The demand for health rights is now more meaningful for civil society activists and the entire general public, following a landmark ruling by High court that found Nakaseke District local government liable for the acts by a doctor that led to the death of an expectant mother.
Ugandans especially expectant mothers can now confidently further their demand for the enjoyment of the right to health from those in charge, since there is now a precedent set when government was held accountable for its failed obligation.
This comes after, Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) a civil rights organization won a case last month against Nakaseke local government, it filed on behalf of David Mugerwa who lost his wife Irene Nanteza during child labor.
Nanteza died on 5th May 2012 due to failure to access medical attention towards an obstructed labour she was suffering while at Nakaseke Hospital.
According to Mugerwa, his wife was left unattended to, for over eight years. He adds that the doctor on duty arrived at the hospital too late to have any medical intervention like performing a cesarean section since she had obstructed labor. Nanteza bled to death due to a ruptured uterus.
This case prompted Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) to challenge the deliberate denial of the deceased Nanteza’s access to emergence obstetric care which caused her death.
According to the Human Rights Documentation and Advocacy manager at CEHURD Primah Kwagala, the organization accused the hospital management of denying the expectant mother access to the ambulance for transfer to another hospital which amounted to the abuse of her right to health service.
Making his ruling, Justice Benjamin Kabito said the rights of Nanteza to access emergency Obstetric care, life, health, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and equality and those of her children were violated.
Justice Kabito asked Nakaseke local government to compensate Mugerwa 35 million Shillings as costs for damages for failure to execute its constitutional mandate of overseeing the performance of persons employed by government.
Now civil society activists, lawyers, and some MPs stress that the High court judgment in this case is a clear indicator that government is fully responsible for protection and fulfillment of the right to health for all.
Makerere University don and also chairman at the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development Professor Ben Twinomugisha says the ruling sets a good precedent for Ugandans that have lost their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters due to preventable maternal deaths.
Twinomugisha says that the ruling reminds government of its obligation to provide emergency obstetric care in health facilities as one way of respecting the right to health for mothers.
“what it means is found in law, what we call precedent because when higher courts decides a case it is binding on all courts and all organs of the state”- Twinomugisha
Mityana District Woman MP Sylvia Namabidde says although monetary court rewards cannot be equated to the lives of mothers lost during child birth, the court ruling is a strong message to government to take extra efforts towards improving the functionality of health centers in order to stop high maternal mortality.
Namabidde adds that on top of calling for increased health budget, there must be a checklist for all health centre IVs to ensure that all the necessities for safe delivery are available.
“Health Centre IVs are very key to saving mothers because they are the nearest points of referral so if Nakaseke is a Health Centre IV it is supposed to have a theatre which is functional, we as MPs have tried to ensure that they become functional by even increasing salaries of doctors at these facilities, then there must be Obstetric drugs but there must be blood, there must be functional ambulance”-Namabidde.
Meanwhile this is one case out of the many mothers that die in similar circumstances. The Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), as an organization registers more than 30 cases of negligence against medical personnel every three months. Kwagala said that many of the cases are never pursued to their logical conclusion.
“it’s important for government to account back to the people because as a citizens you have a contractual relationship with government….because you vote and even pay taxes, so government must be held accountable”-Kwangala.
However on sad note, the High Court ruling did not pronounce itself on the negligence of individual doctors. Because this is a case of human rights violation, it is suggested that the medical council and other authorities take punitive action against such professionals like cancelling their licenses.
Professor Twinomugisha emphasizes that negligence of individual officers must be curbed to avert further violation of the right to health for expectant mothers.