Big win for women’s rights as Constitutional Court roots for maternal health care in public health facilities

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The Constitutional Court, in a big win for human rights and women’s rights in particular, has delivered its judgment in a petition filed by the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), Professor Ben Twinomugisha, a health law lecturer at Makerere University, Rhoda Kukiriza and Inziku Valente.

In the Judgement delivered Wednesday, the Constitutional Court held that the state had a duty, as per the Constitution, to provide maternal health care since it was fundamental in the promotion of women’s rights.
Justices Alfonse Owiny Dollo, Kenneth Kakuru, Engonda-Ntende, Barishaki Cheborion and Christopher Madrama made up the Coram.

The case had earlier been struck out by the Court on grounds that it did not disclose competent questions for constitutional interpretation and that the Court could not look into the acts and omissions of the Government because of the “Political Question Doctrine”. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land found otherwise and held that the matter should be determined by the Constitutional Court.

The petitioners, who were represented by renowned Constitutional lawyer Peter Walubiri argued that the Uganda Government’s failure to provide basic maternal health services in health facilities violated the rights to health, life and women’s rights as provided for in the Constitution and international human rights instruments such as the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Mr Walubiri stressed that fundamental rights including the right to health care are inherent and should be granted by all organs of the State. Additionally, the right placed responsibility on the State not only to provide access to health care services but also to ensure that all organs and agencies of Government respect, promote and uphold them.He stated that there was a failure on the part of Government to provide mama kits at all levels of health centres which was leading to the death of mothers.

Agreeing with the petitioners, Justice Cheborion Barishaki who delivered the lead judgement stated that while the Government had put in place policies and road maps to reduce maternal deaths such as the road map in 2007 to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, it had not taken necessary steps for more than ten years to achieve this objective, and thus the right to health was being violated.

He also agreed with the Petitioners’ contention that the State’s failure to take appropriate action towards the unethical behaviour and non-professionalism of medical workers, which includes absenteeism, was leading to maternal deaths.

“Expectant mothers need the utmost basic maternal health care services in our hospitals during delivery not only to guarantee safe delivery but also their lives and those of their newborn babies.” He ruled.


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The Court also placed responsibility on the State for the loss of lives of one Ms. Jennifer Anguko and Ms. Sylvia Nalubowa, awarding 70 million Ugandan shillings in general damages and 85 million Ugandan Shillings in exemplary damages to each of their families (third and fourth petitioners). The Court also held that in the next financial year, the Government should prioritize and provide sufficient funds in the National Budget for Maternal Health Care.

Furthermore, the Court directed the Minister of Health to ensure that all healthy workers are fully trained, all health centres are fully equipped within the next two financial years and that he presents a full audit report on the status of maternal health in Uganda at the end of the next two financial years to Parliament, with a copy submitted to the Court.

To elucidate on the significance of this judgment to the general female population, especially the expectant mothers and the mothers in Uganda, CEHURD released a video on Twitter, flashed with intermittent montages of women holding placards and demonstrating on the streets of Kampala. A representative from the organization also released a statement in the video.

She stated: “It’s been nine years of litigating maternal health rights in this country. It really takes a heart for a person to walk the streets of Kampala for nine good years just to seek for justice. For the mothers out there, for the families of Rhoda, for the families of Nziku, it’s been nine years of tears.”


 

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