UGANDA: Promote Rights – Based Approach to Maternal Health

April 2015 TheObserver; Between March 23 and 27, Kampala hosted the regional first ladies together with stakeholders in the health sector from across the world.

This came at a time when the East African Community (EAC) is developing a regional policy and strategy on reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.

Of particular interest to me was a panel discussion at the Kampala Serena on March 23, on the rights-based approach to issues of maternal health/mortality. Organised by the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA), this event was attended by representatives from Uganda’s health ministry, MPs and NGOs working on maternal and child health issues.

As the discussion progressed, it became clear that most of the MPs and the “experienced” health ministry participants did not clearly understand the rights-based approach to maternal health.

To put it simply, this approach is an effort to enhance the ability of each community member (man, woman, infant, and child) To put it simply, this approach is an effort to enhance the ability of each community member (man, woman, infant, child and adolescent) to recognize and understand their health needs and requirements as their rights – and to ensure that those requirements are provided or availed as a matter of right.

Following the discussion, Christine Munduru, an independent consultant for health and human rights, noted with concern that: “Human rights agendas have been mainly driven and supported by developed countries and our people look at it as something foreign.

Secondly, the developed world agenda has concentrated more on advocating for the rights of the people at the margins, which has had controversies with the religious, moral and cultural belief system of Ugandans and East Africans in general.”

Like elsewhere in Africa, the majority of women in Uganda, at all income and educational levels, have no say over their own bodies, when to or not to have children, when to or not to have sex and when to or not to use contraceptives.

It is made worse by the fact that human rights issues in general have been misunderstood to imply “advocacy and politics”. Governments, particularly in this region, have, therefore, been particularly uncomfortable with “human rights work” as it tends to threaten “state power and authority”.

The painful reality is that Ugandans lack the correct information on what a rights-based approach to maternal and child health is and what life-saving benefits this approach has. In most cases, available information is misinterpreted.

Communities are not empowered to understand that every woman and child has a right to life, and a right to demand from their government proper healthcare facilities which, in turn, saves and sustains these communities.

This lack of information, compounded by cultural, religious and moral value systems and the political environment in the country, makes it difficult for people to pay attention to this rights-based approach.

The good news for Uganda is that there are a few places where correct information on reproductive health issues has been provided. In Arua, Oyam, Pallisa and Lyantonde, for example, I have witnessed communities, which are empowered to respect and uphold the dignity and rights of mothers, children and health workers. The resultant benefits are now visible and overwhelming.

It is pleasant to note that these changes and advancements, although initiated by external stakeholders, have been purely community driven.

It is imperative, therefore, for regional stakeholders in the health sector, to focus their energy on providing correct information on the rights-based approach, and strengthening the capacity of communities to protect mothers and children in all aspects of health.

Because our people believe in seeing, providing evidence on how this approach is changing lives, regularly showcasing success stories will encourage more communities to embrace this new hope in reducing the deaths of mothers and newborn babies.


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