five judges on Aug. 19, follows a lawsuit that was filed in 2011 after Jennifer Anguko and Sylvia Nalubow died while giving birth in a public health facility. Their families will also each be compensated with 155 million Ugandan shillings (about $42,000).
“Women suffer a lot due to shortages or shortcomings in the delivery of maternal health care services caused by stock-outs of maternal health care packages, drugs, professional negligence,” said Justice Barishaki Cheborion.
He added: “Preventable deaths of pregnant women at government hospitals deprive women of the right to enjoy and realise their sexual and reproductive rights.”
Cheborion added that the deaths of Anguko and Nalubowa were a result of basic maternal services not being available, as well as negligence of health workers.
“The actions caused utmost pain, degrading, and cruel treatment of the deceased for the period they spent in the said hospitals fighting for their lives with no hope of survival until they died,” they said. “This also caused untold suffering and loss to their families.”
In Uganda, 375 in 100,000 women die while giving birth, or from complications related to their pregnancies. Meanwhile, child mortality is still high, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
A UNICEF report citing data from 2015 revealed that for every 100,000 live births in the country, 13 children died in the first day of being born, 20 children died within a week of their births, and 27 children passed away within a month of birth.
Moses Mulumba, the executive director of the Center for Health Human Rights and Development, which filed the lawsuit, called the judgement a significant milestone in holding the government accountable for poor maternal health.
Mulumba said: “The judgement is a huge shift from the belief that basic maternal health commodities cannot be immediately provided in public health facilities as a matter of rights.”
He added: “The judges have made history for mothers that always lack the voice and power in the scramble for resources and prioritisation in the political and economic spaces.”
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Ainebyoona, a spokesperson for the Ugandan Ministry of Health, told the Guardian that the ministry is prioritising maternal health. “We generate and submit our budget. But it’s the ministry of finance, parliamentary budget, and parliament as a whole that allocates the funds,” said Ainebyoona.