Maternal Deaths in Uganda

Posted on October 31, 2011

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In the East African country of Uganda, sixteen women die every day during child birth. This is equivalent to a minibus crashing on a highway each day of the year, with no survivors, and is one of the highest maternal mortality rates in East Africa.
Uganda’s long civil war left the country in an unstable political and economical state, and the health care system is in shambles, especially in its ability to care for pregnant women during child birth.
G. Kyomuhendo, a well-known female Ugandan writer, conducted a recent study of pregnant women in Uganda to find why so many women die each year while giving birth. The study revealed the three main reasons for the abnormally high mortality rates: strong traditional beliefs about pregnancy and childbirth that prevent women from seeking professional emergency healthcare during labor; other beliefs that “Western-trained” health care workers are ill-equipped and unskilled;  and, previous negative experiences of abuse or mistreatment in health care centers.
While valid, Kyomuhendo’s research only describes part of the problems facing Ugandan women during child birth.
Since the civil war ended, more money has been spent by the Ugandan government on military equipment and training than on the public health system. Ironically, this is in large part due to the impact of the billions of dollars in foreign aid coming into Africa to fight AIDS and HIV. As a result of the this foreign aid, targeted solely at treating those with HIV and AIDS, Uganda has reduced its funding for public health, including maternal and child health care, by half.
The cuts in domestic health care spending have left hospitals with critical shortages in basic supplies such as scissors, gauze, sutures, and medicine. Also, there is a huge lack of doctors, midwives, and nurses to perform basic and emergency child birth procedures. And, there are very few hospitals and health care centers centrally located.
Another important reason contributing to the high number of maternal deaths is the unsanitary conditions of the hospitals and health care centers.
Diane Catotti, a maternal and child care public health specialist who frequently travels to East Africa to monitor public health interventions and clinical trials, says that the unsanitary conditions of hospitals and clinics are appalling and shocking. According to Ms. Catotti, “Money floods into Africa every year to help women and children, but the government rarely uses the money for those programs.”
Even though more people have access to basic care under the post-war health care system, experts, such as those from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, say that Uganda’s system is poorly managed and needs to prioritize its domestic spending on public health care again instead of other areas like the military.
Reported By Kelsey Hernandez
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Posted in: News