Considering the significant burden of risks and harm women and new-borns are exposed to due to unsafe care, compounded by the disruption of essential health services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the campaign is even more important this year. For the world safety day 17th September, 2021, we call on government and other stakeholders to act now for safe and respectful child birth under the theme “Safe Maternal and new born care.”

By peter eceru

The media has in the recent past reported cases of abuse of patients, health workers and other health users in health facilities. These included cases of sexual abuse of health workers, patients and care givers with in the health facilities. Relatedly, there have been cases of health workers and non-health workers administering medication with disastrous consequences to the patients. It is against this background that the WHO declared September 17th a world patient safety day to raise global awareness about patient safety and call for solidarity and united action by all to reduce harm. Safety plays an important role in the daily operation of any health care facility. Safety means that there is absence of preventable harm to a patient during the process of receiving health care. Effective safety management not only assures employees that they have a safe working environment, but also allows patients to enjoy an atmosphere that is free from unnecessary risks and hazards. Having an effective safety program that addresses pertinent safety issues within the facility, as well as within the community will give the administration confidence that the facility is delivering the highest quality of patient care.

While Uganda committed to achieving Universal Health Coverage, safety which is one of the key pillars continues to be hugely ignored. Patients and other service users will be more comfortable when they are assured of safety when they go to a health facility be it private or public. Safety encompasses the need, use and quality of interventions provided by the health system.

Out of the realization and concern for the safety of patients, the Ministry of Health put in place a Patient Rights and Responsibilities Charter 2009 – an official document that offers guidance on various patient rights and responsibilities in the national health care system. Prominent in the document is the notion of human dignity and the provision of moral ground towards improving standard health services in the country. While the country has an elaborate legislation in relation to safety of patients, the challenge for the country relates largely to the implementation and how health facility administrators construe safety. In most health facilities, Health Facility safety committees have not been established. The law requires that each health facility should have in place a safety committee which is supposed to oversee safety issues and make recommendations on how to better safety in health facilities. Most health facilities have confused this with the Infectious Disease Control committee which have been active because COVID.

The COVID pandemic has demonstrated that the safety of patients is closely related to the safety of health workers. It has also reminded all of us of the vital role health workers play to relieve suffering and save lives. In addition to physical risks, the pandemic has placed extraordinary levels of psychological stress on health workers exposed to high-demand settings for long hours, living in constant fear of disease exposure while separated from family and facing social stigmatisation. The World Health Organisation recently highlighted an alarming rise in reports of verbal harassment, discrimination, and physical violence against health workers in the wake of COVID-19. No country, hospital or clinic can keep its mothers and children safe without keeping its workers safe.

It is important to remind the government that it has a legal and moral obligation to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of health facility workers, health facility users and make seeking health services a dignified process.  To do this government needs to take deliberate actions to ensure availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times, as relevant to the roles and tasks performed, in adequate quantity and appropriate fit and of acceptable quality. There should also be adequate, locally held, buffer stock of PPE. Ensure adequate training on the appropriate use of PPE and safety precautions., maintaining appropriate safe staffing levels within health facilities, provide assurance of provision of free health coverage for health workers for work related risks, especially for those working in high-risk areas.

The media has in the recent past reported cases of abuse of patients, health workers and other health users in health facilities. These included cases of sexual abuse of health workers, patients and care givers with in the health facilities. Relatedly, there have been cases of health workers and non-health workers administering medication with disastrous consequences to the patients. It is against this background that the WHO declared September 17th a world patient safety day to raise global awareness about patient safety and call for solidarity and united action by all to reduce harm. Safety plays an important role in the daily operation of any health care facility. Safety means that there is absence of preventable harm to a patient during the process of receiving health care. Effective safety management not only assures employees that they have a safe working environment, but also allows patients to enjoy an atmosphere that is free from unnecessary risks and hazards. Having an effective safety program that addresses pertinent safety issues within the facility, as well as within the community will give the administration confidence that the facility is delivering the highest quality of patient care.

While Uganda committed to achieving Universal Health Coverage, safety which is one of the key pillars continues to be hugely ignored. Patients and other service users will be more comfortable when they are assured of safety when they go to a health facility be it private or public. Safety encompasses the need, use and quality of interventions provided by the health system.

Out of the realization and concern for the safety of patients, the Ministry of Health put in place a Patient Rights and Responsibilities Charter 2009 – an official document that offers guidance on various patient rights and responsibilities in the national health care system. Prominent in the document is the notion of human dignity and the provision of moral ground towards improving standard health services in the country. While the country has an elaborate legislation in relation to safety of patients, the challenge for the country relates largely to the implementation and how health facility administrators construe safety. In most health facilities, Health Facility safety committees have not been established. The law requires that each health facility should have in place a safety committee which is supposed to oversee safety issues and make recommendations on how to better safety in health facilities. Most health facilities have confused this with the Infectious Disease Control committee which have been active because COVID.

The COVID pandemic has demonstrated that the safety of patients is closely related to the safety of health workers. It has also reminded all of us of the vital role health workers play to relieve suffering and save lives. In addition to physical risks, the pandemic has placed extraordinary levels of psychological stress on health workers exposed to high-demand settings for long hours, living in constant fear of disease exposure while separated from family and facing social stigmatisation. The World Health Organisation recently highlighted an alarming rise in reports of verbal harassment, discrimination, and physical violence against health workers in the wake of COVID-19. No country, hospital or clinic can keep its mothers and children safe without keeping its workers safe.

It is important to remind the government that it has a legal and moral obligation to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of health facility workers, health facility users and make seeking health services a dignified process.  To do this government needs to take deliberate actions to ensure availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times, as relevant to the roles and tasks performed, in adequate quantity and appropriate fit and of acceptable quality. There should also be adequate, locally held, buffer stock of PPE. Ensure adequate training on the appropriate use of PPE and safety precautions., maintaining appropriate safe staffing levels within health facilities, provide assurance of provision of free health coverage for health workers for work related risks, especially for those working in high-risk areas.

Considering the significant burden of risks and harm women and new-borns are exposed to due to unsafe care, compounded by the disruption of essential health services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the campaign is even more important this year. For the world safety day 17th September, 2021, we call on government and other stakeholders to act now for safe and respectful child birth under the theme “Safe Maternal and new born care.”

The writer is an Advocacy Expert at the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development.

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