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After a frustrating year of slow progress, a landmark lawsuit that seeks to hold the Ugandan government accountable for the high number of preventable maternal deaths in the country may finally see a resolution, RH Reality Check reports.

In August 2009, 40-year-old Sylvia Nalubowa died in labor in a hospital in Mityana, Uganda, after medical workers asked for bribes and then failed to treat her when the mother of seven refused, the Guardian reports.

Her death incited protests in the African country that sees 16 women die each day in childbirth.

Activists and community members took to the streets to challenge the rampant corruption, lack of trained staff and skimpy health budget that have plagued Uganda in recent years and which, activists say, has resulted in the unnecessary deaths of women like Nalubowa, Independent Online reports.

Then in December 2010, Jennifer Anguko, a popular elected official, bled to death in the maternity ward of a major public hospital in Arua when her uterus ruptured after 15 hours of obstructed labor.

According to the New York Times, Anguko was bleeding for 12 hours in the hospital before she was finally seen by a doctor. By the time she went into surgery an hour later, it was too late and the mother of three died on the operating table.

Last March, Ugandan human rights groups led by the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development joined the families of Nalubowa and Anguko to file a petition against the government of Uganda.
The landmark petition argues that by not providing essential medical commodities and health services to pregnant women, the Ugandan government has violated the constitutional rights of Ugandans — including the right to health, the right to life and the rights of women.

“Maternal health [in Uganda] has been overlooked,” Primah Kwagala, a lawyer for the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development told RH Reality Check. “People do not know that they have a right to good health service provision. They think it is a privilege.”

According to a 2010 Ugandan Health Ministry report, a majority of clinics and hospitals in the country reported regularly running out of essential medicines, while only a third of facilities delivering babies are equipped with basics like scissors and disinfectant. Many hospitals also do not get regular electricity and light, the Guardian reports.

Though the petition initially garnered plenty of global media attention and was gaining ground thanks to the support of international activists, an objection raised during the petition’s hearing slowed proceedings down, Key Correspondents reports.

Finally, after months of stagnation, a letter was released to the petitioners last week by Deputy Chief Justice Alice Mpagi Bahigeine, RH Reality Check reports.

“The delay in delivering the ruling is very much regretted,” Bahigeine wrote. “However, it has been brought to the attention of the Hon. Justice responsible and everything possible to ensure speedy disposal of the matter.”

The world is now watching to see if the Ugandan government will take responsibility for the unnecessary deaths of thousands of mothers that die every year.


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