The African Union came up with 2010-2020 the African Women's Decade and one of the themes is aiming at promoting maternal health. And the purpose is to help in promoting the reproductive rights of women and creating awareness on maternal health.
This is aimed at focusing on and influencing family size and population growth to enable community development and means of how best maternal health can be promoted.
The health of a mother impacts the family and even the entire community. Her ability and access to receive necessary healthcare largely determines health outcomes for herself and her baby.
UNICEF found that healthy children need healthy mothers. A woman in Sub-Saharan Africa has a one in 16 chance of dying in childbirth. The report found that at least 20% of the burden of disease in children below the age of five is related to poor maternal health and nutrition, as well as quality of care at delivery and during the newborn period. Yearly, eight million babies die before or during delivery or in the first week of life. Further, many children are tragically left motherless each year. These children are 10 times more likely to die within two years of their mothers' death. It has also been found that the health of the mother vastly affects the health of all of her children. The health of our mothers vastly impacts the health and success of our future generations.
The Human Development Report 2012 ranked 183 countries based on a variety of criteria. Uganda ranked 161 out of 183 countries.
In another report released in May 2013 on the State of the World's Mothers' Index by Save the Children ranks Uganda one of the toughest places for mothers. It placed Uganda at 132nd position out of the 176 countries that were graded.
This ranking is a grim that Uganda's maternal mortality ratio remains one of our biggest national challenges. Though Uganda is doing slightly better than other East African countries like Kenya at 156th, Tanzania at 135th and Burundi at 137th positions respectively, this report demonstrates what we have known for a long time: We still have a lot to do to achieve safe motherhood.
According to estimates from UNICEF, Uganda's maternal mortality ratio, the annual number of deaths of women from pregnancy-related causes per 100,000 live births stands at 435 after allowing for adjustments. Women die as a result of complications during and following pregnancy, and childbirth; and the major complications include severe bleeding, infections, unsafe abortion and obstructed labor.
High maternal mortality rates persist in Uganda due to an overall low use of contraceptives, limited capacity of health facilities to manage abortion/miscarriage complications, poor quality of healthcare services, limited access to healthcare services, cultural barriers in seeking access healthcare services, mistreatment of mothers by medical personnel, limited reproductive health literacy, reliance on traditional medicine by mothers, malaria and prevalence of HIV/AIDS among pregnant women.
Although a lot has been done, a lot is still desired at the grass root level because women are not aware about maternal health issues and, therefore, a lot of promotion of maternal health issues is still needed in Uganda. For that matter the following solutions can be offered:
1. Creating awareness on dangers of not seeking medical advice through use of radio programmes, charts, billboards and documentaries. During hospital visits, and through community leaders giving information on issues of family planning, women's rights and reproductive health.
2. Women forming women organisations that would help them to get empowered with information and skills to get money and ability to enjoy their rights.
3. Engaging in adult education to empower women with skills and information.
4. Involving both men and women on issues of shared responsibility in reproductive health.
5. Put into consideration women with disabilities through equipping labour wards with adjustable beds, sign language interpreters in health centres at all levels and maintaining proper sanitation.
6. Lobbying development partners to finance advocates for reproductive health starting with grassroots youth, women and men and use of influential people and institutions like church and cultural leaders.
7. Health workers should pass on information early enough, to women when they visit health centres and the solutions to the problems identified. For example, prevention of mother to child transmission.
8. Provide continuous sensitisation about gender and cultural barriers to maternal healthcare and general reproductive health.
9. The Government should also intervene on issues concerning maternal health for example by;
a. Setting up heath centres in rural areas and providing medical personnel in those centres.
b. To motivate health workers with satisfying salaries and well equipped wards with facilities.
c. Provide means of transport to health centres to move the poor pregnant mothers, to referral hospitals in times of emergency.
d. Emergency doctors should be in villages to assist women on issues concerning their health.
e. Girl child education should also be emphasised in the rural areas and the set laws on the issues of girl child education be implemented as one way to avoid early pregnancies.
f. To put up health caravans that can take services close to the community where people are living.
g. To grant maternity leaves for civil servant women before and after delivery.
The writer is the executive director for Community Volunteer Initiative for Rural Development Organization (COVIRUDE) and an Advocate for Safe Motherhood from Masheruka Sheema District