KAMPALA, Uganda - More than 100 women die in childbirth each week in Uganda, a heartbreaking statistic that has energized activists to go to the Supreme Court in an effort to force the government to put more resources toward maternal health care to prevent the wave of deaths.
The activists say they want the country’s top judges to declare that women’s rights are violated when they die in childbirth, the kind of statement a lower court declined to give last week. In rejecting the petition, the Constitutional Court said the issue was one for the country’s political leaders.
The country’s top judges have a serious role to play: A declaration favoring the women activists would shame the government into action that drastically reduces mortality among childbearing women in Uganda, activists say.
“All we want is a declaration that when women die during childbirth it is a violation of their rights,’’ said Noor Musisi of the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development, a Kampala-based group that is championing the legal push. The groups presented the case to the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Uganda loses 16 women in childbirth daily, a figure some activists emphasize on placards during regular marches in the streets of the Ugandan capital. Most of these deaths occur in villages where bad roads and poverty make it difficult for women to reach health centers. Even when they get there, some say, the available care is poor.
Health centers have been built in villages across Uganda, but the structures are usually devoid of equipment and medicine. Ugandan newspapers frequently tell of midwives and nurses who treat women in labor with a lack of compassion. And at times, when the caregivers are overwhelmed, some women are left to die.
Valente Inziku, a Ugandan man who lost his wife and baby in 2010, blamed the government. The hospital in northern Uganda where his wife went had no delivery kit that Sunday morning, and the midwives were greatly outnumbered by the patients, he said. The nurses asked him to buy gloves that were never used.
“She was not attended to,’’ Inziku said. “She waved her hands the whole day but no one responded. Then she started bleeding. She bled and bled and then she died in my hands.’’